Common history, common interests, and common global challenges: why Belarus matters to the EU

The Head of the European Union Delegation to Belarus, Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin, highlights the importance of the EU’s partnership with Belarus, and how cooperation is making a real difference on the ground
The Head of the European Union Delegation to Belarus, Ambassador Andrea…

The Head of the European Union Delegation to Belarus, Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin, highlights the importance of the EU’s partnership with Belarus, and how cooperation is making a real difference on the ground

What are the important values promoted by Europe, which you believe are shared by Belarus?

In the European Council conclusions in February 2016, the European Union said clearly that the relations between the European Union and Belarus would be based on common values, especially respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, and, at the same time, the EU underlines that we are willing to support Belarus to fully implement these values, and ready to show full respect for human rights.

Do you see a divergence between European values and those of Belarus?

This is a difficult question: I think that every society, whether it is in the European Union or in our neighbouring countries, is changing, you only get a perception of a moment, and values are established by society and by every part within society.

So if you look at different studies, they say that Belarus is reaching out more towards security values, like economic and physical security, and stability – stability is very important for Belarus – and not so much let’s say for the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech values.

You have to see this in the context of the historical development of Belarus, and also the most recent history of this country.

You also often find the perspective that Belarus is a secular country, and therefore attaches great importance to education, university education, technological progress, industrial development, freedom of movement, and again stability. I have the impression – I have now been here for 10 months – that the younger generation has changed a lot: they show an impressive professional and geographical mobility, and you can see these young people developing something we could call a worldwide, global view on things. Another point that has developed over the last year is the appreciation, not only for the family, but for history and ancestry. When I was here the last time, this interest in history was not yet so much developed, this has really come up in the last years.

Why is the partnership with Belarus important for Europe?

I think there is not a single country in the world that is not important for the European Union, we really try to have a global approach, and in a time where the common challenges and difficult situations are globally important, we are trying to find global partners to solve and tackle these problems.

But naturally, we are looking towards our direct neighbours, because they are our most important partners, and again we share a lot of perspective, common history, and common values. Belarus is really one of these countries, Belarus has borders with three European Member States, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, and they share a common history, so it’s really important to develop a common background of understanding, and we are working closely together, always in the perspective of the European Neighbourhood Policy, and especially, naturally, within the framework of the Eastern Partnership.

What in your opinion does it mean to be good neighbours?

I think good neighbours are first of all cooperating openly and transparently on issues of common interest. We share an interest in security and stability in the region. For the European Union, it is always important to share values, and to see that democracy, rule of law, and human rights are respected, and we are working with Belarus towards this goal.

What could Belarus contribute to Europe in general, and the Eastern Neighbourhood in particular?

Well, I think we already have a very broad cooperation in many fields: we are, for example, improving our common borders,  to make the flow of goods and people easier. We are also cooperating in the fields of environment, biodiversity and climate change – on these issues our neighbours can really contribute to the situation in the European Union, and we attach a great importance to this, and here we have a very good cooperation with Belarus.

And what is the impact of the EU support provided to Belarus?

We have the principle of co-ownership, which means we select common interests, we have a very good cooperation, as I said, in the field of environment – this is of common interest for both sides. We also support small- and medium-sized businesses, we are cooperating in the field of regional development, also regional economic development, because naturally Belarus is an important trade partner, so we have an interest that the country is developing its economic potential and trade. We also want Belarus to become a partner of the WTO, and we are supporting Belarus in this endeavour.

For me personally, people-to-people contacts are very important. They allow us to share experience and develop new views. Here, the MOST project is my favourite project, which enables 1,500 young Belarusian professionals to travel to Europe.

But also in the field of education, and in the field of culture, we have an intensive dialogue, and also well-established projects in our common interest.

Can you give one or two additional examples of projects where EU support has had an appreciable effect on the lives of citizens of Belarus?

Well, I would say what we did in the field of green economy really has an impact also on the lives of Belarusian people, because we want to show that it is possible both to follow environmental principles, and to develop the economy, and there we have some beautiful examples which show the Belarusian society that it is worthwhile to work in this field.

The other field which I think is very important, and in which I’m personally really engaged, is to include civil society in all our projects, because I think that the policy of a country has to take into account the interests of its people. You therefore need to have an open and transparent dialogue with civil society in all areas. I have a very good relation with the National Platform here in Belarus, we are doing projects together with a lot of NGOs, we started to have a dialogue with the government on the rule of law, where we are also integrating civil society. During the last human rights dialogue, for the first time ever, we had civil society organisations participating in areas that are of utmost importance, for example the rights of people with disabilities, and the question of violence in the family, and I’m really interested to continue with this way of cooperation.

This interview has been produced by the EU Neighbours East project. 

EU Neighbours youtube channel - full video version of the interview