Opposition politician warns EU against focusing exclusively on contacts with government

The European Union\'s European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus may turn into a means of establishing contacts exclusively with the Belarusian government...

Vital RymashewskiThe European Union's European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarus may turn into a means of establishing contacts exclusively with the Belarusian government, former presidential candidate Vital Rymashewski warned at a meeting with a visiting EU official in Minsk on September 24.

The meeting with Gunnar Wiegand, the European External Action Service's director for Russia, the Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, Regional Cooperation and the OSCE, was attended by the leaders of major opposition parties.

Mr. Rymashewski, a co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party, expressed fears that Belarusian civil society may find itself locked out of the program. "There's a danger that it may be reduced to a means of establishing contacts exclusively with the Belarusian government through a fairly small expert community," he said. The politician warned that it would not have the "desired effect."

"I believe that the process of cooperation in the framework of the Dialogue should be trilateral and as much open as possible. There should be control over this process on the part of civil society and the political opposition. Any declared goals, even the most generous ones, can be distorted," Mr. Rymashewski said.

In a situation where "pro-democracy organizations are denied registration and experience total persecution, cooperation only through legal channels where funds provided for Belarus' democratization could be used by pro-government organizations such as Belaya Rus would be a complete mistake," Mr. Rymashewski said.

Mr. Wiegand reportedly made clear at the meeting that the EU had made no final decision on the future of the Dialogue. "The EU would like to see progress in the situation in Belarus, the release of political prisoners, the improvement of the human rights situation. They are ready to establish cooperation with the government, but no decisions have been made," said Mr. Rymashewski.

The meeting was also attended by Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party; Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the Spravedlivy Mir (Just World) Belarusian Party of the Left; Belarusian Popular Front Chairman Alyaksey Yanukevich; Iryna Veshtard, head of the Hramada Belarusian Social Democratic Party; and Yury Hubarevich, deputy chairman of the Movement for Freedom.