Lenin once said that capitalists were so cynical that they would sell the Soviets the rope with which they would hang them. Lenin and communism have passed away, but that cynical indifference to suffering when profits are involved remains.
Belarus provides a glaring example. The European parliament has consistently denounced Belarus as Europe's last dictatorship, yet EU member governments continue business as usual with Aleksander Lukashenka, the country's wayward and near lunatic despot.
This is especially true when there is a chance to save or make money. For example, for more than a decade, Germany's police forces, customs service, and even the Bundeswehr have been ordering uniforms from a state-owned factory in the city of Dzherzinsky, named after the father of the Red Terror and founder of the Soviet KGB, Feliks Dzherzinsky. Similar examples of such indifferent cynicism abound.
By treating Lukashenka as a favored business partner at the same time that the EU is trying to isolate him as an international pariah, European hypocrisy stands naked. Instead of indirectly propping up Lukashenka's regime through such cozy deals, Europe's governments must begin to act in accordance with what Europe's parliament has long understood: underwriting Lukashenka economically only prolongs his misrule. It is more important than ever that European parliamentarians unite and make their position clear.
The European Parliament has, indeed, taken the lead. Since last year it has been enlisting people with historic knowledge and understanding of totalitarian regimes to help guide its response. This advice helped shape the parliament's strong stance against maintaining unnecessary economic engagement with Lukashenka and his henchmen.
But there are two radically different attitudes regarding Belarus's participation in European activities. On one hand, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has denied Belarusian politicians even informal access to meetings in Strasbourg. The Assembly condemned Lukashenka's usurpation of power when he twisted the constitution to grant himself a virtual lifetime presidency, and it has denounced the disappearance of those Belarussians who have dared to think differently from the regime.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has also taken a strong stand against the Belarusian dictator. As the Final Report of its mission last year to observe the Belarusian parliamentary elections clearly stated, the vote "fell significantly short of OSCE commitments."
Similarly, last year's referendum to eliminate term limits on the presidency "took place with unrestrained Government bias in favor of the referendum," and without "the conditions, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of the media, to ensure that the will of the people serves as the basis of government authority." But at the same time the OSCE is condemning these anti-democratic practices, its own Parliamentary Assembly maintains full-fledged cooperation with the Belarusian parliament. Indeed, the OSCE treats the Lukashenka-controlled parliament in the same way it does any EU parliament. So real parliaments and sham parliaments are treated as equals. The idea would be laughable if it were not so tragic.
This absurd situation must change. It is the duty of all members of EU national parliaments to reject this affront to their democratic dignity. Only democratic parliaments should sit as equals in Europe's democratic forums. The goal is not to ensure Europe's democratic purity, but to change the nature of Belarus's government. For that to happen, Europe's democratic voice must be heard within Belarus.
That won't be easy. Of the 1,500 different media outlets in Belarus today, only a dozen or so retain any form of independence. Even that small number is likely to diminish, as Lukashenka keeps up political, financial, and legal pressure on them. Indeed, Belarus's last independent daily newspaper recently went out of business.
The European Commission has allocated two million euros (US$2.3 million) to establish an independent radio station for Belarus, which must operate outside of the country because of Lukashenka. Working with the Belarusian association of journalists, this independent media outlet will broadcast from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and perhaps Ukraine.
This meager effort, however, is an insufficient response by Europe's democracies to the full panoply of Lukashenka's dictatorship: his docile courts, brutal jails, and corrupt police. Are a few hours of radio broadcasting really all Europe and the democratic West can muster? If so, Lukashenka must be laughing.
Parliamentarians across Europe and the West must join their voice together in a well-defined, united and ringing declaration that forces Western leaders to apply real pressure to Europe's last dictator. Such pressure brought results a year ago, with the success of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Nothing less than a united position against the despot of Belarus is necessary if Lukashenka -- and his Russian backers -- are to be forced to change their ways.
Aldis Kuskis, a member of the European parliament from Latvia, is vice-chairman of its Delegation for Relations with Belarus.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
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