SHARE
COPY LINK

HUMAN RIGHTS

Belarus sacks foreign minister after teddy drop

Belarus strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko on Monday fired his foreign minister as part of a sweeping reshuffle that follows a diplomatic crisis in ties with Sweden after a pro-democracy stunt.

Belarus sacks foreign minister after teddy drop

Lukashenko’s office did not immediately explain the decision to replace Sergei Martynov with the powerful presidential administration chief Vladimir Makey.

An official biography states that Makey was born in 1958 and has served as an adviser to the president since 2000 after starting his career as a diplomat.

He has headed the presidential administration since 2008 — a post with sweeping powers because of Lukashenko’s full control of both foreign and domestic affairs in the nation of 10 million.

But this influence has also placed Makey on a list of dozens of Belarus officials who have been barred entry into the European Union because of a violent crackdown of post-election protests in December 2010.

It was not immediately clear how Makey intended to carry out his duties representing Belarus at European conferences.

Another incident that angered Europe struck this month when Minsk expelled the ambassador of Sweden and ordered out all its diplomats after a Swedish public relations firm claimed to have conducted a protest with an air-drop of teddy bears carrying messages on human rights.

Analysts meanwhile have questioned Lukashenko’s motives in making the reshuffle and doubted that it would herald an improvement in ties with the West.

“Makey’s appointment cannot possibly radically help relations with Europe because he is on the European no-entry list,” said independent foreign policy analyst Roman Yakovlevsky.

Others said Lukashenko’s complete domination of politics made any reshuffle important only for the various political clans that are vying for influence under the 18-year presidential veteran.

“Anyone who serves in Belarus officialdom is nothing more than a (Lukashenko) pawn,” said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.

Belarus had been on a course to improve relations with European powers as it headed into 2010 presidential election that Lukashenko was certain to win against a divided field and had promised to make fair and open.

But election-night violence and the arrest of hundreds of protesters halted the brief diplomatic thaw and left Belarus without billions of dollars in aid that Germany and Poland had promised in case of a more democratic ballot.

Belarus authorities responded by cracking down on human rights organisations even more strongly and occasionally pulling its envoys from European countries in protests over their repeated expressions of concern.

In the Swedish protest incident, Lukashenko initially denied a breach of his ex-Soviet nation’s borders and local rights groups said no actual teddy bears had been discovered at the claimed site.

But the often-unpredictable leader then chose to use the incident to fire the country’s top border control official and the air force commander for failing to protect the border.

The police also briefly jailed a Belarus blogger who posted the Swedish public relation firm’s pictures of the alleged drop, although the blogger was later released.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

BELARUS

“Go all the way – doubt kills everything”

SI alum Katsiaryna Syrayezhkina tells SI News about a recent event she organized in Minsk about sustainable living, and advises current students and alumni on how to make a difference.

On September 16th, the seminar “Sustainable lifestyle: small actions, big difference” took place in Minsk, Belarus, in cooperation with the Association of European Business and ODB-Brussels (Belgium).

SI alum Katsiaryna Syrayezhkina was behind the initiative, where key topics included sustainable lifestyle, ecological foot prints, eco-friendly initiatives, sustainable consumption, and energy efficient housing

“I was inspired by the Smart Living Exchange organized by the Swedish Institute and its partner organizations,” Katsiaryna tells SI News.

“As an SI alumna, I decided to replicate this experience in my country and organize a seminar covering sustainable transport, consumption and housing practices in Sweden and Belarus.”

During the seminar, experts and participants discussed the barriers, triggers, and motivators of moving towards healthier choices and a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials.

The Swedish and Belarusian experts spoke about “circular” economy and the economy of “sharing”, links between “couch-surfing”, cycling infrastructure and sustainable development, EU sustainable practices, and partnerships between businesses and NGOs.

The event participants thus were given the opportunity to compare both the Belarusian and European experience of such matters.

Katsiaryna says the event was a success, but that one of the main challenges was simply getting other alumni involved and interested.

“It's always difficult to get local SI alumni interested,” she says, “so I always try to think about some extra benefits for attendees.”

Benefits this time included an excursion to BelVTI recycling plant  on the same day, and participants also had the opportunity to taste a vegetarian buffet organized by the VegaMara project team.

Another key challenge was getting Swedish experts to come speak at the event.

“Belarus doesn’t seem to be at the top of the list of countries to visit,” she remarks.

But in the end the work paid off, and Katsiaryna noted that there are many similarities between the two countries – and that they should work together more.

“I think we have much in common with Swedes: mentality, history .. even weather!” she says.

Having studied in many countries – including France, Poland, Belgium, and Sweden – Katsiaryna says that it’s hard to know what exactly has made her the person she is today, but that her time abroad has definitely affected her in many ways.

“The most important thing is that I learned to take the opportunity to fail,” she confides. “We take things way too seriously in post-Soviet countries, while the most important thing in life is to enjoy yourself in everything you do.”

For those who are currently studying with the SI programme in Sweden, Katsiaryna recommends being open and totally embracing the experience.

“I would advise current students to immerse themselves in a new culture, rather than trying to recreate a little 'home' and hide inside from everybody,” she says.

 As for the other SI alumni – if you have something to share, just do it.

“Don’t have second thoughts, just give it a try and go all the way,” she says. “Otherwise you start hesitating and as we all know, doubt kills everything.”