“We are glad that the EU has decided to react quickly, that the European Council has met at our request at such a short notice and that today’s discussions concerned this extremely important topic, i.e. the development of situation in Belarus,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. He also added that “there is no doubt that these great protests in Belarus are an extremely important step towards formation of a civil society, a society that wants true freedom, independence, democracy and lawfulness.”
Situation in Belarus discussed during the extraordinary European Council meeting
Discussions during the meeting concerned, among others, such topics as the strategy of action of the European Union in the face of mass protests of the community and the aggressive reaction of state authorities to the peaceful demonstrations. The discussions have also shown the wide support among the EU countries for the proposal to send a mission to Minsk, which would be led by Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania and the Chairperson-in-Office of OSCE for this year, and could benefit from expert support provided by EU institutions.
Prime Minister Morawiecki has also stressed the need for strong political support on the part of the European Union to ensure that the internal crisis in Belarus is resolved peacefully and that the basic human values and rights are respected.
He also strongly objected to attempts to ascribe to Poland, Lithuania or the minorities from these countries living in the border areas in Belarus any involvement in any attempts to destabilise the country. Poland has always supported the sovereignty and independence of Belarus and, together with other countries of the European Union, has urged all third-party forces and countries to not interfere with our neighbour’s sovereignty.
Helping hand of the European Union – the Plan for Belarus proposed by Poland
When he spoke during the European Council, the Head of the Polish Government stressed that the European Union needs to assume a position of responsibility with respect to its nearest neighbours. Prime Minister Morawiecki presented the proposal of a Plan for Belarus.
“We want to send a clear message to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime that the time when it was possible to ignore the voice of the community must end as soon as possible. It is necessary to talk. It is necessary to initiate a process of negotiation and dialogue, which will lead to gradual democratisation of the situation in Belarus,” added the Head of the Polish Government.
The Plan for Belarus is based on several key elements. The first is initiating dialogue between the government and the opposition. This is essential for resolving the crisis in Belarus. Importantly, participants of talks on the opposition side should comprise a group of leaders from various communities, selected also from among émigré activists or imprisoned representatives of the opposition. Furthermore, Belarusian authorities should guarantee immunity to opposition activists returning from abroad. Persons imprisoned for political reasons should be released.
According to assumptions of the Plan for Belarus, searching for peaceful solutions should be based on provisions of the constitution. One option is to hold a new election with the participation of international observers.
“At the request of Poland, we have agreed to engage supranational bodies – such as OSCE, which has already proven itself in similar situations – in order to support the democratisation process through, for instance, oversight of preparations to the next election, should the situation develop in this way,” added the Prime Minister.
Poland’s support for the democratic changes in Belarus
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has been actively participating in the process of building international support for the democratic changes in Belarus from the very beginning. Right after the results of the exit poll for the presidential election were announced, the Head of the Polish Government wrote a letter addressed to Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in which he urged for an extraordinary European Council meeting concerning the events in Belarus to be convened.
The letter led to a phone call between Prime Minister Morawiecki and the EU leaders, which took place on the same day. During that call, the Head of the Government stressed that, as countries of a United Europe, we have a duty to act in solidarity with respect to the Belarusian people. The European Union, which should act as a global leader on the international scene, needs to actively engage in resolving the conflict and prevent its exacerbation. The Prime Minister also reminded that, in the recent past, similar crises often ended in uncontrolled escalation and led to many casualties.
Neighbourly aid – the “Solidarity with Belarus” package
Talks and calls for international support for the democratic changes in Belarus are not the only actions taken by Poland with respect to its eastern neighbour. In response to the deteriorating social and political situation in Belarus, the Polish Government adopted an aid package called “Solidarity with Belarus”. Prime Minister Morawiecki noted that the programme saw a very positive reception at the European Council.
The programme for Belarus is based on three pillars: safety, openness and solidarity.
What actions and initiatives form the “Solidarity with Belarus” package?
· Support for victims and their families
Repressions by the authorities have a negative impact on the Belarusian society. Polish Government realises that the victims and their families may need support. For this reason, part of the funds allocated by Poland towards the “Solidarity with Belarus” package will be offered to Belarusians to help them cover the costs of treatment, rehabilitation, administrative fines or aid.
· Easier crossing of the Polish-Belarusian border for victims or persons fleeing repressions
The greatest number of visas which allow Belarusians to enter the European Union is issued by Poland. Under the current circumstances, it is possible that there will be greater interest in leaving also for political reasons. The package will include exemptions from visa fees and, in exceptional cases, also exemptions from the obligation to carry documents and facilitated access to the job market.
· Support for young people, students and young researchers
Young people from Belarus will have the opportunity to take advantage of the Wincenty Konstanty Kalinowski scholarship programme. It will be intended for students and researchers relegated from Belarusian universities as part of the repressions. This will provide them with an opportunity to study and work in Poland.
· Support for non-governmental and civil society organisations as well as the Polish minority in Belarus
Poland has been providing support for the Belarusian civil society for years. As part of the package, we will open a new grant programme for NGOs within the International Solidarity Fund. In addition, we will also increase the funds allocated to Belarus and widen the scope of topics for the 2020/2021 Polish Development Aid and Public Diplomacy contests.
· Support for independent media and journalists
Repressions also affect Belarusian journalists. The authorities seek to cut the society off from access to reliable information. As part of the package, Poland will support independent media and publishers in Belarus. Training sessions for journalists may also be organised.
During the first year, Poland will allocate PLN 50 million to carry out the programme. These will constitute additional funds, over those which Poland allocates towards other programmes related to Belarus, such as Belsat TV.