Germany has set aside €21 million ($25.3 million) as part of its newly-devised “action plan” aimed at supporting the Belarusian opposition, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has told an improvised pro-opposition online conference.
Seemingly in an effort to cement an image of Berlin as the leader among European nations sponsoring anti-government movements in the post-Soviet space, Maas on Saturday addressed the so-called Belarus Solidarity Conference. This was a virtual event organized by the World Belarus Congress, a forum of Belarusian expatriate diasporas and opposition-supporting groups.
“The Genie of democracy is out of the bottle. There is no way to put it back,” Berlin's chief diplomat said in a pre-recorded address, as he promised millions of euro in support to the Belarusian opposition.
The German foreign minister was one of the highest-ranking speakers at the forum which also saw some European Parliament lawmakers and “experts” participate.
The project involves German scholarships for students expelled from Belarusian universities for their protest activities as well as some aid for “independent media” and “psychological help” to those that endure “torture” at the hands of law enforcement.
Berlin is also about to set up a special tracking mechanism to collect evidence about all alleged human rights violators in Belarus, Maas said while vowing that “the day will come when they will be held accountable.”
He specifically praised the “courage” of opposition figurehead Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was President Alexander Lukashenko’s rival in the August 2020 Presidential elections. “You have inspired so many people in Belarus and beyond,” the minister said, addressing the one-time candidate, who fled to Lithuania days after the vote and later declared herself the rightful leader of Belarus – all while attending meetings with various officials in the European Union. The German minister on Saturday again assured Tikhasnovskaya that “Germany and the EU stand with you.”
Berlin’s plans were also confirmed by Chancellor Angela Merkel
, who dedicated her latest video podcast entirely to expressing support to the Belarusian opposition. The chancellor slammed last year’s elections by saying “they were neither democratic, nor fair nor transparent” while expressing her admiration for the “resolve of the Belarusian democratic movement.”
Merkel assured the opposition that the EU “will bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice.”
Belarus was, last August, rocked by mass demonstrations and strikes, when Lukashenko claimed victory in his sixth presidential election since first taking office in 1994. The opposition and many international observers then claimed that the vote was rigged and hundreds of thousands took to the streets and were met with a heavy-handed police response, sparking furious condemnation from the West. Protests continue to this day, though they are smaller.
Lukashenko has dismissed all accusations while branding those organizing the protest crowds Western-backed “puppets.” However, he also pledged to step back from the top job once a new Belarusian Constitution is ratified.
On October 2, the EU imposed sanctions, including a travel ban and an asset freeze, on 40 Belarusians it alleges were involved in repression and election falsification. In January, Belarus was also stripped of its right to co-host the 2021 men’s IIHF World Championship following pressure from activists and the tournament sponsors.
The tense political atmosphere did not prevent the EU from striking deals with Belarus. In October, it was revealed that Minsk bought 15 surveillance drones with almost $900,000 of money donated by Brussels despite the public condemnation of the Lukashenko government by the bloc's officials.