OLGA ABRAMOVA National Centre for Strategic Initiatives "East-West", Director of Research Programmes, Minsk
In the course of the last three years the National Centre for Strategic Initiatives "East-West", a Belarusian NGO, has been elaborating the concept of national-state interests of the Republic of Belarus. Diverging geopolitical pre-ferences of the leading experts proved to be the main stumbling block in formulating the concept?s basic approaches and principles. The initial differences were gradually overcome in the course of numerous international conferences and round-table discussions on foreign policy issues, resulting from intensive exchange of opinions between the experts. Productive dialogue and, eventually, elaboration of a relatively cohesive concept of the Belarusian national-state interests became possible due to the achieved agreement among experts on the development of market relations in Belarus?s economy and on primacy of the liberal approach towards the issues of democracy and human rights in politics.
It is much more difficult to achieve public consensus on basic principles of the development of society than to reach agreement on these within a small group of scholars. Due to the lack of clearly articulated interests of various social groups, there is no national agreement in Belarus either in the area of geopolitical preferences or in the understanding of national and state interests. This disagreement is typical both for the society as a whole and for the national political elite.
Belarusian citizens support the most diverse values, even mutually exclusive ones. For instance, most Belarusians welcome the ever-closest union with Russia. Concurrently, they would like to preserve the sovereignty of Belarus.
The reaction to the conflict in Kosovo has reaffirmed that great many of people perceive the ongoing events controversially. The advocates of the return to the Soviet past, who sincerely think of themselves as internationalists, support ideas of pan-Slavism. This is also reflected in the foreign policy of Belarus, when the authorities react to the nation?s public opinion.
The crisis in Kosovo has revealed more explicitly recent tendencies in the Belarus-Russia relationships, on the one hand, and Belarus-West, on the other. Like in Russia, the reaction to the NATO?s eastward enlargement is extremely negative in Belarus. The decision by NATO to expand was characterised as a tragic error that would have far-reaching consequences. Many Belarusian and Russian politicians (not just left-wing, by the way) have been arguing that one of the real reasons for the enlargement is the deepening of integration between Belarus and Russia. Some Western politicians regard this integration as resurgence of Russia?s imperial ambitions. Russia, therefore, should give an adequate answer to the challenge. This is the logic of re-emerging confrontation.
The suspicions (at least those by one of the parties) have been confirmed by the NATO?s mi-litary operation on the Balkans and new Strategic Concept of the Alliance to be adopted at the NATO Washington Summit. NATO is actually getting ready to replace the UN in crisis management and intends to undertake military actions with no regard to the decisions taken by the UN Security Council. This has already happened with the decision by NATO to bomb Yugoslavia. Thus, an extremely dangerous precedent has been set up.
NATO?s attempt at imposing oil embargo against Yugoslavia can become a further step in provoking Russia?s decisive response. Incidentally, the declared purposes are most human - protection of the Albanian ethnic minority that has become subject to genocide on the part of S. Milosevic?s regime in Yugoslavia. However, the declared purposes have not been achieved, despite intensive air strikes on Pristina and Belgrade. Moreover, the result of the military operation has been just opposite. The genocide continues. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians have already left the province and many of them will never come back to Kosovo. S. Milosevic made his best to consolidate Serbs around the idea of repelling external aggression and strengthened his domestic authority. The reestablishment of the Kosovo autonomy with Albanians back there seems improbable. Most likely, even with the political settlement of the conflict, Kosovo will be divided into two parts with separate settlements for the two major ethnic groups in the province. It takes a new Marshall Plan to re-establish the infrastructure of the province.
Finally, anti-Western and particularly anti-American sentiment will prevail for years in the public opinion of Russia, the country whose great many citizens feel helpless and humiliated because they find it impossible to influence, as was in the recent past, the course of events in the world. The atmosphere of such feelings feeds imperial chauvinism, exactly the very thing the West would not like to get in Russia. Furthermore, the consequences of the renaissance of the imperial thinking in Russia can eventually turn the course of events unpredictable.