Question (Q.): According to B. Geremek, the establishment of the Advisory and Monitoring Group of OSCE in Belarus is a step forward in the dialogue between Belarus and Europe. What do you think is the importance of this event for Europe and Belarus?
Answer (A.): The presence of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in this country [means] that there are deficiencies of democracy and rule of law in the political structure and culture of the country. In accordance with the 1997 agreement between the government and the OSCE, this Group provides advice in these fields to government and opposition, non-governmental organisations, and to the media and academic institutions. It is monitoring the compliance of the country with its OSCE very concrete commitments regarding democratic structures, human rights and the rule of law. In the absence of this Group, which also activates specialists and experts in all relevant fields of legislation, social science and media from abroad, all important groundwork, including grassroots work would hardly be done. The existence of the Group means that there is a place to which government, opposition, individuals as well as non-governmental organisations can turn and be advised, obtain documentation, receive assistance in the safeguarding of human rights in the daily life of the citizens of this country. Advice comes from an institution, of which Belarus is a member. So, a basis of mutual trust is in existence. That is of immense importance for the acceptability of advice coming from abroad.
Q.: What could you say on the results of the work of the Advisory and Monitoring Group of OSCE in Belarus during past year? To what extent one may consider OSCE's contribution as successful in adopting common European standards and values of democracy in Belarus?
A.: In terms of concrete results there is little that was accomplished in the course of 1998. However, whenever legislative action is being prepared in matters of importance for the safeguarding of human rights and European standards, and democracy, translated do-cumentation and advice on European standards is available. Specialists can be consulted. Such advice actually finds a lot of understanding and acceptance on the part of the interlocutors. In the end, however, until now little of our advice has been included into the final version of the law in question. That will change some time in the future. European standards for democracy are becoming more known and more popular.
Q.: Based on your previous experience of diploma-tic work, what could you tell on possibility and the need to take into account "specificity" of this country and the current situation in the Republic of Belarus in OSCE's activity?
A.: It is very important for the transformation process, to take into account the "peculiarities" of the country such as multi-ethnic, multi-religious composition of the population, political traditions - freely chosen ones and "imposed" ones. Western European "individualism" and traditional Russian forms of "social cohesiveness" in the sense of the subordination of the individual under the guidance of a chairperson elected or nominated are having their impact in many ways on the social fabric of today's Belarus. Structures that used to be imposed on the population and are imposed to day should be tested in free and fair elections and not simply be declared unalterable good traditions of the country. Is it such a bad idea to make sure that the judiciary is independent from the executive branch of government? Is the parliamentary control of a governmental or presidential budget such a bad idea compared with the exemption of the president's budget by constitutional provision from political control by a democratically elected parliament? No doubt: advice has to be adapted to circumstances and can be fruitful only if the country in question is not simply copying foreign examples. In many ways, though, the principles that govern, for instance, the legal structures of market economies are of a universal character.
Q.: How successful is OSCE's mission in Belarus in staying outside the internal policy process and remaining neither 'ally' nor 'opponent' to the authorities and opposition?
A.: The Advisory and Monitoring Group makes available advice that is asked for or presented on its own initiative. It is addressed to government and opposition alike. It is discussed in many ways. The objective is to create conditions for a meaningful dialogue between government and opposition in order to overcome the existing constitutional crisis. Two years ago international organisations brought about a trilateral dialogue, which concentrated on the question of returning or not returning to the democratic Constitution of 1994. The issue should, however, not be reduced to the acceptance or rejection of one particular or another constitution. Dialogue must take into account such components of the problem, but should establish the principles that must be incorporated into constitution, if it is going to meet European standards. Democratically legitimate institutions and democratically not legitimised institutions must find common grounds for a new constitutional consensus. That is the function of dialogue. Suppression is not acceptable as a means of "communication", nor can sanctions be helpful to establish meaningful dialogue. Freedom of speech and assembly are essential preconditions for such a course of action. Suppression and sanctions can bring about only stalemate. But in history there is no stalemate. Other forces will fill the vacuum created by stalemate. Dialogue takes into account principles and realities and establishes a platform on the basis of which a kind of democratic structure can be construed that meets the European standards to which the country committed itself (Copenhagen Do-cument on Human Dimension, June 1990, Paris Charter, November 1990). So, the principles are established beyond doubt. In the interest of the independence of Belarus, in the interest of the structural renewal of industrial basis of Belarus as part of European Economic Zone and in the interest of the individually owned human rights, which need respect by the state institutions and have to be safeguarded by independent judiciary, the commitment by Government and opposition is needed to put this modus operandi into reality. The OSCE can serve as a catalyst in this process.
Q.: Do you think actors of the Belarus's political process realise the role that OSCE and Europe in general could and are willing to play for Belarus as a fully-fledged participant of the all-European process?
A.: I find great understanding for the role that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in general and the Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in particular are supposed to play and are actually playing in the countries in transition. According to a recent Belapan* public opinion poll on the trustworthiness of national and international organisations, the Church reached the highest positive rating, followed by the United Nations, the Armed Forces and the OSCE. This rating was made for 20 national and international institutions. The independent media reached position No 5. The Offices of the Advisory and Monitoring Group are open to everyone, and many citizens of the country use this access without fear.
Q.: How do you find conditions under which OSCE team in Minsk is to fulfil its missions?
A.: Those who volunteer to come here are aware of the fact that the mission to be fulfilled is a difficult one, but it is an extremely constructive and challenging one. We are dealing with a country that has amended a de-mocratic constitution in such a way, that it must now be qualified as a constitutional structure not meeting European standards of democracy. The 1996 amendments to the 1994 constitution have to be qualified as steps into the wrong direction - back into the past, not forward into the future. Contrary to the expectation of great many people the policy pursued by President Lukashenko cannot guarantee economic growth in real terms.
The work in Belarus is a great experience in human relations in each and every encounter with the citizens of the country in every corner of the country. That does not mean that there are not sharp differences in opinion and in assessment.
Q.: What do you think are the prospects for relations between the OSCE, leading European powers and Belarus in the light of the changes that have taken place in Belarusian Foreign Ministry?
A.: Recent changes in the government indicate the readiness for a balanced external relationship with the Russian Federation on the one hand, and with the European Union as well as with the USA and other countries in Europe that are not members of the European Union at this time on the other hand. Without making any predictions and without speaking attune spans involved in this process, in my judgement a balanced relationship of Belarus with the European Union and with the Russian Federation as a democratic country meeting the European standards is and continues to be within the possibilities open to the country. But there are hurdles to be taken and a number of risks to be avoided.
* Belapan is a non-state information agency - (Ed.)