Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 194

The British, French, German, and Italian ambassadors to Belarus yesterday handed over to the Foreign Ministry a note on behalf of the European Union. The EU expressed serious concern over the president’s recent steps escalating the conflict with parliament, urged him and the government to observe the constitution, and pointed out that the place of Belarus in Europe depends on the authorities’ respect for the rule of law and democratic processes. It warned that any referendum not approved by parliament and conducted with less than full openness in the absence of media freedom would be considered illegitimate and its results invalid.

The chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Leni Fischer, flew into Minsk yesterday for meetings with parliamentary leaders, the Constitutional Court, the Central Election Commission, and other supporters of constitutional rule. Addressing the parliament, Fischer advised against holding any referendum in the current, tense situation, warned against attempts to circumvent or dissolve the parliament, and held the president responsible for the potentially dangerous consequences of splitting society. Fischer recommended abiding by the existing constitution, but added that the CE’s experts find the parliament’s proposed revisions — which envisage a purely parliamentary republic — clearly preferable to the president’s draft. The Belarusan parliamentary leaders described the situation as "volatile and potentially explosive." While appreciative of the CE’s support, they regretted a delay in scheduling a CE debate on Belarus — now due for November 7 — and their own visit to the CE, now due in January. Lukashenko, while still in Moscow, responded at a news conference that "we are sick of demarches" and said that the EU ambassadors’ action was "incompatible with their diplomatic status." (Interfax, NTV, October 16)

The CE’s and EU’s actions are a shot in the arm for a parliament whose morale had been deteriorating under pressure, and may also sway some fence-sitters in the executive branch. The intercessions are also long overdue. The West’s attention to Belarus has been episodic, despite the twin facts that the constitutional crisis there has been brewing for more than a year and that the international stake in its successful resolution is high.

Division of the Black Sea Fleet Still a Volatile Issue.