Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 11

The ambassadors of European Union member and candidate countries returned to Minsk yesterday, seven months after President Alyaksandr Lukashenka evicted them from their residences and their governments recalled them in protest. The evictions, which violated international conventions on the immunity of diplomatic missions, had triggered an international diplomatic scandal (see the Monitor, June-September 1998, passim). Last month, however, the Europeans accepted a face-saving solution (see the Monitor, December 11) which made yesterday’s return of the British, French, German, Italian, Greek, Polish and Czech ambassadors (plus those of several pro-Western countries) possible. The United States and Japan are not parties to this solution.

Lukashenka has allowed the ambassadors to return to their violated residences in the Drazdy compound for one month. During this time they will pack up their remaining belongings and move to alternate accommodations, as the authorities had demanded in the first place. The European Union (EU) will lift the restrictions it imposed last year on Belarusan government officials being permitted to enter EU territory.

The redeeming aspect of this outcome is that European embassies will once again be in a position to keep a direct eye on and report on political developments in Belarus. A Belarusan opposition spokesman yesterday welcomed the ambassadors’ return in the “hope that it will help the development of democracy in Belarus… We don’t see it as support for the Lukashenka regime” (AP, Reuters, Itar-Tass, January 17).