Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, as current chairman-in-office of the OSCE, opened the organization’s Consultative and Monitoring Group in Minsk on February 27. The mission is mandated to assist the country’s democratization in accordance with OSCE principles, working with the authorities, the opposition, and nongovernmental groups and to guarantee "accessibility and openness." The mission will monitor the situation of human and civil rights and advise the authorities and the political parties with regard to legislation, the functioning of state institutions and the organization of elections. In a special statement on the occasion, the U.S. State Department expressed "serious concern" over the internal situation in Belarus and announced that Washington "expects the authorities to fully cooperate with the OSCE mission."
Belarusan authorities had resisted the creation of the mission and sought to dilute its mandate. As late as last month, official Minsk demanded that Geremek visit–not only as OSCE chairman-in-office but also in his capacity as Polish foreign minister–to conduct bilateral talks with the Belarus government. This would have enabled the government to claim that it was no longer being ostracized. The OSCE and Geremek stood firm, and Minsk ultimately gave way in the hope of using at least this avenue for overcoming its international isolation. Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich virtually admitted as much in his speech at the opening ceremony; President Alyaksandr Lukashenka declined to attend. (Belapan, Russian and Western agencies, February 27-28)
Belarusan Trade Deficit, National Debt Grow in 1997.