EU calling Belarus (in Russian and/or Polish)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Sep 1 12:13:11 UTC 2005

EU calling Belarus
Written by Brussels journalist David Ferguson
Wednesday, 31 August 2005

"I confirm that the Commission intends to send an envoy to Belarus. As you
know relations between Belarus and EU have been of a very limited nature
so far," said European Spokesperson Franoise Le Bail. "Belarus was
mentioned in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy. When
conditions are met it will be possible for Belarus to be part of this
Neighborhood Policy."

"We are looking towards establishing Commission representation in Belarus.
As a first step a charge d'affaires will be sent. We don't have any
details on the time framework," added the Commission's External Relations
Spokesperson Emma Udwin. "For the time being relations with Belarus are
based in Kiev. This person or someone else will be moved to based in
Minsk," noted Le Bail.

Last week the European Commission granted 138,000 to Deutsche Welle Radio
for broadcasts to the former Soviet republic, initially, though, only in
Russian and not in Belarus. The grant bypasses other possible broadcasters
including Radio Polonia, which produces a daily 30 minute Belarus language
program. "With this measure, the Commission hopes to increase the
awareness of the Belarus population about democracy, pluralism, the rule
of law, freedom of press and human rights. Broadcasting will take place
over 12 months from 1 November 2005," read a Commission statement.

"We are extremely worried about the lack of freedom of expression in
Belarus. Over the past years independent media coverage in Belarus has met
increasingly tight restrictions. This initiative will bring independent
international radio to the Belarus population," added External Relations
Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "It will increase their awareness of
the deteriorating situation of democracy, the rule of law and human rights
in their country.

Nonetheless, the 15 minute daily broadcasts via radio and Internet are
unlikely to reach ordinary Belarus citizens be difficult. Short wave is
not popular with listeners and Internet, easily blocked by
state-controlled Internet providers. Additionally with Europe's lowest
Internet usage figures, Deutsche Welle's radio service, which cannot be
downloaded, are unlikely to attract normal listeners.

The European Commission's appears more symbolic satisfying Polish demands
for greater EU action against Belarus. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner was
also criticized in the European Parliament for being slow to aid Belarus'
civil society.

Poland is now considering establish its own FM radio broadcasts to
Belarus. Currently, Polish state radio is popular, especially amongst
Belarus' ethnic Polish minority. However, new telecoms regulations, signed
by President Aleksandr Lukashenko earlier in August, introduce further
state control of radio frequencies.

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