Because of the lockdown, the event will mainly take place virtually. It was initiated by the Federal Chancellery and the Foreign Ministry with the involvement of the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya. Tichanovskaya hopes that the conference will show a commitment to the tough line in the sanctions against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.
Tichanovskaya himself will take part in a panel of ministers at the conference “Towards a prosperous and safe future for Belarus” in the morning. Her colleague Veronika Zepkalo and her husband Valeri Zepkalo, the leading opposition politician and ex-minister of culture Pawel Latuschko and other members of the opposition are announced for expert panels in the afternoon. The hosts are Federal Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and Foreign Minister Michael Linhart (both ÖVP).
In his opening statement, Linhart emphasized the hope that the conference “can be an important step forward”. It should be “another signal to Belarusian civil society” that it is not alone. That we didn’t let them down, ”said Linhart, according to the speech. “Our goal is not regime change. We want the Belarusian people to make their own decisions. Free. Unafraid. A Belarus in which human rights, freedom of the media, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are respected. “
According to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Germany wants to give more support to the Belarusian opposition. He was “convinced that Belarus will see better days,” Maas emphasized, according to the speech. “The European Union and its partners keep up the pressure on Lukashenko’s regime.” He also called on the opposition to “remain committed to their cause and continue to stick together. Lukashenko hopes to wear you down over time. But you can prove him wrong! ” He also called on Russia to cooperate with the democratic forces in Belarus.
The European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, Olivér Várhelyi, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Germany, the EU Presidency of Slovenia, Finland, Poland, Estonia and Slovakia also took part in the conference. The US special envoy for Belarus, Julie Fisher, as well as the OSCE media representative Teresa Ribeiro and the international law expert Wolfgang Benedek from Graz should also join in. Representatives of the Belarusian regime or the Russian government, however, refused to attend.
The Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makej had sharply criticized the conference for more than a week. Minsk regards the fact that talks about a change of power in Belarus are to be expected as an “absolutely hostile step”, said Makej during a visit to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. For his part, Lavrov stated that, with all good intentions, a dialogue could not start like this. “In this initiative it became clear that some feel superior,” criticized Lavrov.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry regretted the negative attitude from Minsk towards the Austrian initiative. “The aim of the conference in Vienna is to find ways out of the current crisis in Belarus together with civil society,” said the Federal Chancellery. With the exception of a press conference with Schallenberg, Tichanowskaja, Várhelyi and Linhart in the Federal Chancellery, all program items take place with the exclusion of the media public, informed a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry.
In an interview, Tichanovskaya hoped that “the representatives of those EU countries taking part in the conference will declare on behalf of the EU that there will be no return to business as usual”. So that “nobody will recognize Lukashenko and nobody will give in to his pressure. That our efforts for changes and new elections (of the President, note) are supported, that the release of political prisoners is demanded, ”stressed Tichanovskaya. “The point is that the current, tough positions on sanctions are made clear once again and that everyone hears that too.” (APA / red)