Visiting Belarus visa-free

Statement by Ambassador Viktar Gaisenak, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Belarus, at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, concerning the national conference in Riga (Latvia)

5 February 2004

On 6 February 2004, an international conference will take place in Riga (Latvia) on the theme the future of democracy beyond the borders of the Baltic States, organized by one of the non governmental organizations of Latvia along with the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The aim of this conference, according to its organizers, is to contribute to an international discussion on the development of democracy in countries bordering the Baltic States. Among other matters, the conference is also scheduled to discuss the subject the development of democracy in Belarus: the 2004 elections and beyond.

However, despite the stated international character of this event, the organizers have prepared it in secret from the Belarusian authorities. Invitations to attend and address the conference were extended only to persons known in Belarus for their particular (opposition) views. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Latvia circulated a note concerning the holding of the conference only as recently as 27 January 2004 and only on the insistence of the Belarusian Embassy in Latvia.

The nature of the preparatory work for the conference and the desire to exclude participation in the conference by representatives of the Belarusian authorities clearly indicate that this international event to be held in Riga is nothing other than a political action, whose goal is to publicize a negative image of Belarus in circumstances where opponents and alternative points of view are totally absent.

It is clear that approaches of this kind do not contribute either to an objective perception of the events and processes taking place in Belarus or to the strengthening of good neighbourly relations and mutual understanding; they in fact contradict the principles of good-neighbourliness set out in the documents of the OSCE and other international organizations.

The Belarusian authorities are not inclined to exaggerate the importance of this forum in Riga. However, we regard the actions of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has acted as the organizer of the preparatory arrangements for this dubious event, as clear evidence of unwillingness to conduct a constructive dialogue with the Belarusian authorities, and as an attempt to exert flagrant external pressure with a view to destabilizing the internal political situation in our country. Such steps are in direct contradiction to Latvias international commitments both within the OSCE and within the European Union, of which Latvia is intending to become a member in the near future.

We should like to express our regret regarding the participation in the conference of official representatives of the executive and legislative authorities of a number of European countries and the USA, and also of the Head of the OSCE Office in Minsk, Ambassador Eberhard Heyken. We trust that not all those invited have been informed of the true nature and aims of this conference and that they will be able to maintain objectivity and impartiality in their assessments.

We should like to express the hope that the Latvian authorities will bring the points raised in this statement to the attention of the participants in the Riga conference.