In recent days, European authorities have decided on new sanctions against Belarusian leaders over abuses by the Lukashenko regime against its citizens: journalists, activists, opposition politicians arrested and convicted without appeal. More and more people are being detained and convicted of harmless acts, such as carrying a white-and-red flag or expressing the slightest criticism of the regime. European leaders discuss almost every day what they can do to help the citizens of Belarus who got into this difficult situation, but also how to deter abuses. The hijacking of the Ryanair aircraft in May led Europeans to impose a new wave of sanctions against 78 persons and 7 economic entities.
Economic sanctions and travel blockages are some of the measures. That is, people holding leadership roles and involved in abuse are banned from traveling to the EU. Is it a problem for a group of people who have enough money to afford daily vacation lifestyle at home? Earlier cases show that such sanctions bother them. They may be oligarchs and abusers, be they patriots from Belarus, Russia, or maybe even from Ukraine or Moldova, but they keep their accounts, real estate, and other assets in Europe. European states have decided that there is no place for fun or money for those who ruin people’s lives in their countries. Among the people recently sanctioned are even the sons of Alexandr Lukashenko, extended family members, other close people.
The EU market is the largest market in the world and there is a growing interest from business people everywhere to have access to it. However, the EU sometimes decides that it does not want to accept a particular commodity, not because it is defective, but because the authorities of the exporting state are defective. The giant MAZ is almost at the top of the list. That very MAZ which is the largest state-owned plant in Belarus that produces famous cars, coaches, and other equipment famous in the former Soviet Union, as well as in other parts of the world. The decision of the EU authorities to block them is as follows: MAZ is one of the largest state-owned plants and a source of income for the Lukashenko regime. Moreover, the general manager of MAZ, Valeri Ivankovici, born in 1971, is also subject to sanctions.
“As general manager of MAZ, Ivankovici is held responsible for the detention of MAZ employees inside the plant by the police, as well as for the dismissal of employees who participated in peaceful protests. He was also appointed member of the Belarus Constitution Amendment Committee under the aegis of Lukashenko, thus supporting the regime.”
That being said, let’s see Chișinău’s official position towards the Belarusian regime and towards business with this regime? In addition to the graceful silence of all authorities on human rights abuses in Minsk, we recently learned that Chișinău is officially planning to purchase from MAZ 100 buses, and will pay the state-owned company in Minsk about 12 million euros of public money.
On April 27, Mayor Ivan Ceban happily announced that Chișinău will purchase MAZ buses, reasoning that, following the auction, the offer from Minsk was the most convenient: a lower price and a longer warranty. Citizens’ comments on this statement deserve all respect. It seems that they understand better than the mayor of Chișinău what an advantageous offer means, and they explained to Ceban that not everything that is cheaper is better, that the economic reputation of these products is compromised. Several people asked, not surprisingly, about the impact of these buses on the environment.
There were no comments on the incompatibility of the transfer of public money to an enterprise of the Minsk regime in terms of human rights and respect for European standards. A state that has an Association Agreement with the EU and is committed to fighting corruption and respecting citizens’ rights and freedoms should not transfer public money to a corrupt regime that destroys those freedoms. Do rights matter only in Chișinău? Should Chișinău appraise human rights only when communicating with Brussels, and forget about them when it comes to collaborating with an abusive state? Does this add credibility to Chișinău or, on the contrary, it means associating with Minsk?
The lists of sanctions are never final. I think it’s time to talk about them in Chișinău as well before Brussels puts them on our agenda.