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Mark Pritchard on Belarus's forthcoming elections

Markpritchard Mark Pritchard MP leads a Westminster Hall debate on Belarus, where he visited recently and which has elections in September.

"I should first like to condemn the recent spate of bomb attacks in Minsk. Whether they were motivated by extreme hooliganism, terrorism or other factors, they are to be condemned, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the 50 or so people who were injured, many seriously. I hope not only that the perpetrators will soon be brought before the courts and the necessary justice dispensed, but that the police investigation will not be used as a pretext for curbing the freedoms of civic society and those religious, political and media organisations that espouse only peace.

Belarus stands at an important juncture in its history. The choice could not be more stark: the parliamentary elections in September will either provide a continuance of the status quo or an opportunity for a new dawn in which all the people of Belarus will be able to realise their full potential, and fulfil their dreams and those of their families.

For too long, political discussions inside and outside Belarus have been unhelpfully trapped in silos, too often accompanied by the outdated rhetoric of yesterday rather than the lexicon of the future and the language of hope. It is a false dichotomy to talk of Belarus choosing between east and west, for Belarus is strategically and geographically positioned to take advantage of both relationships, as it should—it is in its national interest to do so. One relationship does not have to suffer because of the desire to deepen ties with other partners. Belarus can be politically polygamous.

Although it may be convenient for some to talk in immediate, post-Soviet language, such language may rally to history, but it does not champion the future. Belarus can never cast aside its close ties with Russia—the Slavic and Russian influences on it remain strong—but no one is calling for that. Indeed, I believe that the Belarusian people would not countenance such a mistaken proposition. However, the European characteristic of Belarus is equally unmistakable and evident, and is a proud element within the make-up of Belarus, which is a fine, cultured country of brave people. Recently, a marker was placed in Polotsk to denote the geographical centre of Europe. Of course, it is not the only candidate—there are several rival claims—but it is another indicator that Belarus is part of the family of European nations. That is why I hope the country will move towards realising its true and full European potential, with the many benefits that closer co-operation will bring, not least in these difficult economic times. Belarus, like all nations, needs to minimise its risk to the vagaries of the global economy, and part of that process means seeking out new markets and opportunities, be they for large companies or small and medium-sized business. For the impressive Belarusian entrepreneurs, of which I know there are plenty, the future holds many opportunities.

What about UK-Belarusian relations? We enjoy good relations with Belarus—I would even say very good relations—in combating organised crime. Trade and investment are growing all the time, although the pace of growth is slow and could increase much further, given the right conditions. That is why Belarus’s international reputation is important. I know of several UK companies that would like to expand into Minsk and other Belarusian cities, but they are worried that their reputations could be damaged in the process. Those justified, multi-million pound concerns should be taken seriously. They are a huge missed opportunity for the Belarus economy, but I do not believe that such opportunities are lost for ever. That is a matter for the Government of Belarus. Although Belarus might seek to improve its own image, the reality rather than the perception of progress matters."

More from Pritchard and other Conservative MPs from Hansard here.


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