“Traffic Light and Belarus: What’s in store for Minsk under the new German government

German Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens, forming a new government, presented a coalition agreement. It says that they support democratic Belarus.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus and support their aspiration for new elections, democracy, freedom and the rule of law, as well as insist on the unconditional release of all political prisoners,” reads the coalition agreement of German Social Democrats, Liberals of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens, completing the formation of a new government in Germany. What should Belarus and its society expect from the “traffic light” coalition, which is called so based on the colors of the party flags of its three members?

“The Belarusian authorities themselves ruined relations with Germany.
The events of 2020 in Belarus severely damaged Belarusian-German relations, which were experiencing a certain boom before the presidential election. “In the political and economic sense, Germany has always meant a lot to Minsk. The dialogue at the diplomatic level was developing well, which means we had something to lose,” says Pavel Matsukevich, who used to work at the Belarusian embassy in Germany.

According to the former diplomat, the relationship between Minsk and Berlin is at its lowest point now: “Chancellor Angela Merkel was the politician who tried to understand Alexander Lukashenko, she called him immediately after the elections. But Minsk itself ruined relations with Germany. Officially, there may still be some trade and economic cooperation, but we cannot speak about investments from Germany.

Thus, after August 2020, Germany did not recognize Lukashenko as the winner of the presidential election, advocated the imposition of sanctions, and began to support the people of Belarus. “There was attention to civil society before, but now there is more assistance to pro-democratic political structures, independent media, and victims of repression,” says Olga Dryndova, editor of Belarus-Analysen and member of the Working Group on Belarus (Arbeitskreis Belarus). However, according to her, there are still contacts at the official level – Merkel’s recent phone calls to Lukashenko and communication with the Belarusian ambassador to Berlin – although they are reduced to a minimum.

In the coalition agreement “traffic light” Belarus has a special place
The coalition agreement recently presented by the Social Democrats, the Liberals and the Greens shows whether the new government of Germany will keep the situation in Belarus in the focus of its attention. Belarus is mentioned separately: the government coalition supports the Belarusian opposition’s demand for new elections, considers “Russian interference in favor of Lukashenko unacceptable,” and threatens with new sanctions if “Lukashenko does not decide to change the course.

Jakob W√∂llenstein, head of the Vilnius-based Belarusian office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, believes that this clearly demonstrates the determination of Germany to side with the people of Belarus and support the Demsil – not only in exile, but also inside the country. “What exactly the support is promised to Belarus is not specified in the agreement, but there are examples in the election program of the liberals: information support, for example, through Deutsche Welle, financial support to civil society, easier access to visas,” explains Wollenstein.

Meanwhile, Olga Dryndova believes that the above paragraph about Belarus is not something to take for granted, and draws attention to the order of countries in the section of the coalition agreement “Bilateral Regional Relations: “There go the U.S., Britain, Eastern Partnership, Ukraine, Belarus, and only then Russia. This is not an alphabetical order, it is a prioritization.

How does the coalition see the solution to the crisis in Belarus?
According to Jakob Wollenstein, the fact that the country was mentioned in the programs of all three parties forming the government shows that Berlin is ready to continue supporting Belarus. “The Greens” and the Liberals, he recalls, are active advocates of human rights, so “we can expect this to play a role in politics towards the region, perhaps by expanding the presence of funds associated with the Greens.

The election programs of the SPD and FDP, Wollenstein continues, give an indication of how the German authorities see the possible solutions to the crisis in Belarus: “They demand new elections with OSCE support. Liberals also point to the need for a structured dialogue between the opposition and the authorities and believe that a constitutional referendum (in Belarus – Ed.) does not meet this need”.

The head of the Belarusian office of the Adenauer Foundation also points out an interesting thing in the wording: the conservative bloc CDU/CSU, which goes into opposition, demanded that “the regime step aside”, and the new ruling coalition wants “Lukashenko to change his course”. “It can be understood that the coalition sees a possible role for him on the way to new elections. But it threatens new sanctions if Lukashenko does not change his course,” Wollenstein specifies.

Solidarity with the Belarusian society will not disappear.
However, Pavel Matsukevich calls the coalition agreement only a declaration of intent and does not expect any fundamental changes. “First of all, it is impossible to spoil what has been spoiled, we are already at the lowest point. Secondly, Belarus is not critical for Germany, neither as a trade or political partner, nor as an important regional country – this reduces the chance for attention. And there are few real levers in Germany and the EU to influence the Belarusian situation,” admits the ex-diplomat.

In his opinion, although Germany declares its support to civil society, it is impossible to help Belarusians in Belarus now: “There is an option to strengthen the sanction line, but it is a questionable policy, given the support (of Minsk. – Ed.) Russia and the lack of the desired effect. Matsukevich reminds that German foreign policy has always been flexible, and the new coalition may have to move away from declarations.

Olga Dryndova, in turn, sees no prerequisites for bargaining between Berlin and Lukashenko. “Yes, this is the first time in the history of Germany (formed. – Ed.) such a coalition of different parties. So far, they are going to stick to the existing line concerning contacts with Lukashenko. Maybe, something will be renewed in other contacts, when it is clear that Lukashenko will stay for a long time. But I can hardly imagine that the solidarity with the Belarusian society will disappear somewhere,” says the member of the Working Group on Belarus.

And whether Belarus will remain in the focus of German policy depends to a large extent on Lukashenko’s own mistakes. “Problems like migrants or the landing of a plane (Ryanair. – Ed.) help Belarus stay on the agenda of the world media, which means it’s easier for the diaspora to draw the attention of politicians to the Belarusian situation. It is also important for the democratic forces to keep in touch with the society and not quarrel with each other, so that foreign actors continue to see them as a force,” summed up Dryndova.