On Wednesday, Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka told the European Union he's open to electoral reform. Today, two senior pro-democracy leaders told a crowd at RFE/RL's Washington, DC office that the Belarusian leader is not to be trusted.
“He has changed his language, but he hasn’t, unfortunately, changed his manner of thinking,” said Lavon Barshcheuski, former chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front. "It's regrettable that, despite Lukashenka's brutal human rights violations, some politicians in Brussels and other European capitals still try to reach out to his regime."
Vintsuk Viachorka, co-chairman of Belarus' United Democratic Forces, said it is "dangerous" to assume that Lukashenka would undertake democratic reforms.
"Those who believe in democracy and human rights should not make excuses for the regime," he said. "With just about a year to go before the next presidential elections, now is the time for the opposition to consolidate against Lukashenka."
Joining the discussion via videoconference from Prague, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service Director Alexander Lukashuk said the Belarusian leader's "so-called U-turn towards Europe is nothing more than lip service."
"One can see isolated examples of 'liberalization,' but they are not institutional and can be taken back any moment," he said.
Former US Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak moderated the event and noted how little has changed in Minsk over the last decade.
"Unfortunately, we could have had this same briefing ten years ago asking about Lukashenka's intentions and it would have pretty much been the same."
About RFE/RL's Belarusian Service
RFE/RL's Belarus Service was established in 1954 as part of Radio Liberty's broadcasts to the former Soviet Union. With much of the independent media in Belarus silenced, it remains one of the few media outlets accessible to Belarusians in their own language, providing timely, objective, and balanced information to residents of "Europe's last dictatorship."