Czech PM: EU Must Encourage Belarusians Not to Fear Own 'Velvet Revolution'

Usually careful in his statements that concern Eastern Europe, Andrej Babiš has recently become far more outspoken amid continuing protests in Belarus.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš did not mince his words last weekend in reaction to the ongoing crackdowns in Belarus. Using analogies from both 1968 and 1989, he said the European Union should encourage Belarusians not to be afraid of carrying out their own “velvet revolution”. Meanwhile the foreign minister said that Czechia could consider acting unilaterally if EU discussions stall.

In his weekly Sunday video speech, shared on social media, the Czech prime minister pulled no punches when talking about the Belarusian president and compared the situation in the country to episodes in Czech history.

“What is happening there is an absolute catastrophe. Right now it is being decided how this will end. Whether like our Velvet Revolution in November 1989, with real free elections not manipulated by a dictator, or, following yesterday’s call between President Lukashenko and Putin, it could end up like in 1968, when Russian tanks destroyed the Prague Spring.”

The EU has a chance to take action

Babiš said the people of Belarus need Europe’s support and that he has been speaking to several leaders of EU states about how the union should react.

“The European Union now has the chance to take action. It is good that our ministers of foreign affairs have decided to enact sanctions, but Europe needs to act fast. Europe’s problem is that we all have to agree of course, but we have no time.
“The sanctions have to come in fast. But someone needs to negotiate with President Putin on behalf of Europe and make it clear that it is not possible that the same happens to Belarus as happened to Crimea or to us in 1968. And those concerns are real.”

Central and Eastern European countries may understand the situation better

Babiš' statement that the Visegrad grouping of four Central European countries, of which Czechia is a member along with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, should play their own role was seconded on Monday by Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, who spoke to Czech Radio.

“States from Central and Eastern Europe perhaps understand the situation in Belarus more than other EU members, due to their own history. We are working very intensely with Poland and are also in contact with the Baltic States to help civil society in Belarus.
“We want to urge the EU to be more active and clear in its expectations of how the situation will develop. If the discussion on sanctions were somehow to stall, we could also look into a national approach.”

EU could approve sanctions before the end of August

The list of Belarusian officials who will be impacted by EU sanctions is currently being established, based on their role in the elections and the subsequent crackdown on protesters. Czech Radio analyst Filip Nerad says these could come into effect in two weeks’ time.

“If everything goes smoothly and the first draft of the sanctions list is delivered to the EU ambassadors this week, the process could be completed by the end of August, when there is an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Berlin, who could approve the list. Everything is now in the hands of EU diplomacy and member state foreign ministers.”