European Commissioner Štefan Füle on the release of Andrei Sannikov and Dmitri Bondarenko

Pavol Demes, transatlatic fellow with the German Marshall Fund’s Bratislava Office interviewed European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle on the recent release of leading Belarussian dissidents Andrei Sannikov and Dmitri Bondarenko. Here are Commissioner Füle’s responses.

How do you asses release of two prominent Belarusian political prisoners: former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and the member of his team Dmitri Bondarenko?

The release of Mr Sannikov and Mr Bandarenka is a fundamental first step one would naturally expect – especially in a situation when the head of state promised to pardon those who asked for it. Although personally I think it is against the principles of modern Europe and against human dignity to force people to admit what they never did, when their only “crime” was expressing their own opinion.

Is this result of EU policy?

The EU has repeatedly stressed that all political prisoners must be released and rehabilitated, only then we can consider normalisation of the relations with Minsk. The freeing of Mr Sannikov and Mr Bandarenka took place also in this context and is therefore a first step after which further steps should follow.

Can we expect return of Ambassadors of the European Union to Minsk now?

Regarding the return of ambassadors we would like to have them back soon and the release of Mr Sannikov and Mr Bandarenka creates more favourable environment for that. It is important that the unity and solidarity of the EU, shown when calling the ambassadors for consultations, continues and remains the main principle of EU’s reaction to any actions of Minsk. The return of ambassadors should however in no way be misused by the authorities since we refuse the notion of screening them or undergoing similar procedures initiated by Minsk.