The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has become a favorite target for attack by Belarus authorities, who regularly accuse the 55-member group of trying to undermine the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In the latest incident, the Belarus intelligence agency accused the chief of the OSCE mission in Minsk of subversion. RFERL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky reports.
Prague, 25 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- For several years, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been the highest-profile international organization working in Belarus and has been regularly criticized by the regime of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The OSCE has sought to work with the Belarus government to draw up rules for free and fair elections that include opposition parties, and to prepare election-monitoring procedures.
In recent years, the 55-member organization has frequently criticized Belarus authorities for the heavy-handed way in which they have responded to opposition rallies, when police have violently dispersed peaceful demonstrators. It particularly angered Lukashenka by describing last September's parliamentary elections as neither fair nor transparent.
All this has led the Belarus government to repeatedly accuse the OSCE of interfering in the country's internal affairs. It says the organization sought to undermine the government by recruiting what the government calls "agents provocateurs" as monitors for the presidential election due later this year.
This week (21 May) the Belarus intelligence agency, still known by its Soviet-era acronym KGB, said that it had called in the OSCE's chief in Belarus, Hans Georg Wieck, a German, and accused him of subversion and working to engineer the removal of Lukashenka.
The KGB's press spokesman, Fyodor Kotov, said on state television that agency chief Leonid Yerin had talked to Wieck about his activities in Belarus. Kotov said Wieck was a former German intelligence officer, and accused him of holding secret meetings "where he instructed his interlocutors to work out plans for ousting the current president from power."
Kotov implied that there were grounds for expelling Wieck from the country, but he said that the KGB would not interfere with the OSCE mission. Kotov added, however: "He [Wieck] was warned that if such activity continues, all the responsibility will be on him and his co-workers."
Wieck has never sought to conceal that for five years he was the head of Germany's intelligence service, a political appointment that is a matter of public record.
Last month, KGB chief Yerin accused the OSCE of training what he called "spies," instead of election monitors. Last week (17 May), Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov accused Wieck of supporting Lukashenko's opponents and said he might be expelled from Belarus. Khvostov charged that the West had "practically transformed the OSCE into an instrument of control over East European countries."
Wieck was out of Belarus this week, but the OSCE mission in the Belarus capital, Minsk, issued a statement denying the KGB allegations and calling the government's "threatening attitude" unjustified. The statement said that the KGB was seeking to discredit the OSCE mission in the eyes of the Belarusian public.
An OSCE spokesman at the organization's Vienna headquarters, Mons Nyburg, declined to provide details of the KGB's accusations. But Nyburg also denied the allegations leveled against the OSCE and Wieck.
"The only thing, of course, that is obvious is that this is connected to the upcoming [presidential] elections."
Over the past two years, Lukashenka has cracked down on opposition groups and the independent press, and several opposition figures have disappeared without trace. He remains a proponent of Soviet-style government and has tried to bind his country to Russia in a Union Treaty that he hopes will be the first step in rebuilding a new Soviet Union.
Many Western governments have criticized or refused to recognize Lukashenka's unilateral prolongation of his term in office after a 1996 referendum that he used to expand his powers. He also used the referendum to dissolve parliament and replace it with a body filled with those loyal to him.
Western governments and multilateral organizations such as the European Union and Council of Europe, as well as the OSCE, say a free and fair presidential election is necessary if Lukashenka wants the international community to recognize his rule as legitimate.
The OSCE hopes to have 14,000 monitors in place for the presidential balloting later this year. But two months ago Lukashenka said he would ban the training of election observers by non-Belarusian bodies. And earlier this month, KGB chief Yerin quoted the president as saying the OSCE was recruiting "opposition rebels" by training Belarusians to work as observers.
This week (23 May), the chairman of the OSCE, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Gioane, called for a continuation of the dialogue with Belarus. In a statement, Gioane said the dialogue was needed to establish better conditions for the holding of the presidential election. He also said he had confidence in Wieck and in "his activity aimed at strengthening the process of democratization of the country."
But this week, too, Wieck was also criticized by a leading member of the Belarus opposition, Zianon Pazniak, head of the Belarus Popular Front. Pazniak, who lives in exile in Poland, accused Wieck of helping to legitimize Lukashenka by trying to get the Belarus government to cooperate with the OSCE.
Pazniak said that Wieck was working on behalf of German interests in seeking to secure a stable Belarus, even if that meant continued rule by Lukashenka and the loss of Belarus' sovereignty to Russia. He called on the OSCE to name another head for its mission in Belarus.