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European Parliament Chief Sees Change In Belarus, Says Door Open For Eastern Neighbors

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek: "You never know when the [Belarus] regime would start to disappear and collapse."
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek: "You never know when the [Belarus] regime would start to disappear and collapse."
BRUSSELS -- Jerzy Buzek predicts imminent political changes in Belarus and says the door to the European Union remains open for six former Soviet republics in the EU's eastern neighborhood program.

The European Parliament president made the remarks in an interview with RFE/RL in Brussels.

The EU has imposed sanctions on Minsk in response to its crackdown on opposition protests following last year's disputed presidential election.

Demonstrators in recent weeks have repeatedly come out onto the streets of Minsk and other cities to protest the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and a deepening economic crisis.

Buzek said the EU sanctions -- mainly asset freezes and travel bans on nearly 200 prominent figures -- had not yielded results.

But he said he believed "big and deep changes" are just around the corner in Belarus and that the regime could crumble just as quickly as those in Tunisia and Egypt during the Arab Spring.

Antigovernment protests in Belarus show no sign of abating.
"I don't see any results of our targeted sanctions, let's say. I don't see any change in the behavior of the Belarusian regime," Buzek said. "But this is quite typical, because you never know when the regime would start to disappear and collapse. Because it could be [in] two or three weeks.

"We can say that one year ago nobody could expect that in North Africa there will be something [like what] we are experiencing today. Nobody could even expect [that]. And suddenly everything has happened. So it is absolutely the same with Belarus."

The EU's strained relationship with Minsk is one of the reasons the bloc's Eastern Partnership program, launched two years ago, has gotten off to a slow start.

The program seeks closer political and economic relations between the EU and six eastern neighbors -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Change Can Come Quickly

But Buzek dismissed the notion that the Eastern Partnership is a tool designed to keep the eastern neighbors close but out of the EU.

While admitting that none of the countries has any short-term chance of joining the club, Buzek cited the example of the countries in the western Balkans to show that things can change rather quickly.

"Ten years ago, nobody was thinking about the future membership of the western Balkans countries in the EU. Nobody was even dreaming about something like that," Buzek said. "Now it is the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century and Croatia is almost in the EU. Serbia, Montenegro, and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia are queuing and are very well prepared."

Although not committed to a specific timetable, Buzek still gave an idea of when Brussels could welcome its partners.

"We have still more than one decade in front of us when we think about western Balkans and then it will be in order, of course, to think about the eastern part of Europe," he said. "But it is 2025 or 2030. We should not think about such a long perspective. But I don't think that the door or gate to the European Union is closed. "
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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