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Diplomacy 101 In Belarus: Talking To Bad People Is Part Of The Job

A German politician lashed out after Angela Merkel spoke on the phone with Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko. But like in other hot spots, avoiding the worst along the Belarus-Poland border means casting aside moral superiority and naiveté.

Diplomacy 101 In Belarus: Talking To Bad People Is Part Of The Job

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko during an interview with the BBC

Nikolaus Doll

BERLIN — It may well be that in just a few weeks there will be a Green Party politician at the helm of the German diplomacy. It may be co-party leader Annalena Baerbock, or someone else. Either way, what would it mean if the foreign minister was from the Green Party?

Well, we may get a hint of what could happen by looking at Green politician Omid Nouripour's reaction to outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's actions regarding the refugee crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border. It does not bode well.


When he heard that she'd spoken with Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko to try to find a solution to the crisis, Nouripour called Merkel's phone call a "devastating signal." One should never speak with dictators, the Green Party politician said.

A "very bad dictator"

Nouripour is no backbencher; the foreign policy expert's words carry real weight in his party. His assessment of Merkel's initiative in the Belarus standoff shows how the Greens would conduct foreign policy in the future: with little diplomacy, but with plenty of moral superiority and naiveté.

Talking is the only way to save lives

Socialist party candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz calls Lukashenko a "very bad dictator," and that is certainly true. Lukashenko has committed electoral fraud, suppressed the opposition and made dissidents disappear. And he is undoubtedly behind the crisis on the border with Poland. He wants to blackmail the West by flooding it with refugees.

Lukashenko is a problem, he must go. But Lukashenko is also the man ruling Belarus. If things need to be fixed rapidly, he is the one to talk to. And a solution must come quickly because there are thousands of people currently stranded on the European Union border. They are freezing, they are starving, they are being driven back and forth. People are dying, the situation is escalating.

Migrants on the Belarus-Poland border

Leonid Shcheglov/TASS/ZUMA

Lukashenko is the only way out now

And in this situation, the head of foreign policy of the Green Party complains that a phone call to the man who could most likely stop this is a "de facto recognition." Yes, it is. For this moment. But there is no way around it.

What would be the alternative to an attempt at talks with the man in power in Minsk? To wait until the opposition finds its way and ousts the dictator? That could take weeks or months, or longer. It could lead to a civil war. While people continue to freeze, starve and die on the border.

In the face of this, it is not the moment to act defiantly and give moral lessons about democracy. This is the time for diplomacy. And that means recognizing the facts, which means talking to an undoubtedly bad dictator in order to put an end to the misery of refugees on the Polish border. Talking, indeed, is the only way to save lives.

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