Political analyst Dmitry Bolkunets — about why a visa-free regime with the United States and the European Union best Belarus
Photo: personal archive of Dmitry Bakunzi
On 9 January Aliaksandr Lukashenka signed Decree # 8 “On establishing a visa-free order of entrance and departure of foreign citizens”. The document provides visa-free entry to Belarus for a period not exceeding five days through the checkpoint — the state border — the national airport Minsk to the nationals of 80 countries. The decree extends to 39 countries of Europe, including the entire European Union, as well as Brazil, Indonesia, USA, Japan and other States.
Terms of visa availability Belarus until the last moment was the most closed country for tourists in Europe. The decision late at least 15 years. For example, in 2005 Ukraine unilaterally abolished visa requirements for citizens of the EU and the US, and in the first year the flow of tourists has increased by almost three times.
I think that the simplification of the visa regime has contributed to a severe economic crisis in Belarus and the government’s desire to attract tourists and, with luck, investors.
The decree contains an interesting clarification that the “order of visa-free travel does not apply to persons arriving to Belarus flights from Russia, as well as intending to effect a departure in airports of Russia (these flights are internal, border control on them is not carried out)”. Technically, the control could be implemented. I think in this case it is a mirror response to Moscow’s actions, which in 2016 allowed the entry of foreigners into the territory of the Russian Federation only through international checkpoints. As you know, on the border between Belarus and Russia points available there. The problem arose due to uncontrolled flow of foreigners entering Russia via Belarus without a Russian visa. The situation can be resolved once parties are able to negotiate and take all your questions. Ideally the perfect solution would be the introduction of a common visa of the Union state or the Eurasian economic Union.
Visa-free regime will not affect the obligations of Belarus within the framework of cooperation with Russia. Foreign citizens included in the lists will not be able to enter the territory of the Republic, to cross the Russian-Belarusian border.
In 2015, Belarus was visited by about 300 thousand foreign tourists and average stay was five days. According to the world tourism organization, the total number of foreign tourists in the world in 2015 amounted to 1.18 billion people. Republic could take a year to 5 million tourists, which would create tens of thousands of jobs and get so necessary for the country currency.
The government will have to be done to promote tourism brand. It would be correct to offer to do this are not officials, and the creative class. European tourists are quite willing to go to look at “nature of the Soviet Union”, as often called Belarus. Minsk is a beautiful city, but the historical flavor and variety of attractions are virtually absent. To detain the tourist for 1-2 days in the capital — big feat. Save the situation reserves, Soviet sanatoriums and several dozen famous historical sites. Potential to have national festivals (“Slavic Bazaar” and “Dozhinki”), major sporting events, Biking and Hiking. Popular can be a gastronomic weekend tours. Imagine tired of the oysters of the French flying for a weekend to Minsk to enjoy pancakes with bacon, and the Germans decided to eat roasted pork knuckle.
The Belarusian authorities pay little attention to the simplification of the visa regime for citizens of the Republic. There are so-called Index of visa restrictions (Visa Restriction Index) that ranks countries based on how free citizens of a state can move the world. According in 2016, Belarus was ranked 71-th line and the citizens of countries without a visa to visit 67 countries.
The current visa policy of the European Union and the United States against the citizens of Russia are more liberal than the citizens of Belarus, for which consular fees are almost two times more. The reason lies in the sluggishness of the Belarusian government and European officials on the preparation of documents on simplification of the visa regime. Despite various difficulties in obtaining visas and visa fees are high, holders of Belarusian passports are committed to Europe, as confirmed by the statistics.
Almost two decades of diplomatic contacts between the EU and the Belarusian government were at a very low level. The summit was generally exotic. The government is not particularly worried about visa issues for citizens who are hostages of big politics. They were forced to pay high consular fees, weeks expect visa or even go to neighbouring countries. Continued difficulties in obtaining visas for citizens of Belarus do not contribute to the politics of education, intercultural exchange and cooperation between ordinary citizens. Let’s hope that some countries will follow the principle of reciprocity and will remove the need to go to the Embassy.
The author is a political scientist and expert on Belarus, HSE
The opinion of the author may not coincide with the position of the editorial Board