Belarusian officials flouted further recent attempts by European Union ministers in Brussels to curb the human rights violations of their eastern neighbor.
Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle spoke out in early March against Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s record of human rights abuses since he took office in 1994. Westerwelle called Lukashenka “Europe’s last dictator.”
Lukashenka, who did not bother to correct Westerwelle’s characterization, responded, “It’s better to be a dictator than gay.”
Reuters reported, Westerwelle is the first openly gay state minister in Germany.=
The exchange followed an official rebuff from Brussels. On Feb. 28, EU ministers imposed travel restrictions and froze the assets of 21 more government officials in Belarus, bringing the total to over 200 blacklisted judges, police officers and other state figures who are thought to be systematically stamping out opposition to Lukashenka’s government since a rigged election in 2010, The Guardian reported.
In response to the move, Lukashenka sent EU ministers in Minsk packing, The Economist reported. His action drew the ire of Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton who called on all EU member states to retract their envoys from Belarus.
It’s not yet clear what concerted disengagement will mean for the strained relationship between Brussels and Minsk, but the message on human rights from the EU to Lukashenka’s government is clear: Shape up or ship out.