25/06/2013 07:05 BST | Updated 24/08/2013 06:12 BST

Can We Save Belarus From The Same Fate As Syria?


By Charlotte Eagar, author of The Girl in the Film.

The UNHCR announced recently that over 1.5million people have fled the fighting in Syria. They are, for the most part, crowded into camps and makeshift accommodation in the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, whose delicate political stability seems rocking under their arrival.

In many ways, the world has moved on since the war I described in my novel, "The Girl in the Film," a love story set during the siege of Sarajevo at the height of the Bosnian war in twenty years ago - like Syria, another post-Ottoman empire country cracking apart after nearly a century of independence.

And yet and yet....The game is the same, just the players and the pitch change. Twenty years ago the shells were falling on Sarajevo, not Homs. The refugees the world rang its hands over were Bosnian; the neighbouring countries worried by destabilization were Croatia, Macedonia and Albania. Russia was veto-ing resolutions in the UN. And we had sanctions on the despicable apartheid regime in South Africa to try and force political change.

Today Russia is still cracking out its veto in the UN. The worries about neighbourhood destabilization around Syria are far scarier since they include Iran and the nuclear Israel. As for sanctions, they are in force against Belarus, an obscure post-Soviet country on the edge of Poland, nick-named the Last Dictatorship in Europe. There, just as in Old South Africa, political prisoners are routinely imprisoned, tortured and killed by the regime of President Alexander Lukshenko who wins his elections with monotonously regularity and imprisons those who dare to stand against him.

We can only hope and pray for the best in Syria, but perhaps for Belarus we can do something more. The sanctions against South Africa worked. The regime changed. Two decades later Nelson Mandela, 27 years a political prisoner, is now, as he lies in hospital, the hallowed former President and father of the Rainbow Nation South Africa became. Yet our sanctions against Belarus are so ineffective that in the last few years the EU has become Belarus second largest trading partner after Russia. Belarus is a communist totalitarian state - pretty much every penny spent there goes on propping up the government. Surely we should try a bit harder to tighten the screw?

Charlotte Eagar is the author of The Girl in the Film, published by Endeavour Press Ltd.