Prague/Minsk - The May ice hockey world championship in Belarus helped President Aleksandr Lukashenko's authoritarian regime, Belarusian dissident Ales Mikhalevich, a former presidential candidate who was granted asylum in the Czech Republic in 2011, told CTK today.
On the other hand, it was also positive for the country that it at least for a short time opened itself to the world, Mikhalevich said.
During the championship, there was no need of visas to travel to Belarus and hundreds of foreigners came there not only to see ice hockey matches, he added.
Nevertheless, the human rights situation in the country did not change at all, Mikhalevich said.
He said it had been the first time that Belarus had lifted the visa requirements for EU countries. It is very important that it has shown how it is able to be open to the world, he added.
Many Poles came to Belarus, although their country did not play at the world cup, but they wanted to see how the neighbouring country looks, Mikhalevich said.
The human rights did not improve at all, mainly due to Ukraine. Lukashenko has the feeling that after hundreds of people were killed in Ukraine there is no need for him advocating human rights in any special way, he added.
The events in Ukraine influenced the developments in Belarus, Mikhalevich said. Lukashenko, whose country is Russia's great ally, started fearing that similar protests could occur in his country, too, he added.
Ukraine has proven that things can be changed by an uprising, by people taking to the streets in large numbers and by showing that they are ready to die over their ideals, over a fight for change, Mikhalevich said.
Ukraine and Belarus are very similar countries with similar people, he added.
This is why Lukashenko often spoke about Ukraine, Mikhalevich said.
On the one hand, he always said he would never allow such demonstrations to be held in Belarus. On the other, he has several times repeated that if Russian soldiers came to Belarus, he would be the first to defend Belarusian independence, Mikhalevich said.
Now Lukashenko is supporting Russia on the one hand, but is also communicating with the new Ukrainian leadership, having even met acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, he added.
Due to the violence in Ukraine, Lukashenko's popularity has started to grow again, Mikhalevich said.
Many Belarusians say: We have Lukashenko and a dictatorship, but at the same time, people are not killed in the streets, we have order and peace, he added.
If the conflict in the neighbouring country escalates, this will help the regime, Mikhalevich said.
This will be another opportunity for Lukashenko and his propaganda to show how strong they are and that there is no time to change the situation in Belarus in any way," he added.
The situation in Belarus can be improved if it is shown that the changes that occurred in Ukraine are positive for its citizens, that their lives have changed, that corruption was reduced and that the rule of law gained the upper hand there, Mikhalevich said.
For democratic Belarus, it is vital to see that the people who died for their ideals did not die uselessly, he added.
The EU, including the Czech Republic, should be as open to Belarus as possible, Mikhalevich said.
When traveling to the EU, Belarusians still need visas that cost 60 euros, a not negligible sum, he added.