VIENNA, 12 November (BelTA) – Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko held official talks with Austrian Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen on 12 November. The Belarusian head of state and his Austrian counterpart spoke to the media after the meeting, BelTA has learned.
The Belarusian president thanked Alexander Van der Bellen for a warm welcome and a frank and substantive conversation. “Austria is an important and reliable partner for Belarus in our common Europe. We attach great attention to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation and are fully satisfied with the current level of the Belarusian-Austrian relations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
According to the Belarusian leader, the talks demonstrated that the countries take similar approaches to the major issues of today. “We are interested in Austria's best practices across a wide range of sectors and would like to apply them in Belarus,” the president said.
Belarus highly appreciates Vienna's efforts to build bridges between the main geopolitical centers, reduce tensions in Europe and in the world. Minsk pursues the same goals in its foreign political activity. “We note that together we can make a significant contribution to the stability and international security. Belarus will be grateful to the Austrian leadership for supporting our initiatives in these areas,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
The Belarusian head of state said that the parties agreed to continue working together within the framework of international organizations. Belarus will support Austria during the elections for the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council for 2027-2028.
Consideration was given to environmental protection and climate change. Belarus supports the initiative to increase climate ambitions which has been put forward by the Austria president, to take concrete action to prevent the global climate crisis. “On its part, Minsk has consistently unilaterally raised its commitments to cut down greenhouse gas emissions,” the Belarusian leader noted.
Aleksandr Lukashenko welcomed Austria's support for Belarus' efforts to develop relations with the European Union, which is the second most important trading partner for Belarus. “Recently the EU has also grown to become a significant political and investment partner for us, including thanks to the active work of the Austrian Presidency in 2018. In the last two years alone, the the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have provided €700 million of financial support to projects in the Belarusian public sector,” the president said.
Belarus is actively working with the EU in the framework of numerous programs in environment, energy efficiency, border improvement, migration regulation, and good governance. “This year Belarus and the European Union approved the drafts of the agreements on visa facilitation and readmission. We hope to sign them in the near future,” the head of state said.
In his words, Belarus and Austria are eager to develop the Eastern Partnership as a fully-fledged, flexible and efficient instrument of cooperation in the region to promote sustainable development and security of the EU's neighbors. The initiative does not work against the interests of third countries. Belarus takes an active part in the initiative and has recently voiced proposals to develop the initiative after 2020.
Aleksandr Lukashenko said that Belarus and Austria have been successfully cooperating in the economic sector. Austrian business has been present in Belarus since the Soviet Union times. “Austria's participation in the construction of the Belarusian Steel Works in Zhlobin is a good example. The plant is one of the country's industrial flagships today,” the president said.
According to the head of state, Austrian business has gained a solid foothold in modern Belarus. Nearly 500 Austrian firms cooperate with Belarusian companies. Some 100 of them have offices in Belarus. “This demonstrates a high level of trust in our country on the part of Austrian business. Austria is among major investors in the Belarusian economy. Annual investment in our country makes hundreds of millions of US dollars. Last year, this figure reached almost $300 million,” the president said.
In his words, plans are in place to implement new projects worth more than $1 billion with the participation of Austrian companies.
The two countries and peoples are linked not only by economic bonds Aleksandr Lukashenko noted. “Of course, we talked about Maly Trostenets. This forested area near Minsk went down in history as a place of mass extermination of people by Nazi criminals. Among the Trostenets victims were more than 10,000 Austrian citizens. We understand the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust victims for the Austrian society. This is why we supported the Austrian initiative to install the Array of Names monument on the Trostenets Memorial grounds in memory of the Austrian citizens who were killed there by the Nazis during the Second World War,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.
“The president [Alexander Van der Bellen] said that this concentration camp is less known in Austria than other major concentration camps of the Second World War. It has been known in Belarus very well. We set up the memorial there to honor the memory of people, not only those from Austria (from many other countries, including Belarusians). It was not for the sake of friendship with the Austrians. We did it long before the visit of the leaders of your state,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.
He also expressed gratitude to the Austrian president for the initiative to install the monument to the Austrian citizens in Maly Trostenets. “The president showed an example of responsibility and decency in respect of those who were killed there. He showed an example to those who should have acted like the Austrian leadership long time ago," the Belarusian leader said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko said it was important to continue such cooperation, to encourage contacts between scientific institutions and museums, historians dealing with the topic of Trostenets. He also said that Belarus gave the House of Austrian History the items that belonged to the Austrian citizens killed in the Trostenets death camp by the Nazis. These artifacts were recently discovered during the archaeological excavations.
During the discussion of the humanitarian matters, Aleksandr Lukashenko, on behalf of the people of Belarus and personally, thanked the Austrian citizens, represented by the Federal President, who have been involved in the rehabilitation of Belarusian children from the Chernobyl-hit regions. "This noble activity has been going on for more than 25 years and has become an important part of our friendly relations," the president said.
In conclusion, he stressed that Belarus is sincerely interested in deepening cooperation with Austria in all areas of mutual interest.
"I am aware that there are different trends in the EU in respect of Belarus. Mr. President, maybe not today, not tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow you will be proud of the decision to visit Belarus. You came and saw the country. You made sure that it was not a stranger to Europe (you told me about this when you were visiting with your wife) and that decent people live here. You will never regret it. Belarus is the center of Europe. It is a European country, and its policy is aimed at promoting exclusively peaceful, friendly, and mutually beneficial relations not only with neighbors but also with our long-time, proven friends, which your beautiful and rich country is,” he summed up.