#DiplomaticCentennial Viorel Mosanu: Romania supports Minsk's progress in achieving commitments pledged under Eastern Partnership

Romania supports Minsk's progress in fulfilling its commitments pledged under the Eastern Partnership, Bucharest taking on an active role in shaping the European policy towards the European Union's eastern partners, Romania's Ambassador to the Republic of Belarus Viorel Mosanu said in an interview to AGERPRES.

The Romanian diplomat maintains that after the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea in 2014, the Belarusian authorities' approach as well as certain steps undertaken domestically have proved the interest of the Republic of Belarus for dialogue and cooperation. Even if Belarus continues its integration in structures belonging to the ex-soviet area, such as the Eurasian Economic Union or the Community of Independent States and Minsk's relations with the European partners have also been characterised by strained times, the results of the "critical commitment" policy of the EU towards Belarus are, according to Ambassador Mosanu, very palpable.

With regard to the bilateral relations between Romania and the Republic of Belarus, Viorel Mosanu said there are certain discrepancies between potential and reality in the commercial-economic Romanian-Belarusian relations, but there are other domains, especially the cultural, the educational and scientific ones, in which the collaboration between our countries is in full swing, projects in these domains generating "multiple bridges between our peoples."

In the interview granted to AGERPRES, Viorel Mosanu is also talking about the collaboration relation that Romania's Embassy in Minsk cultivates among the members of the Romanian-speaking community on Belarusian territory, especially with the nationals from the Republic of Moldova.

The diplomat is also referring to the stage of the identification process of the places where Romanian servicemen fallen on Belarusian territory in the last century might be buried and the issues the embassy is facing in this regard.

The interview, granted via e-mail, is part of the editorial project #DiplomaticCentennial carried out by AGERPRES throughout the entire year, with an emphasis on diplomatic relations in the context of the celebration of 100 years since the Greater Union.

AGERPRES: Mr. Mosanu, you are Romania's Ambassador to this country where, until 2015, the representation was conducted through a charge d'affaires. What triggered the enhancement of the diplomatic representation to Belarus?

' Viorel Mosanu: Firstly, I should specify that I am not the first accredited Romanian Ambassador in Minsk. After the establishment of diplomatic relations, Romania was represented to Belarus, 1993 to 1996, by Ambassador Nicolae Stanea. Afterwards, indeed, the level of our country's representation was reduced, for a long time, to that of charge d'affaires. In 2015, against the backdrop of positive evolution recorded in the relations between the EU and Belarus and the active role assumed by Romania in shaping the European policy towards the EU's eastern partners, there followed the natural decision of the authorities in Bucharest to go back to a higher level of diplomatic representation. Obviously, such a change has not gone unnoticed in Minsk, and has led to a relaunch of the bilateral agenda and to placing bilateral cooperation on an ascending trend. After approximately a year since this decision, the Belarusian part has responded by appointing an own Ambassador in Bucharest, so that at present, the bilateral diplomatic relations are back to normal, providing a good foundation for the entire framework of the relations between Romania and the Republic of Belarus.

AGERPRES: At your investiture, you stated that you would strive to reduce the negative balance of the trade balance between Romania and Belarus and advocated for the establishment of a Bureau for the promotion of trade and economic relations between the two countries. What are the results of these steps?

Viorel Mosanu: Promoting the economic interests of the Romanian entrepreneurs and of the Romanian state is one of the main objectives of any embassy. Economic diplomacy approaches support the foreign promotion of Romanian business products and services, but they cannot replace its willingness and efforts to enter and grow on foreign markets. In the Romanian-Belarusian commercial-economic relations there is a certain discrepancy between the potential and the reality. I think that we should focus more on mutual knowledge of existing opportunities, but also on diversifying the direct contact between business circles.
In recent years, bilateral trade has risen steadily (157 million US dollars in 2017), including Romanian exports, which have practically doubled in the past year, reaching a record figure (43.3 million US dollars in 2017). We are aware, however, that the potential of the two economies is much greater. Our embassy continues to act, as far as possible, in order to identify new opportunities and forms of cooperation. We support the intensification of the direct dialogue of business representatives, both through direct contacts and through the Chambers of Commerce and Industry or local authorities, with whom we try to collaborate as actively as possible. For example, I recently went to the Gomel region, where I discussed with decision-makers, firstly about the prospects for bilateral economic cooperation. We hope that the forthcoming session of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation with Belarus, to be held in Bucharest, will also contribute to the objective of relaunching trade relations.

AGERPRES: How do you cooperate with the Embassy of the Republic of Moldova in Minsk, given that both a smaller Romanian community and a more numerous community of Moldovan citizens live on the territory of Belarus? Do you organize joint events for representatives of these communities?

Viorel Mosanu: The Romanian community in the Republic of Belarus is numerically reduced, the embassy's records including about 60 Romanian citizens dispersed on an extended geographical area. The community of Moldovan nationals is much larger, most of them settled in Belarus during the Soviet period, through mixed marriages and professional assignments. The Embassy of Romania cultivates a collaboration relationship with the cultural society "The Moldovans' Community", with which it celebrates annually the tradition of the Martisor. In 2016 we organized together the cultural event "The Day of Romanian Language" and we hope this event will become a traditional one. It goes without saying that all the cultural diplomacy actions of our embassy are honored by diplomats from the Republic of Moldova and active members of the Romanian-speaking community.

AGERPRES: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Great Union. How will you celebrate the Centennial in Belarus?

Viorel Mosanu: The actions we dedicate to the anniversary of the Great Union, with a special implication for the Romanian nation, have already begun in Minsk and we intend to extend their area to the Belarusian regions. At the beginning of March, the Embassy participated as a first in the Minsk International Book Fair, where the historical literature occupied a leading position. Also in March, we organized a Romanian-Belarusian literary and musical event, under the auspices of the Centennial. Next, we are preparing a photography exhibition ‘100 images for 100 years,' which we plan to open in Minsk on October 31, 2018, and then move it to several regional centers of the country of residence. We are also preparing a Romanian music concert at the Minsk Philharmonic in November, and we are considering the launch, as a first in the Belarusian language, of the history volume by academician Ioan Aurel Pop, "History of Romanians", and we have taken steps to identify the best possibilities for materializing this initiative.

AGERPRES: Romania has participated, along other countries, upon Germany's initiative, in events marking the Memorial Day of the Victims of Wars, Terror and Violence. Is it known how many Romanian soldiers are buried in the Memorial Complex in the Tarasovo Cemetery in Minsk? How is the process of identifying places where Romanian troops are likely to be buried in Belarus evolving?

Viorel Mosanu: In the Tarasovo-Minsk memorial complex, out of a total of 1098 buried servicemen, 158 are Romanian soldiers who died in Soviet detention during the period 1944-1946. Our Embassy permanently participates in the manifestations honouring their memory. Data provided by the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus shows a total of 242 Romanian soldiers that died in Belarus, in 18 localities, mainly in detention camps and hospitals. Unfortunately, the burial places of 84 Romanian soldiers who died in Belarus remain unknown. Our actions for their identification and proper marking continue, but they are hampered by problems with access to archive materials and physical disappearance or alteration of burial sites. The Embassy is currently expanding its study of Belarusian archives by engaging local researchers in the process.

AGERPRES: Belarus is part of both the Russia-Belarus State Union and the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union. Both promoted at one point the idea of establishing a single currency: the ruble for the Union of Russia-Belarus, the "altyn" for the Customs Union. What is the official attitude of Minsk towards cooperation within these unions?

Viorel Mosanu: Belarus remains a supporter of the ongoing development of the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are also part. Being aware of the opportunities the free markets of goods, services and capital of this Union can offer to the Belarusian export-oriented economy, the authorities in Minsk seem to be the most active in promoting the five countries' goals in this area.

The dissatisfaction with the poor implementation of mutual commitments, particularly in the fields of the development of the common energy market, the elimination of non-tariff barriers or checks at the common borders, causes the Belarusian side to openly criticize its partners. Another vector of Minsk's integration policy remains the Commonwealth of Independent States, which, although it has lost of its reach, remains a useful platform for promoting political and economic interest.

AGERPRES: Alongside another five states, Belarus is a member of EU's Eastern Partnership. However, relations between Minsk and the EU have witnessed some very tense times. In 2011 Belarus temporarily withdrew from this Partnership to return later, and the EU imposed sanctions against this country, which it subsequently lifted in 2016. In your opinion, how important is, for Romania included, the Republic of Belarus staying in this partnership with the EU?

Viorel Mosanu: It is true that over time, Minsk's relations with the European partners have been characterized by various degrees of cooperation: there have been tense periods and moments of restart. Following the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, the approach of the Belarusian authorities - particularly in the context of international efforts to regulate the conflict in Ukraine, as well as of certain steps inside the country - has proved the interest of the Republic of Belarus in dialogue and cooperation. The outcomes of EU's "critical engagement" policy towards Belarus in recent years are tangible: the EU has removed most of the restrictive measures, institutional dialogue has developed, cooperation in various areas has intensified. All this contributes to higher predictability and regional stability. Romania supports the process of engaging in an equal and balanced partnership and we encourage Minsk's progress in fulfilling its pledged commitments, including as far as human rights are concerned. A considerable part of cooperation with the EU is developing within the framework of the Eastern Partnership, which provides an extensive tool for approaching Eastern neighborhood states. Moreover, this program ensures the possibility of a differentiated approach to the partners, depending on the level of ambition, merits and European aspirations.

AGERPRES: Belarus gained independence in 1991, after the collapse of the USSR. Despite this, just like in all the other former Soviet republics, there is further a strong Russian influence on this territory. From your experience, how powerful is the influence of the Russian language - this "lingua franca" of the Soviet empire - on the locals? Could this influence be a hindrance to strengthening the independence of Belarus from its eastern neighbor?

Viorel Mosanu: By virtue of historical factors, Russian is indeed the language predominantly spoken in the public administration, in the media, in everyday life. The role of Russian in society can also be inferred from the fact that, along with Belarusian, it has the status of official language. The overwhelming majority of Belarusian citizens are, however, bilingual, because Belarusian is a compulsory subject in the school curriculum. Under these circumstances, the process of linguistic emancipation, even if slower than some would like it to be, is a reality. This trend will further develop as an integral part of the natural process of the construction of the Belarusian state.

AGERPRES: You have organized and participated in many cultural events in the Republic of Belarus: book fairs, exhibitions, concerts, festivals. I would like to highlight the photo exhibitions showcasing sculptor Brancusi, which are part of a broader project titled "Convergences" under the banner of the campaign "Windows to Romania: Culture, Art, People". What is the contribution of cultural diplomacy to strengthening relations between our countries? To what extent do the cultural actions organized by the Romanian Embassy draw the interest of the nationals?

Viorel Mosanu: I think that in this field cooperation unfolds at an encouraging pace. In the general equation of relations between the two countries, cooperation on culture, education, science plays a particularly important role. Projects in these areas generate multiple bridges between our peoples, that are so important in today's world, fraught with crises, tension, mistrust. Therefore, in order attain the most beneficial effects, our embassy is trying to lay a special emphasis on joint projects and on strengthening the bilateral legal framework so as to facilitate these exchanges. There is a real interest of the Belarusian public in Romanian culture and civilization. Here are some examples: Mihai Eminescu's volume of poetry in Belarusian had to be re-printed because the first issue was quickly exhausted; after the extensive sculpture exhibition dedicated to Constantin Brancusi, we were chided for not having extended the opening interval because it could not be visited by all art lovers; the New Wave of the Romanian film is highly in vogue and we constantly receive requests to organize retrospectives and bring Romanian directors to Minsk; the concerts held in the Great Hall of the Minsk Philharmonic, or the Romanian theater performances are fully booked. These are just a few elements that encourage us to continue our cultural diplomacy campaign. AGERPRES (RO - author: Adriana Matcovschi, editor: Mariana Ionescu; EN - authors: Simona Iacob, Bogdan Gabaroi, Simona Klodnischi, editors: Simona Iacob, Adina Panaitescu)

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