News from Belarus reported that the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Minsk has suspended visa operations temporarily. The Consular Service Notice was posted on its website: “The U.S. Government is in the process of reviewing the request made by the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on March 17 that the U.S. Embassy in Minsk reduce its staffing. Therefore, visa processing has been temporarily suspended while our resources are engaged addressing other priorities. Some visa appointments have been postponed. Further information will be provided once the extent of the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide visa services in Belarus has been determined. Services for American Citizens continue as usual.” That’s plain and clear enough. But the suspension of visa services had sparked a comment from Mikalai Charhinets, a senior member of the Belarusian National Assembly (and chairman of the upper chamber’s Committee on International Affairs and National Security) who asked, “What priorities can be in the country of stay except for establishing and development of relations by means of visa support in travelling of citizens?” And told Interfax that “The staff of the Belarusian Embassy in Washington does not brief the local opposition or take part in anti-government actions by US citizens whereas they (US embassy officers – Interfax)] exceed the limits of accepted international rules on staying in a country. This means they have too many officials who have nothing to do here.” Obviously, Mr. Charhinets has a gap in his knowledge about how an embassy operates; too many officials with nothing to do? Dear me! The guy does not know what he is talking about; most of our folks never get home before 6 pm – whether in London or Abuja. We’d be lucky if diplomat Mom or diplomat Dad gets home in time for an occasional early dinner.
In any case, I supposed he could be forgiven for a minor ignorance like that. I do not know Mr. Charhinet from Adam but I presume that as a senior member of the Parliament, he was competent enough to be elected (and re-elected) and to sit in the upper chamber’s committee. But he must have missed International Relations 101 – “the role of a diplomatic mission is to protect in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State as directed by the sending State; ascertaining by lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.”
Diplomats talk to everyone, whether politicians in power or local oppositions – that’s a fact of diplomatic work to help them ascertain local conditions and development, so unless talking has been declared a crime in old Belarus … Mr. Charhinet, by the way, was also in world news last year for filing a 600-million-ruble libel suit against the private newspaper Novy Chas over a story that was run under the headline ‘Senator General Charhinets.’ Reports states that “Mr. Charhinets considers as libel the journalist Aliaksandr Tamkovich’s remarks that he had been appointed the chairman of the ‘pro-governmental’ union of writers, the Union of Writers of Belarus, and that the seat on the Soviet of the Republic meant not only a good wage but also foreign trips to him.” Good gracious! I can’t imagine that this conception about freedom of expression and movement steams from total ignorance; could it be that the old Soviet view is hard to outgrow?
As to the question on priorities – how could anyone seriously think that visa processing is a priority when the folks who are processing visas could be asked to pack up and go shortly (the staff reduction demand did not indicate which staff to kick out, apparently)? The reduction of any diplomatic presence involves negotiation, for sure, but above all, it involves real people with real lives. The thing though is, diplomats like ordinary people have a tendency of collecting possessions, having spouses, having children and pets, and so on and so forth. Our families pitch tents and move homes every 2-4 years. Would it be too much to ask then that when an official demand for our removal is in place, that packing our household would take top priority over the host nationals’ travel plans? To our friends at AmEmbassy Minsk, take care and good luck!