The ironies of East European politics were played out last week when European Union representatives met in one part of Minsk to talk about greater unity with Belarus while in another part of the city a summit of the Confederation of Independent States was preparing to draw Belarus closer to Russia.
The EU and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe are putting money into the establishment of a centre for European and Transatlantic studies at the independent Belarusian Humanities University. The centre aims to foster democracy in Belarus, whose parliamentary elections in October were condemned as undemocratic by the European Assembly and the OSCE, through training and research programmes.
At an international conference to plan the centre's work, EU representatives stressed the strategic importance of Belarus, particularly when Poland and the neighbouring Baltic states join the union.
Meanwhile, the CIS summit was expected to lead to the closer integration of Belarus with Russia and a consequent further loss of political and economic identity.
In another twist, the British Council was busy closing its office and resource centre as the meetings took place, terminating a major teaching resource centre for English.
The new EU centre will run a masters programme in political and social sciences specialising in transition processes: democratisation and pro-market economic reforms. Plans include research programmes focusing on security, economic and identity issues and an academic journal.