Expatriate Belarusians living and working in Germany have found it very difficult to persuade German exporters to stop doing business with the brutal regime back home.

While the European Commission has slapped sanctions on top officials in Minsk, that move has been much more symbolic than practical.

Belarusian exiles had been hoping that more meaningful pressure could be put on the illegitimate administration in Minsk if German companies would stop exporting technology and equipment to their homeland, which has been in the grip of a brutal crackdown on any form of dissent since the stolen presidential election in August.

One target has been the family-owned company Eickhoff which makes equipment for Belaruskali, which producers fertiliser on a massive scale. It is one of Belarus’s typical companies, large, state-owned, and an important source of foreign currency. It employs 16,000, a small number of whom have been on strike against the stolen presidential election.

Having not heard back from the German company, Belarusian expats demonstrated in front of the company’s plant in Bochum, near Essen. Its managing director, Ulf Achenbach, spoke to the demonstrators, voiced his support for the democratic movement in Belarus, but added “business is business.”

The solution must be found at a political level, he said.

However, there is hope. Last Thursday, the European Union said that sanctions will be directed against Belarusian companies that support Lukashenko. If such a move becomes a reality, European companies will not be allowed to do business with them.

German firms reacted to the sanctions move with widely divergent responses. The Daimler car group said it would “comply with all applicable sanctions and embargoes against Belarus.” At the other extreme, Siemens said that its “contractual obligations in Belarus are aimed at developing the country’s infrastructure for the benefit of the Belarusian people.”

According to German newspaper Deutsche Welle, German companies mainly supply technical equipment, chemical products, vehicles and plastics.

Alicja Dabrowski contributed to this story

PHOTO: Machinery made by Eickhoff