Lukashenka boasts of being “Europe’s last dictator”.
The situation in Belarus was discussed during the Third European Congress of Human rights held in Polish Katowice. The event was organized by the office of European Deputy Marek Migalski (Poland) and the Polish association Projekt Slask.
A range of public figures and politicians have taken part in the congress: the first head of state of independent Belarus Stanislau Shushkievich; editor-in-chief of charter97.org Natallia Radzina; director of Euroradio Dzmitry Novikau; youth leader, journalist of Radio Svaboda Franak Viachorka; head of Movement of the Future Viachaslau Dzihanau; political scientist, former ambassador of Belarus to Russia and Moldova Viktar Ross; expert of the Center for Eastern Studies Katarzyna Jasinska; editor-in-chief of New Eastern Europe magazine Andrzej Brzeziecki; director of Kharkiv office of Institute of Gorshenin Konstantin Vinokurov; chairperson of Jan Nowak-Jezioranski Eastern Europe Collegium Jan Andrzej Dąbrowski; host of the Polish TV-show Studio Wschód Maria Pszelomiec.
In his introduction speech, Marek Migalski explained why this year the congress includes sections on Belarus, Russia and Ukraine:
“Unfortunately, in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus the situation with human rights and democracy has not improved compared to the previous years. Of course, we can compare, but we should be aware of the difference between the classic dictatorship in Belarus and the situation in Ukraine. Today Russia is somewhere in the middle.
I work for the European Parliament commissions on Belarus and Russia, and we are deeply concerned with the situation around human rights in these three countries. We start the discussion with the Belarusian situation, the most problematic, where members of the opposition are forced to live abroad. Belarus is the country where there is absolutely no respect for the democratic standards of human rights; the country whose dictator boasts to foreign media that he is Europe’s last dictator. He may see this as a reason to be glad, but here, in Europe, we should be sad for not being able to do something today to free 10 million of people from this dictator,” the European Parliament deputy said.
The first leader of independent Belarus Stanislau Shushkievich pointed to the facts that explain Russia’s support of the Belarusian dictatorship:
“In Belarus, the law doesn’t work. Europe has proclaimed Lukashenka’s constitution undemocratic. The constitution works only when it meets the interests of the ruling mob. Why is that happening? Because our Eastern neighbor benefits from this situation. Russia supports the Belarusian dictatorship because this dictator can do what Russia cannot do, for example, trade weapons with the countries under embargo who support terrorists. The Soviet Union disappeared from the world map, but it is preserved in Belarus” Stanislau Shushkievich said.
Editor of charter97.org Natallia Radzina remarked that unless the West develops a working strategy and an understanding of how grave the situation in Belarus – and in Russia and Ukraine, too – is, this situation is not likely to change.
“Lukashenka has been ruling the country for almost 20 years, and I recall that for some time ago Russian democrats made jokes of him. Basically the Belarusian dictatorship existed at Russia’s expense, which didn’t bother the rather democratic politicians who ruled the country at that time. Today the same politicians have turned into the opposition, political prisoners; they are searched and thrown to jails – the fate that has found us, Belarusian oppositionist, long time ago.
Stanislau Shushkievich, Yeltsin and Kravchuk made the Soviet Union collapse in 1991. But as a matter of fact, the Soviet Union is being restored today. And the world must see this threat. Deterioration of the situation with democracy in Russia and Ukraine has become possible because the West has not been treating Lukashenka’s dictatorship properly. With his example, Lukashenka has showed Putin, for instance, that it is possible to murder and repress the opposition, to suppress all democratic rights and freedoms, to violate international obligations – and not to suffer any consequences,” Natallia Radzina emphasized.
Youth leader Franak Viachorka spoke about the completely new phenomenon that appeared in Belarus after 2010 – the pseudo-opposition:
“The Belarusian society is indeed very isolated, it has no access to free information, but on the other hand, there appear more and more people who realize that the dictatorship’s resources are exhausted. A new law has been recently adopted that prohibits mass gatherings, both with and without an intention to act. This shows that any initiative from the opposition to hold, for example, a “silent action”, provokes a most stupid reaction of the powers.
There are two Unions of Writers, two Unions of Journalists, two Unions of Poles. It shows that fake organizations are established to distract or confuse the people. Just like that a pseudo-opposition appears that calls not to fight Lukashenka, but to negotiate, cooperate – the way the Polish opposition sat down at a “round table” with Jaruzelski. But Lukashenka is not Jaruzelski, and our situation is completely different,” Viachorka pointed out.
The participants of the congress talked about the growing pressure on journalists from the Belarusian powers.
As Natallia Radzina remarked, the articles of the Criminal Code applied to journalists are most ridiculous and severe:
“If previously journalists were charged mostly often with “defamation of the president” and “insult of the president”, today we see Iryna Khalip, journalist, wife of the leader of European Belarus Andrei Sannikov, convicted to two years of imprisonment with a respite for taking part in “mass disorders”; a criminal case was initiated against photographer Anton Surapin for having assisted “breach of the national border” just because he had uploaded photographs of the teddy bears thrown down from the airplane.
But it gets worse: the KGB charged youth activist Andrei Gaidukou with treason for having distributed the newspaper Charter’97 (which is a printed version of the website). And he can be convicted to 3, 5, 7 or 10 years of imprisonment.”
The journalist urged to show more support to the political prisoners. “Today not all political prisoners receive full aid from human rights organizations, which is a problem,” she said.
Director of the Euroradio Dzmitry Novikau emphasized that independent electronic media in Belarus cannot work properly:
”For example, in Belarus there are 23 radio stations that are called independent, but in fact there is no radio or television station without state-own capital. A state organization or business is always present as one of the shareholders. All the information they get must be authorized by the powers, so we have to work from Poland. According to the Belarusian Constitution, every citizen has the right to get free information, and journalists have the right to collect this information, but in reality there is no such right. Our goal is to restore this right in Belarus.”
Leader of the Movement of the Future Viachaslau Dzianau said that no matter how hard the powers press the independent media, they cannot stop people from using the Internet:
“You cannot stop the progress, and Lukashenka has got a new foe – social media. For him, it is something new, something obscure. Just like he said during a conference: “Someone pushes a button, and a missile will fly out and land here.” And for the special services, the Internet is something new. They knew how to fight street rallies, knew how to fight journalists, but they didn’t know at first how to fight network activists. And so the special services unfolded mass repressions against network activists that are still going on: the people who are involved in online actions are arrested, blackmailed and intimidated, their computers are withdrawn. But I believe that in the future it will be even harder for the special services to fight against us, because you cannot stop Internet. However isolated Belarus is, the Internet here is developing. Protest rallies will be set up online, and the day when the dictatorship falls, the social media will play the most active part.”