The Belarusians need international support in their fight with dictatorship.
A conference analyzing the situation in Belarus was held in Warsaw on 24 Septemner on the MEP Marek Migalski’s initiative. Experts both from Belarus and Poland took part in the event.
The conference had three panels: “Belarus: from the presidential elections to the parliamentary”, “Electoral campaign and parliamentary elections in Belarus”, “Post-election prospects for Belarus in the European context”.
“Elections were held which are hard to be called elections, - said the MEP Marek Migalski in the beginning of the discussion. – It is funny that we could give an assessment to these elections before they happened. That is a distinctive feature of the “democracy” in Belarus: in a democracy the rules are quite predictable, whereas election results are not. In Belarus it is the other way round: the rules are unpredictable and the “elections” totally are. The ones who knew even before the elections who would be elected were right. The ones were “elected” who was chosen by Lukashenka”.
Speaking at the panel discussion “Belarus: from the presidential elections to the parliamentary” a coordinator of the civic campaign “European Belarus” Dzmitry Bandarenka, which ended up in jail after 19 December 2010, said:
“We happened to hear people in the West from time to time saying that the Belarusians are a special nation, which likes to live under a dictatorship and that the opposition in Belarus is weak. But look at the results of the presidential elections on 19 December 2010 and you’ll see a completely different picture. And this is proved by the data from the polling stations where there were the opposition representatives in the electoral commissions. The picture is the following: 10% of the Belarusians voted against all the candidates, Andrei Sannikau was making it to the second round, Lukashenka got around 40% of the votes. The Belarusians stood for their democratic choice in the square and showed their unacceptance of the dictatorship and this provoked such a hysterical reaction of the authorities. The authorities know that they aren’t popular and that they lost. But we should remember Poland where Communism existed for fifty years without popular support. The regime holds on arms and support from Russia. So the Belarusians are normal people who want to live in a normal European country but only obey the dictatorship by force.
On December 19 when opposition leaders were put in the KGB prison the authorities in Belarus crossed all the lines, written and unwritten rules and laws. KGB agents were openly stating that their goal was to by all means create a puppet opposition. They used tortures, rape threats, murder threats to subdue the opposition leaders. And some of them had to sign a paper agreeing for cooperation, which the KGB hangmen were demanding, but later announced that publicly, like Ales Mihalevich and Uladzimir Kobets, but some of them sign the paper and keep acting at the KGB’s command. And that is the tragedy of these people. Unfortunately, for now a number of the opposition organizations in Belarus are not acting independently, but are controlled by the special services. The situation in Belarus requires a serious international approach because today we are facing an empire revival in the East in new dictatorial forms. And we all have to oppose that – not only the Belarusians, not only Poland, which is involved into the Belarusian agenda more than other countries. We need international support today. We, the Belarusians, are openly asking for that today. We realize that the world today is more pragmatic, cynical in a way. Deep down we are not counting on the assistance from functionaries, we are looking for the people able to understand our pain, get involved into the Belarusian agenda, and we managed to find such people. An example would be the organizer of today’s conference the MEP Marek Migalski. In Poland I used to hear that Migalski is a person who is promoting himself, who needs PR, but I know in my own experience that this person saved my life. Just thanks to him I can walk on my feet today and not in a wheelchair. Today Marek Migalski is a part of my family’s history. And he is helping other Belarusian political prisoners today.
Maryna Adamovich, the political prisoner and former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich’s wife, said that the situation over her husband not only didn’t improve but even deteriorated. The politician is undergoing an unprecedented pressure and the conditions of his isolation became stricter.
“Many political prisoners today as a matter of fact went the Mikalai’s path.They are all recognized as “malicious violators of the isolation regime”, they all were deprived of the visit possibility, Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to another year in prison. In general arbitrary arrests of the democratic activists are already a kind of a norm In Belarus”, - Adamovich said.
Ales Bialitski’s wife Natalia Pinchuk told about the hard situation over the political prisoner. Today on her husband’s birthday she will receive the Human Rights Defenders Award for him. The American human rights prize was awarded to the jailed Belarusian human rights defender, the head of the Viasna human rights center Ales Bialiatski already in May. The award ceremony well go on behalf of the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Bialitski’s 50-annivirsary in the US embassy in Warsaw.
Ales has known about the award for a long time already, Natalia Pinchuk said.
“He was informed already in May. I remembered it well cause I had a long-term visit on 17 May, I was coming back and just received a congratulation for Ales on this award. He knows, but that I will be awarded instead of him makes difference…”, - Natalia Pinchuk said.
The political prisoner Siarhei Kavalenka’s wife Alena told that because of alleged “violations of the regime in prison” her husband is facing another term in detention. The opposition activist is being isolated, he doesn’t receive letters. His health condition causes anxiety.
Iryna Bahdanava, the sister of the former presidential candidate and political prisoner Andrei Sannikau, who is the leader of the Free Belarus Now campaign, told about the situation over her family and focused on the conditions in which Sannikau’s wife Iryna Khalip is being kept.
“Many don’t realize it, they think that Iryna is free, but it’s not freedom it’s in fact a prison and there is a little child of Andrei and Iryna is that prison. In Belarus there are 17 political prisoners today, but actually there are thousands of them and Belarus itself is in prison. There was no usual façade “liberalization” before these elections, the arrests were in full swing, the repressions towards the political prisoners intensified; there was physical and psychological pressure. Today is the birthday of Ihar Alienevich and Ales Bialiatski, but they are in complete isolation, letters can’t reach them. This is a means of pressure as well. The Free Belarus Now campaign makes the support of political prisoners and their families its cornerstone. We are demanding for the EU and the US to increase political and economic pressure on the Belarusian regime. It feels like having introduced selective sanctions in February Europe got scared of its own courage. This would be the best scenario, the worst would be that a couple of Belarusian oligarchs just bought the Europe’s conscience”, - Iryna Bahdanava said.
Assessing the latest parliamentary elections which went on 23 September the head of the Andrei Sannikau’s electoral team Uladzimir Kobets said:
“The boycott happened in Belarus and the people of Belarus accepted that. This information is available to anyone today and the farce is obvious. The last legal head of the Central Electoral Commission was Viktar Hanchar, whereas the lady with a pot on her head who is now sitting in his chair, can draw whatever numbers she wants but this would not change anything. We have the documents for the Brest region which confirm that the candidates pre-selected by the authorities became the parliament members. There is 100% correspondence. I would also want to point out that the Lukashenization of the region is happening today and the West has celebrated the victory too early. Without the democratization of such countries as Belarus, Ukraine, the process of the liberation of Europe is not complete. It is necessary to put all the international community’s effort in order for the principles to win in the confrontation of oil and principles. Rejecting principles leads to economic crises and shocks. Exactly the principles in the foundation of the Polish Solidarity movement is what the people of Belarus need in their courageous fight against Lukashenka. Belarus has a lot of leaders today. They are Andrei Sannikau, Mikola Statkevich, Zmitser Dashkevich, Pavel Seviarynets. Each of them deserves to be a president”.
Co-director of the Belarusian House in Warsaw, an opposition activist Dzmitry Barodka, who had to flee Belarus after the events of 19 December 2010 noted that the “general boycott of the parliamentary elections could have become a real tool in the hands of the opposition, which would have led to the liberation of the political prisoners”.
“The dictator need a body which legitimizes his rule. Russia need the same body for its economic expansion in Belarus. The third party interested in the legitimization of the regime is the economic lobbying circles in the West, which would also want to participate in the “pie sharing” in Belarus. That explains the acute reaction of the regime on the activities and people calling for a boycott. These people were constantly repressed and persecuted. But today we know he is worth what. There are real fighters for freedom and there are conformists, a controlled opposition”.
In the third panel discussion, which saw the Belarus’ prospects in the European context discussed, the former Polish ambassador to Belarus Mariusz Maszkewicz made a speech. The diplomat has been non-grata in Belarus since 2006 after he was detained during a manifestation against the falsification of the presidential elections results.
In Maszkewicz’s opinion, “the Europeans have lost a lot in the eyes of the Belarusians” today as through providing loans and rejecting to introduce effective sanctions Europe is in fact saving the Belarusian dictatorship.
Mariusz Maszkewicz also expressed his doubts as to the European assistance to Belarus being effective. In his opinion it’s much more important to support independent media which broadcast to Belarus rather than massively finance the European Humanities University in Vilnius.
The chief editor of charter97.org Natalia Radzina agreed with the ambassador Maszkewicz.
“Belarusians are indeed disappointed with the incoherence of the European Union’s policy. Today the country saw impudent falsifications and Yarmoshyna, who is responsible for them, went to the EU for an “internship” before that. The Ministry of Internal Affairs’s head Ihar Shunevich, who questioned political prisoners in the KGB prison, goes to France on an Interpol’s invitation. This is what concerns the effectiveness of the visa bans. It would be really unpleasant for me, while sitting in the KGB prison, to realize, that the armed riot police that was guarding us are receiving their salaries partly from the EU’s money, because it is received by Lukashenka from selling petrol products to the West. And now we find out that these very riot police people, who tortured the political prisoners, had training in democratic Germany. When thousands of Belarusians are being repressed they are going to hold a World Hockey Championship in the country. What attitude towards Europe would the Belarusians have if today they are suffering for the ideals of freedom and democracy and Europe is betraying these ideals? Where are they supposed to seek support from? Delay on the sanctions, when political prisoners are being taunted in prisons, is just felonious. Today the whole world is talking about the tortures in Georgian prisons, but what is happening in the Belarusian colonies? The political prisoners can simply not stay alive until the EU decides to do something”.
The director of the European Diplomacy Academy Katarzina Pisarska is convinced that today the European Union must introduce stricter sanctions against the Lukashenka’s dictatorship.
“I think economic sanctions against the Lukashenka’s regime must be introduced right now. But there’s a problem that not everyone in the EU wants these sanctions. However I think that only sanctions can change Belarus. There are only limitations in force against 25 companies which belong to Lukashenka’s oligarchs. This is not enough. The sanctions are too insignificant and the business already knows how to circumvent those. A second stage of sanctions is necessary and they must be more overarching”.