“Let me express my gratitude to Oxford Belarus Observatory for organizing this discussion and helping us to keep Belarus on the international agenda.
I am glad to see among the participants minister Reinsalu.
Dear Urmas, your personal involvement in the Belarus issue means a lot to us. Estonia has also shown incredible power of empathy and solidarity not only during the protests in 2020, but all the time through these 2,5 years.
With your help, repressed Belarusian students were able to continue their studies in Estonia, and the voice of free Belarus was heard at the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council.
We will never forget it.
Dear friends, fellow speakers,
Unfortunately the situation in Belarus is worsening. Now, we are fighting not only for democracy but also for the very existence of our country. On one hand, the regime is increasing political repression against the Belarusian people. On the other hand, Russia’s occupation is creeping further into our country. As I speak, there are 12 thousand Russian soldiers deployed in Belarus. And new troops and military hardware arrive all the time.
Although there are no direct military clashes in Belarus right now, our territory is being used for Russian aggression against Ukraine. Desperate Lukashenka continues to give up Belarus’s sovereignty to Russia in exchange for political and financial support. It is a mistake to see Lukashenka separately from Putin. Together they bear full responsibility for war crimes against Ukrainians and together they are responsible for Belarus’s oppression.
Meanwhile, it’s crucial to distinguish Lukashenka’s criminal regime from the Belarusian people who fearlessly fight for their freedom and support Ukraine. Surveys show that 86% of the population are against Belarusian participation in the war. If Putin and Lukashenka send Belarusian troops into Ukraine, we may expect to see mass disobedience, protest and perhaps the long awaited split amongst the elites.
We saw how society reacted when the war started. Spontaneous protests took place across the country. We saw defections from among state apparatus and military. More than 80 acts of sabotage took place on the railways. Hundreds of our people volunteered to fight with the Ukrainian army. Belarusian battalions have been engaged in frontline combat ever since.
The level of repressions also reflects the scale of resistance. Only last year, the regime opened 5000 politically motivated criminal cases. And many of them — for anti-war protests. On average, 17 people were detained daily. Many of them have been sentenced to draconian prison terms of 5, 10 or even 15 years.
Prisons in Belarus are torture chambers. Political prisoners are humiliated, deprived of family visits and phone calls, of medical treatment and the visits of priests. The goal is to destroy people morally and physically. There is no exception for women, minors and seniors. At least 25 people are in critical health condition, and need immediate treatment.
The so-called trials became a routine formality. One of them against Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski started last week. No evidence against him was provided. Even Bialiatski’s request to conduct his trial in the Belarusian language was refused and no interpreter was provided. Yesterday, the trial against the editors of popular portal TUT.by started. These events represent Lukashenka’s personal revenge for their dedication to freedom and justice.
The regime’s corrupt parliament continues to adopt laws restricting the population. Recently, it allowed the use of the death penalty against its political opponents. It also agreed to deprive citizenship and seize the property of anyone who dares to stand against it.
Despite the ongoing terror and repressions, Belarusians did not give up. Their resistance became underground, horizontal and de-centralized. Some people join partisan groups and cyber-partisans. Others, at great personal risk, volunteer to gather information about the movement of Russian troops which helps Ukrainians to prepare for attacks. There is an underground network of samizdat, self-made newspapers, made and distributed by our people. Brave Belarusians will do anything to keep real facts and the truth available.
Despite all the regime’s attempts to divide us, we have preserved the unity of democratic forces. In August last year, we conducted the Congress of New Belarus and established the United Transitional Cabinet which united major political groups and initiatives and became the main executive body of our movement. Our broader coalition also includes NGOs and independent trade-unions.
Today, our main priorities are to prevent Belarus from full participation in the war, to form an international coalition in support for Belarus, and strengthen the resilience of Belarusian society. We must maintain pressure to release political prisoners, and prepare the democratic transition of power.
- Priority number One
In order to prevent Belarusian troops from entering the war and to help Ukraine win, we plan to intensify our informational work and activities on the ground. We have to maximize the costs for Lukashenka in case he sends Belarus troops or allows another attack from Belarus territory. The regime must be made aware of the consequences, including new and harsher sanctions from abroad, popular unrest at home.
– What we need:
The West needs to articulate these consequences forcefully and directly. It should demand the full and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from Belarus territory. It should refrain from official communication with Minsk and keep a policy of non-recognition. Support mechanisms to document regime’s crimes and restore justice. We also ask for the assistance to Belarusian civil society to be more flexible, supporting our activists on the ground, independent media and bloggers.
- Priority number Two.
Continue demanding the unconditional release of all political prisoners and to support all those repressed by the regime. Belarusians who fight the regime must not feel abandoned.
– What we need:
The democratic world should do more to force Lukashenka’s regime to release political hostages. Demands must be present in every statement and resolution. We also propose to establish an international trust fund in support of the repressed and their families. This money will pay for lawyers, support for families and rehabilitation programs for released political prisoners and their children.
- Priority number Three.
We aim to form a coalition of countries and mobilize international support for democratic Belarus. Belarusians who oppose the regime must feel the international support. We understand that the fates of Belarus and Ukraine are interlinked. But we should not wait until Ukraine’s victory. Change in Belarus will help Ukraine defeat Russia. Free Belarus would be the worst sanction against Putin.
– What we need:
Adopt a proactive strategy towards Belarus including a two sided approach: maximum pressure on the Lukashenka regime on one side, and support for Belarusian democratic movement on the other. It must raise the Belarusian issue in international organizations such as Parliament, Council of Europe, or OSCE. and formalize relations with Belarusian democratic forces as the true representatives of Belarusian people.
- Priority number Four.
We have to help Belarusians who fled and continue their work from exile. Those repressed NGOs, businesses, independent media that relocated to the EU or Ukraine to continue their activities need support. They face multiple challenges with visas and legal status whilst at the same time the regime deprives them of their birthright, Belarusian citizenship.
– What we need:
Soften and speed up visa policies towards Belarusians who don’t work for the regime. Continue issuing visas in Belarus. This can be a matter of life or death when the KGB comes after you. Provide scholarships for students and opportunities for relocated Belarusian businesses. We also seek a solution for those thousands who can be suddenly deprived of their Belarus citizenship. Temporary documents are a good step.
- Priority number Five:
Strengthen the resilience of Belarusian society and maintain Belarusian national identity. We will continue to promote Belarusian culture, language and history. Belarusians must know that they are part of Europe not the Russian world.
– What we need:
Support for cultural and educational initiatives, civil society initiatives and youth exchanges.
Belarusians must be shown the European perspective.
- Priority number Six.
We continue to prepare for democratic transition and its possible scenarios. We have already drafted the new Constitution which will guarantee that no dictatorship can return in the future. We are preparing laws on electoral process, economic, social and judicial reforms. We also prepare the professional reserves for new Belarus – our plan is to have thousands of skilled and trained professionals that will rebuild our country
– What we need:
Provide Belarusians with internships, fellowships, and scholarships. We also ask for help in preparing laws and reforms. We want to learn from the best.
In the end, I urge not to put Lukashenka’s regime and Belarusians in the same basket. It’s Lukashenka who supports Putin. And it is Putin who supports Lukashenka’s dictatorship. I urge you to refrain from simple but deeply harmful solutions such as visa bans on Belarusians. It does not hurt the regime, it only hurts those trying to bring it down, the pro-democracy supporters from all of Belarus society.
In 2020 Belarusians made a clear choice for democracy and they continue to struggle for this choice. Belarusians are a profoundly European nation with a long history of fighting for independence. Belarusians don’t associate themselves with Russian revanchism. Belarusians see themselves in Europe in the family of free democratic nations.
Thank you for standing with Belarus!”
The recording of the webinar’s broadcast you can see here.
Source: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya