Statement of Belarusan-American Association on March 25, 2009 - Belarusan Independence Day
In 2008, Alexander Lukashenka’s “last dictatorship in Europe” ousted the U.S. Ambassador from Belarus and forced the U.S. Embassy in Minsk to be reduced to a skeletal staff. Restoration of a full-fledged U.S. Embassy in Belarus should be a priority.
U.S. policy regarding Belarus has for years been coordinated with the European Union. While coordination is optimal, the Europeans have begun accepting cosmetic changes as signs of reforms — the Belarusan democratic community counts on the United States’ principled stand.
Congress can help bring democracy to Belarus by providing adequate funding for the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2009. The previous BDRA was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support, authorizing support for democracy-building activities and media projects directed at Belarus. Appropriations are needed to fulfill the BDRA’s purpose.
Mass media in Belarus are almost under total control of the state. In late 2007, Polish Public Television initiated a satellite TV channel known as BelSat, which can reach all of Belarus. The United States should support BelSat, with funds and programming assistance, while also cooperating with European allies on other media programs directed at Belarus.
In 1994, the United States, United Kingdom and the Russian Federation signed a commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty of Belarus, and to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate Belarus. The United States needs to prevent Russia from exerting ongoing economic pressure, and through the establishment of the so-called Union State between Russia and Belarus, from threatening the sovereignty of Belarus.
The United States must find ways to support, financially and otherwise, elements of civil society in Belarus, as well as independent business people who are constantly harassed and repressed by onerous regulations and exorbitant fines.
The Lukashenka regime continues to deprive the citizens of Belarus of the freedoms and rights that they seek. At persistent U.S. urging, the Belarusan government finally released all political prisoners. This was short-lived. There are new political prisoners and the regime has adopted new tactics, expanding arrests and detentions of peaceful demonstrators and political activists, particularly youth. Politically active students, after being expelled, are immediately forced into military service. The most recent harassment campaign of the Belarusian authorities has led to a young woman’s suicide. And, there still has been no accounting for the “disappeared”.
On March 25, 1918, the Belarusan people declared their independence, creating the Belarusan Democratic Republic. That republic was short-lived. But its Parliament, the BNR Rada, has defended in exile to this day, the core values at the heart of what the Belarusan people sought then and seek today. Those are independence, a constitutional and democratic form of government, freedom of speech, press and assembly, and protection for individual liberties.
Belarusan-American Association, Inc., P.O. Box 1347, Highland Park, NJ 08904,