American Belarusians to Petition EU Diplomatic Community in Washington, DC

This Saturday, May 8, 2009, the EU Embassies in Washington, DC will open their doors to public as part of the Europe Week. The program of events in Washington, DC includes speeches, seminars and workshops on issues; film screenings, concerts and cultural events related to the European Union. Universities, think tanks, other non-governmental organizations and the Embassies and Consulates of EU Member States around the United States will take part in Europe Week, hosting events designed to create a better understanding of the European Union.

The local chapter of the Belarusan-American Association (BAZA) is using this opportunity to hand-deliver a letter from Belarusians in the United States, urging EU member states to support human rights and democracy in Belarus. "Last year's letter delivery was very successful.

BAZA members were able to cover many Embassies and in some cases to hand letters to Ambassadors personally. The EU Open House* provides a great opportunity to express support for democracy and human rights in Belarus," said Alice Kipel of the Belarusan-American Association.ext of BAZA letter is provided bellow.

To the Ambassadors from EU Nations in Washington, DC: We write on behalf of the Belarusian community in the United States to express our concerns about what is occurring in Belarus today, and to ask for your help. Our primary concerns relate to the internet censorship decree that will go into effect in Belarus in July 2010 and the increasing crack-down by the Lukashenka regime on opposition and civil society activists, as Belarus moves towards the next presidential election in early 2011. We are pleased that the EU seems to have become more circumspect, and perhaps, skeptical, in its dealings with Lukashenka. While we understand the desire of EU nations to remain engaged with a country that shares a border with three EU countries, such engagement should not cast a blind eye towards the regime’s human rights violations. Unfortunately, the Polish government all too recently learned that the regime in Belarus can quickly and violently turn against ethnic minorities, such as Poles, in the same way that it does against ethnic Belarusians who dare to speak out for democracy.

Lukashenka can just as easily order harsh measures against other minorities, investors, business owners, etc. No one is immune from the whims of a dictator. We strongly agree with the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to freeze high-level contacts with Belarus due to violation of democratic standards. We also applaud Catherine Ashton’s quick and public denunciation of Lukashenka’s internet censorship decree. That decree, signed by Lukashenka on February 1, 2010, will put the internet in Belarus under the control of the Presidential Administration’s Operating and Analytical Center.

The decree aims to control the activities of internet providers, websites and internet users. Clearly, the decree is a means by which the regime will be able to control and limit access to information prior to the presidential election. We urge EU organs and individual countries to demand that the decree be repealed.

Such pressure is necessary so that the last forum for relatively free access to information in Belarus is not lost. A policy of acquiescence less than a year before the next presidential election in Belarus weakens the opportunities for the opposition and supports Lukashenka’s plans to remain in power for a fourth presidential term, i.e., for 22 years.

The main strategy of the EU at this time must be the substantial strengthening of support for Belarusian democratic forces and civil society as guarantors of independence and a European orientation for the country. The following are necessary: - a demand for real improvements in freedom of speech and particularly for repeal of the internet decree; - support for alternative media, including satellite TV and FM radio broadcasting, internet projects; and - support for democratic forces, including human rights organizations, youth movements and initiatives and independent trade unions before the next presidential election in Belarus. Founded in 1949, the Belarusan-American Association is the largest organization of Belarusian Americans in the United States.

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