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, BAZA.HQ@hotmail.com
CBS International Summer School for Belarusian Studies in Poland
The Center for Belarusian Studies at Southwestern College (Winfield, KS) invites undergraduate and graduate students to participate in its first International Summer School for Belarusian Studies from July 6 to August 7, 2009. The program, to be co-sponsored by the Poland-based Belarusian Historical Society, will be held at the Belarusian Lyceum in the town of Hajnówka in the Podlasie region of northeastern Poland, an area of great natural beauty and home to Poland’s ethnic Belarusian minority — an ideal setting for the study of Belarusian language, history and culture, as well as for the study of a broad range of issues relating to cultural diversity and minorities policies in the expanded EU.
Coursework will include intensive Belarusian language instruction (beginning and intermediate levels and individual advanced-level tutorials) and lectures in English and Belarusian on Belarusian history, literature, contemporary politics and society. The program will also include a regional studies component, with lectures and events focusing on the history, culture and current status of the Belarusian minority in Poland, as well as of the Podlasie region’s other ethnic groups, including Poles, Jews, Tatars, Lithuanians, and Russian Old Believers. Faculty will include instructors from Białystok University and the Belarusian Lyceum in Hajnówka, as well as Hrodna University in Belarus. Additional guest lectures on Belarusian history, politics and culture will be given by visiting researchers from Europe and North America. Students will have a choice of dormitory accommodations at the Belarusian Lyceum, or homestays with Belarusian-speaking families in Hajnówka.
Coursework will be supplemented by a rich and diverse cultural program, including visits to Belarusian minority cultural organizations and media outlets, meetings with Belarusian writers and artists, films, concerts, theatrical performances, and excursions to important sites related to Belarusian and Orthodox culture and other attractions of the Podlasie region: the city of Białystok, the recently restored Orthodox monastery in Supraśl, the Białowieża (Belaveža) National Park (the largest and ecologically most diverse remnant of the primeval forests of the Northern European plain), the historic town of Bielsk Podlaski, the Holy Mountain of Grabarka (the most important Eastern Orthodox pilgrimage site in Poland), and the Borderland Foundation in Sejny, a unique institution dedicated to preserving the rich multicultural heritage of the borderland region and promoting dialogue and new forms of cooperation between its many ethnic groups and cultures. In mid-July students will also have the opportunity to attend Basovišča, the annual festival of Belarusian rock music organized by the Belarusian Students’ Association in the town of Gródek (Haradok) east of Bialystok.
At the end of the program, from August 8-19th, students will have the option of traveling to Belarus on a tour including Hrodna, Navahrudak, Slonim, Niasviž, Mir, Minsk, Połack, Viciebsk, Mahiloŭ, Pinsk and Brest. The program cost, including tuition, room, board, cultural program and excursions is $2,900 (the cost of the optional Belarus tour at the end of the program will be announced as details become available). For further information and application materials, please contact the program director: Dr. Curt Woolhiser, Harvard University, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Barker Center 327, 12 Quincy St. , Cambridge MA 02138-3804; e-mail: email@example.com; tel. (617) 495-3528. Please note that the due date for all applications is May 15, 2009.
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