Sunday, August 4, 2013

In Solidarity with Civil Society in Belarus

"We wish to express our solidarity with all those who suffer from any form of oppression and injustice, and with those in the world who have been silenced or marginalized." - Oswaldo Paya 

"Solidarity is stronger than repression."

August 4th, 2011 was the day Ales Bialiatski was arrested, he is a leading figure in the defense of human rights in Belarus, was the chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", and the vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights. Two years later Ales remains unjustly imprisoned. It is for that reason that activists in Belarus have designated today an International Day of Solidarity with Civil Society in Belarus.

Please take a moment out of your day today to demonstrate your solidarity with civil society and the defenders of a free society in Belarus.  Their struggle is also ours because we are all interconnected. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963 explained it:
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea."
He placed this in the American context talking about the American South but 50 years later we understand that it holds true internationally either for good or ill. 

The past half century has demonstrated how agents of injustice cooperate and collaborate in expanding their zone of power of influence. Cubans have seen first hand how the Castro dictatorship has embraced and collaborated with the worse dictatorships on the planet to undermine civil society and human rights standards. The Castro brothers have a close working relationship with Alexander Lukashenko, who has also been called the "Fidel Castro of Europe."

This is not a call to armed intervention or political violence but to solidarity and nonviolent resistance with the forces in Belarus that advocate for justice and freedom. Solidarity is stronger than repression in the same manner that justice is more powerful then injustice.

Below is some information on the current state of affairs in Europe's last dictatorship prepared by Belarus activists:

About Belarus

Why Belarus?
  • Belarus is a country with rich history in the middle of Europe
  • Belarus is a country where old castles were preserved, where one can still find beautiful national parks and wild nature preserves;
  • In Belarus the following famous people were born: revolutionary and national hero of Belarus, Poland and the USA Tadeusz Kościuszko, one of the first publishers in Europe Francysk Skaryna, poet and revolutionary Konstanty Kalinowski, painter Mark Shagal, writer Vasil Bykaŭ, Nobel Prize in physics Zhores Alferov, science fiction guru Isaac Asimov, etc.
  • Belarus is a country where lots of our friends and beloved, relatives and colleagues and just many good people live.
In Belarus there are lots of civil society organizations and groups, journalists, activists, artists, musicians, thinkers, philosophers and poets. In Belarus progressive ideas are being discussed, people work on creative projects and new civil universities are established. It means that in that country we can find something what is called all over the world “civil society” and where we can meet people, who are ready to take responsibility for their country and its future.

But at the same time it is very hard to live in this country because of the following:
  1. The authorities very seldom pay attention to the National Constitution, governing by the orders of president Lukashenko, and simply ignore or violate international human rights obligations.
  2. The Belarus authorities don’t respect the Law. Belarus is the only country of the continent, where European Convention of Human Rights does not apply. On one side, the legislature frequently passes bills that limit civil liberties of citizens; on the other side the executive do it anyways - without any laws. Judicial system doesn’t meet international standards of justice and in cases between the state and a citizen, there is close to zero chance for just verdict.
  3. Belarus is the only country in Europe where death penalty is still being applied. In March 2012 two people accused of organizing and conducting a terrorist attack in 2011 in Minsk Metro were sentenced to death and executed. In the opinion of experts and independent observers their guilt wasn’t proven beyond any reasonable doubts. According to the law their bodies are not handed over to the relatives and their burial place remains secret.
  4. In the past 10 years every single election has been followed by mass protests and unlawful detentions of hundreds of people (in 2010- more than 700), as well as massive searches (in 2010- more than 1000), including in the offices of civil society groups. Practically, every presidential candidate (except Lukashenko) was either accused of mass rioting, imprisoned or forced to emigrate.
  5. In Belarus penitentiaries there are prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, including human right activists, journalists, opposition figures, whose sentences are due to their criticism of the authorities. Belarus authorities frequently use political prisoners in negotiations and political exchanges with European Union, the USA and Russia.
  6. In Belarus participation in unregistered organization is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years of prison. This can can apply to any group, for example those that help children in orphanages, clubs of journalism enthusiasts and most of all to any human rights group or political opposition initiative.
  7. In Belarus almost all public actions (if they do not support the regime) are prohibited and their participants face arrest for up to 15 days (sometimes, several times in a row). After mass actions of “silent protest” (people gathering together in random squares without signs or slogans and simply clapping) “massively organized inactivity” was also made punishable. During mass actions, a number of people who are detained for swearing or other acts of “hooliganism” increases manifold as the authorities use those petty offenses as pretext for placing activist under arrest for a few days.
  8. The authorities of Belarus may prohibit their citizens to go abroad (some recent cases include men over 40 and women - for “avoiding military service” or yet “not implementing court decisions” event if there has been no trials – all as pretexts for placing exit bans on human rights defenders and opposition activists). The authorities also wrongfully refuse entry for citizens of other countries, including Belarus neighbors and partners with visa free border regimes. In 2012 the KGB (still the name of secret service) has been officially entitled to refuse exit for “unreliable people”, whose names have been entered in their “preventive list”.
  9. Belarus is a country which suffered the most from Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in 1986 and now the authorities hide the real ecological situation on contaminated areas, planning to build a new nuclear power station with money of Russian citizens. The plans continue in spite of local protests and objections of ecologists.
  10. In Belarus for a long time Belarus language was prohibited. Till now, its authorities do nothing to restore historical memory about repressions which occurred in the period of USSR, On the contrary they restore Soviet-era monuments, like “the line of Stalin”.
  11. In Belarus students are often expelled from universities and schools under political pressure, first of all, because of beliefs and openly expressed opinions.
Usual and regular reply of Belarus authorities to criticism on behalf of civil society and almost any type of civic activism- is either a ban or arrest.

Of course, we can say that the situation in Belarus is not the worst one, there are some countries where it is much worse

BUT  first, it’s not the reason not to do anything for Belarus;
second, if there is possibility to change the situation in this country it means that we can also help other countries.

After all, if we agree with injustice and take it for granted, then it comes into reality.

More information about Belarus you can find here:
Human Rights reports  about the situation in Belarus
The list of Belorussian organizations and groups

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