It’s time to stop talking about the Belarus opposition and start talking about the democratic movement in Belarus. What we saw during the Day of Solidarity on Sunday 7 February was not a protest rally but rather the courageous and dignified face of the Belarus majority.
The story of the Belarus democracy movement is above all a story about three courageous women: Maria Kolesnikova, Veronika Tsepkalo and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Maria Kolesnikova has been in a Minsk jail since September having famously torn up her passport to avoid deportation at the Belarus border with Ukraine, while Veronika Tsepkalo and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the de facto leader of the Belarus majority, are both in exile.
These three women have inspired and led the peaceful, determined resistance to the Lukashenko regime which has drawn in thousands and thousands of women and men, many of whom had no previous involvement in politics.
Women like Olga Kostukevich near Minsk, and Ekaterina Zuizuik in Milan, who have worked tirelessly within Belarus and internationally with the Belarus diaspora to help keep the situation in Belarus at the centre of international attention.
New Europeans was proud to present the Women of Belarus through Olga and Ekaterina with the New European of the Year Award for their courage and for the example they are giving to all Europeans and to the world about what it means to stand up for human rights.
Launching the Day Of Solidarity, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on people watching the brutal repression of peaceful campaigners in Belarus:
“To show solidarity by participating in events and rallies, displaying national Belarusian white-red-white colours, writing letters to Belarusian political prisoners, donating to help repressed compatriots, and making posts bearing the hashtag #StandWithBelarus.”
New Europeans has joined demands for stronger action by the international community against the Lukashenko regime and for five key actions in particular:
i) Widen the new Global Sanctions Regime (Magnitsky measures) against individuals and companies with links to the Lukashenko regime.
ii) Follow the lead of Lithuania and urge member states to open criminal proceedings against those who have tortured and injured people in Belarus.
iii) Recognise that the Belarusian Special Police Force is a terrorist organisation and add it to the EU Terrorist List.
iv) Increase support for victims of the regime and their families, for civil society initiatives and for the work of the diaspora networks.
v) Exert pressure on Putin’s regime to secure removal of Lukashenko from power and to facilitate a democratic transition.
Expressing her solidarity Angela Merkel said: "The calculation by those in power seemed to be that the world would forget these brave people. We cannot let that happen"
The German government has also announced measures to support Belarusians in humanitarian need and to support independent media. These are welcome steps but represent far too little in terms of what is needed to bring real change to Belarus.
Public buildings in the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were lit up at dusk in solidarity with the red and white colours of the Belarus democratic movement.
Meanwhile in Belarus itself men and women are out before dawn on streets where the temperatures have fallen to 22 degrees below zero.
How it is possible that on the EU’s doorstep, twenty-one years into the twenty-first century, such repeated, massive and blatant human rights violations continue unchecked?
It is less than 300km from Warsaw to the border with Belarus, which also shares borders with two other EU member states (Latvia and Lithuania).
300 km from where women and men are being randomly kidnapped and arrested on the streets, beaten up, tortured ad held without charge.
300km from where people are being handed long, arbitrary prison sentences on risible grounds such as “tearing a policeman’s uniform” while being assaulted by the police.
300km from a state that is building a modern “concentration camp” to hold its “unwanted citizens” indefinitely.
300km from where journalists are jailed while police officers and militias wear balaclavas, enjoy anonymity and are never held to account.
300km from where there is a nuclear power station in poor repair under the control of a regime which has no regard for the safety or the welfare of its citizens.
Can we really afford to put our hands over our ears and pretend we can’t hear the screams of our neighbours? Or could and should Europe and the new Biden regime do more to bring the Lukashenko regime to its knees?
The German government has said that it is collecting evidence into the crimes and human rights violations perpetrated by the regime. It is time for the international community to open a formal investigation and start holding the perpetrators to account.
Fascism does not have the right to exist in the Europe of today.