Saturday, Aug 20, 2005

An open letter plea to help free Belarus from totalitarianism

Belarus, a country of more than 10 million inhabitants has been for more than 11 years ruled by President Alexander Lukashenka, for whom governance means extensive abuse of basic human and citizens' rights on a daily basis, removal and imprisonment of his opponents and journalists, and deception of the populace by the mass media under his control.

Last autumn, a bogus referendum that Lukashenka held removed a two-consecutive-terms limit on the presidency and thus he took the first step to prolong his rule beyond next year, when his current term expires.

Since then, for a number of months -- largely unnoticed by most media and politicians of the democratic world -- the last remains of non-governmental organizations, an independent press and political parties that could thwart the plans of the Belarus autocrat on prolonging his rule ad infinitum have systematically been liquidated.

The information blockade of the country is growing, opportunities for young people to study abroad are being limited, and the last independent daily Narodnaja Volja is about to be closed down.

Lukashenka can get away with all of this not only due to the unsavory legacy of totally decimated post-soviet social and societal structures, but also due to lack of interest in the fate of Belarus on the part of democratic countries worldwide.

We are, therefore, convinced that it is necessary to make use of every opportunity to break through this wall of lack of interest and inability on the part of the global democratic community in order to take a stand against this post-soviet autocrat and his efforts to totally suppress the remains of independent initiatives in Belarus.

At the same time it is necessary to continue developing contacts and cooperation with Belarus' independent initiatives.

The EU that so far has not been able to support efforts aiming at building Belarus based on democratic values should speedily seek instruments that would enable this process. At the same time the EU should fully open its exchange and educational programs for democratically oriented young people of Belarus.

The EU should, together with Ukraine, quickly react to the proposal by EU parliamentarians Janusz Onyszkiewicz and Bogdan Klich to enable the people of Belarus an access to non-censored, non-manipulated information through radio and TV broadcasts from neighboring countries.

We call for creating a common strategy for the EU, US and all other democratic countries that ought to be interested in the democratization of Belarus.

This open letter is signed by Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic; Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland; French philosopher Andre Glucksmann; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa; former German president Richard von Weizsecker, H.R.H. El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; former New Zealand prime minister and former WTO director general Mike Moore; Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp of New York, Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa, former South African president F.W. de Klerk; US theologian Michael Novak and Senator Karel Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic.