Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship

Vaclav Havel et al. - Praha - 9.9.2005

In this open letter, Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, and other important public figures bring attention to the situation in Belarus, where Alexander Lukashenka rules with an iron fist.

Although it may seem today that there are not any important issues that we are unaware of, there are many significant facts which are either unknown or known only to a limited number of people. One of these "information black holes" is, and has been for quite a long time, Belarus, which is situated on the very eastern borders of Europe.

This country of ten million inhabitants has been ruled for over 11 years by Alexander Lukashenka, for whom governance means the extensive abuse of basic human and citizens' rights on a daily basis; the removal and imprisonment of his opponents and journalists; and the deception of his people by the mass media, which is under his control.

In a rigged referendum held last autumn, Lukashenka secured 'support' for the removal of a two-term limit on his presidency and thus made the first step towards prolonging his rule beyond 2006, when his current term expires.

Since then, largely unnoticed by most media and politicians of the democratic world, the last remains of non-governmental organisations, independent press and political parties that could thwart the plans of the Belarusian autocrat to prolong his rule ad infinitum are systematically being liquidated. The information blockade within 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. Alexander Lukashenka can get away with all of this not only due to the unsavoury legacy of soviet societal structures but also due to the lack of interest in the fate of Belarus on the part of the democratic countries.

We are, therefore, convinced that it is necessary to make use of every opportunity to break through this wall of apathy which exists in the democratic world 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 Belarusian independent initiatives.

The European Union, which so far has not been able to support efforts aimed at building a Belarus based on democratic values, should speedily seek such instruments to enable this process. At the same time, the EU should fully open its exchange and educational programmes for the democratically-orientated young people of Belarus. The EU should, together with Ukraine, react quickly to the proposal by MEPs Janusz Onyszkiewicz and Bogdan Klich to give the people of Belarus access to non-censored, non-manipulated information through radio and TV broadcasts from neighbouring countries. We call on the EU, the USA and all other democratic countries that ought to be interested to create a common strategy for the democratisation of Belarus.

This open letter is signed by the former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, former President of Germany Richard von Weizsacker, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan H.R.H. El Hassan bin Talal, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Director General of WTO Mike Moore, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian, Chairman of the Nippon Foundation Yohei Sasakawa, former President of South Africa Frederik W. de Klerk, US theologian and author Michael Novak, Senator Karel Schwarzenberg of the Czech Republic and the Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros.

c Project Syndicate

Editor's note: On August 24, two days after this letter was written, the EU announced that it will fund a pro-democracy radio station in Belarus.

Vaclav Havel et al. - Praha - 9.9.2005