Hearing :: Business as Usual? Belarus on the Eve of Elections


September 16, 2008

       	SEN. SAM
       	SEN. SAXBY







               The hearing was held at 2:39 p.m. in Room 328-B
Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C., Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin,
Co-Chairman Helsinki Commission, moderating.

commission hearing will come to order.  Today's hearing is titled business as
usual, Belarus on the eve of the elections.  Since its independence in 1991,
Belarus has been faced with a choice, whether to move forward in the direction
of greater freedom and respect for human rights or perpetuate the Soviet model.
Despite some positive steps during its early years, the situation remains rather
bleak, especially for those attempting to voice views differing from the
official line.  

	When one looks at what's happened in Belarus since its
independence I think initially there was some reason for hope.  But I must tell
you the repressive regime and the manner in which it handles opposition is one
in which is not reflective of the commitments of OSCE member states.  So
therefore, I am very interested in hearing today's witnesses as to the current
situation in Belarus.  

	We know that parliamentary elections are scheduled.
We would like to have an update as to what's the prognosis for an open and free
election in Belarus, what we should be doing in regards to our commission work
as it relates to Belarus.  

	And we do recognize, at least I think, some
encouraging signs of Belarus' comments in regards to recent activities by the
Russian Federation, which gives us some hope of more independence from that
member state.  Nevertheless, if the Belarus government chooses to take concrete
steps towards genuine progress, I am confident that the United States would do
everything we can to encourage those steps and do what we can so that the
citizens of Belarus enjoy the freedoms associated with a democratic state that
so many other countries in Europe have followed since the fall of the Soviet

	I will turn now to Ranking Member, Chris Smith from New Jersey.
SMITH:  Thank you very much, Chairman Cardin.  And thank you for convening this
very timely and very important hearing.  

	And let me just thank you in
advance to all of our witnesses for their testimony and for the insights that
they, I know, will provide.

	Less than two weeks before the elections to
Belarus' national assembly President Lukashenko has given us few signs that
these elections will be different from other elections held under his rule,
which have fallen far short of OSCE standards.  Once again, the opposition finds
officials restricting its campaign activities, and opposition candidates have
little access to the state-dominated media.

	Some opposition candidates have
been denied registration, while other potential opposition candidates have
suddenly found themselves unemployed.  Of course, we welcome the Belarusian
government's recent release of some political prisoners, including Alexander
Kazulin, and the inclusion of a few members of the opposition on precinct
election commissions.  But given President Lukashenko's record as Europe's last
dictator and leading abuser of human rights, we shouldn't create false hopes
that these gestures portend a new springtime for democracy in Belarus.

his long tenure as president of Belarus, Lukashenko has liquidated his country's
democratically-elected parliament and conducted a series of phony, staged,
managed elections.  His government has trampled on elementary human rights such
as the freedom of expression, association and assembly.  He has harassed and
arrested opposition activists, closed down NGOs and stifled the independent
media and restricted religious freedom.

	There was a very disturbing report
that I was just handed a copy of which points out that candidates for members of
parliament have been brutally beaten up in Minsk today by one of the best
friends of this commission and of democracy, Anatoli Lebedko is seen in the
photo in a headlock after being brutally beaten by Lukashenko's thugs.  That is
an awful indictment of the ongoing and really the state of affairs in Belarus.
And again, that's as recently as a news report today just a few moments ago.
The catalogue of Lukashenko's crimes, as we all know, is all the more reason for
our government to stand by the suffering people of Belarus.  We have to continue
to support the efforts of brave Belarusians to build their civil society and to
break Lukashenko's media monopoly.  Here our government has a vital role to play
as does the European Union by technically and financially supporting
international broadcasting that provides the Belarusians with objective news
about their country.

	In recent years, like my good friend and colleague, Ben
Cardin and like Alcee Hastings and so many members of our commission, we have
met with civil society, members of the parliament, including our good friend
Anatoli Lebedko and many others now and again that are in the crosshairs of the
secret police and are suffering immensely.  So this hearing is timely.  And we
need to send a clear message that Republican, Democrat, executive branch, across
the board we stand in solidarity with these very brave and heroic individuals.
I yield back.

	CARDIN:  Thank you, Congressman Smith.  

	We're also joined
by Congresswoman Hilda Solis.

	SOLIS:  Thank you, Senator Cardin.  And I also
want to thank the chairman, Mr. Hastings, for having this very important hearing

	Back in 1994, Belarus elected Alexander Lukashenko as its first
democratically-elected president.  For the past 14 years, he has instituted
direct power over institutions, controlled the electoral process and
significantly reduced the independent press.  Local elections carried out in
January of 2007 resulted in reduced opposition representation in local council.
Out of 23,000 elected parliamentarians, only 20 opposition representatives want
seats in the council at all levels.  

	Local governments implement many of
the policies of the central government, including harassment of Democratic
activists and local free press.  While more than two-thirds of the periodicals
are private, the state-owned press heavily dominates the available news.  The
government also continues to deny independent journalists access to official
events and information, suggesting that these events or activities would
destabilize the situation in the country.

	In June of 2007, the Belarus house
of representatives approved a law that requires all state officials to receive
approval from higher authorities before speaking to the press.  I find it very
disconcerting that the government has asserted such control over the electoral
process and independent press.

	I hope that we can glean more information
from the witnesses that we have today.  Thank you for having this hearing.
CARDIN:  Thank you very much.

	Our first witness -- we're very pleased to
welcome to the witness table the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy,
Human Rights and Labor, David J. Kramer.  I say that because Secretary Kramer is
a member of our commission.  So he could be on this side of the table, but he
has chosen to be at the witness table, which will give him no special privileges
on our questioning.

	From July of 2005 to March of 2008 Mr. Kramer was deputy
assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs responsible for
Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus affairs as well as the regional
nonproliferation issues.  Previously he served in the Department of State office
of policy planning as a professional staff member.  And before that he was a
senior adviser to the undersecretary of state for global affairs.  

	He also
was executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy in
Washington.  He brings a wealth of experience to his current role.  And it's a
pleasure to have him on the commission.

	And we welcome you here today to
help us.

	KRAMER:  Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the commission,
thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you here today to
discuss a very important issue.  And that is the state of democracy and human
rights in Belarus.  And let me commend the commission for its engagement on this
important subject.

	Mr. Chairman, if I may request that my written testimony
be entered into the record (inaudible).

	CARDIN:  Without objection, all of
the witnesses' full testimonies will be made part of the record.

Thank you, sir.  Mr. Chairman, the active interest shown by the commission, I
think, has ensured that a strong message of solidarity has been sent to the
Belarusian people from both the legislative and executive branches of the U.S.
government.  The Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act, which some members and
staff of this commission have been instrumental in moving forward, has given the
administration a key tool in formulating policy toward Belarus.

	I also wish
to applaud the vital work of organizations such as the National Endowment for
Democracy, International Republican Institute and the National Democratic
Institute for the work they have done to help support democracy in Belarus from
the grass roots.  And I'm truly delighted to be appearing here today in this
hearing with such devoted colleagues as Steve Nix, Laura Jewett and Rodger

	Mr. Chairman, given the recent release of all political prisoners
and the upcoming parliamentary elections September 28th, this hearing comes at a
time of opportunity for Belarus.  If the government of Belarus shows that it is
truly committed to democratic reform, we will have the possibility to develop a
more robust relationship between our two countries.  As we have said many times,
we would like to have a different relationship with Belarus, one that is based
on mutual respect for internationally-recognized norms in human rights of the
people of Belarus.

	For an improved relationship to be possible, Belarus must
truly abide by its commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and
democratic norms.  The release of all political prisoners in Belarus is an
encouraging step in this direction.  

	Former presidential candidate
Alexander Kazulin was freedom from prison on August 16th, over two years after
his arrest and conviction on charges of alleged hooliganism at a protest after
the fraudulent March 2006 presidential election.  The Bush administration from
the president on down, including our embassy in Minsk, pressed very hard for his
release and met numerous times with his late wife and daughters.  I truly regret
that Iryna Kazulin, herself a brave fighter for human rights, did not live long
enough to see her husband freed.  

	On August 20th, Belarusian authorities
released the last two political prisoners, businessman Syarhey Parsyukevich and
youth activist Andrey Kim.  Mr. Parsyukevich and Mr. Kim had been in prison on
charges stemming from a demonstration held in January 2008 to protest new
government restrictions on businesses.  

	Earlier this year the government of
Belarus released five individuals internationally recognized as political
prisoners: Andrey Kramof (ph), Dimitri Doshgavich (ph), Artur Finkavich (ph),
Nicolai Actikovich (ph) and Uri Leonof (ph).  Freeing all eight prisoners is a
meaningful step forward.  Of course, we're also looking to Belarus authorities
to respect the human rights and civil rights of all Belarusian people, in
particular the freedoms of assembly and expression, including respect for an
independent media.  We hope the government of Belarus shows a true, sustained
commitment to democratic reform and respect for human rights.

	As we have
discussed many times with the Belarusian authorities, the release of Alexander
Kazulin and the other two political prisoners days after provides the
opportunity for the United States and the European Union to start a dialogue
with the Belarusians about ways to improve relations.  My colleagues, Deputy
Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, David Merkel, traveled to
Minsk August 21 to 23 to explore the possibilities for a real dialogues between
our two governments as well as to deepen our contacts with the democratic

	Mr. Merkel's was the first visit at this level by a U.S.
official since my last trip in that same job to Minsk in April 2007.  Following
Merkel's visit, the Department of State in coordination with the Department of
Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset's Control, known as OFAC, approved a
six-month suspension until March 2009 of sanctions against two subsidiaries of
Belarusian state-owned enterprise, Belneftekhim.  We will continue to watch
Belarus closely to determine whether to extend the suspension and take other
steps or take steps in the opposite direction.

	The release of political
prisoners shows that the United States and the European Union can be effective
in bringing about change when we are united.  We regularly coordinate with our
European allies on the situation in Belarus.  And, in fact, DAS Merkel has been
in Brussels yesterday and today doing just that.  And we've been united in our
desire for the unconditional release of political prisoners in Belarus and for
the authorities to respect the human and civil rights of its people.
Though we have had occasional tactical differences on how best to approach
Belarus with the European Union, there is no question that the United States and
the E.U. share the same goal of seeing a democratic Belarus assume its rightful
place as a fully integrated member of the international community.

United States and European Union have had a dual track approach to Belarus.  We
strongly support civil society, NGOs and other democratic forces in Belarus
while we also take action against those whom we hold responsible for electoral
fraud, human rights abuses and corruption.  We also are working closely with the
European Union to urge Belarus to live up to its obligations to its people by
allowing an open and transparent electoral campaign process and hold free and
fair parliamentary elections later this month.

	Free and fair elections
depend only in part on the conduct of the actual balloting and vote tabulation.
Both we and the European Union have emphasized the need for Belarus to make
significant progress in improving conditions throughout the electoral process.
Key concerns include full access for OSCE observers, including to the voting
process and ballot count, registration of opposition candidates, access to the
voters and media for all candidates and participation of the opposition in
electoral commissions at all levels.

	And let me echo Congressman Smith's
deep concerns about the reports today and the picture of people like Anatoli
Lebedko being beaten up by Belarus authorities.  There is no place, there is no
excuse for such conduct and behavior.  And we all continue to stand with these
courageous defenders of human rights in Belarus.

	In previous Belarusian
elections, OSCE observers concluded that fundamental freedoms of association,
peaceful assembly and expression were disregarded.  During its initial
assessment of this election environment, the OSCE has found no evident progress
in these areas.  The OSCE has numerous times also provided recommendations to
the government to improve the conduct of elections in Belarus in line with OSCE

	Unfortunately, the authorities have not taken any significant
steps to address these recommendations.  Though lack of opposition
representation on precinct election commissions and allegations that employees
on regime name candidates serve on the commissions are serious concerns to us.
Candidate registration offers a somewhat better picture with approximately 78
percent of opposition candidates being registered, still below the 83 percent
opportunity registration rate in the 2004 elections.

	Now, in addition to the
conduct of elections in Belarus, another important issue for the United States
in improving relations between our two countries is Belarusian authorities'
treatment of imprisoned U.S. citizen, Emanuel Zeltser, who was arrested in March
of this year and later convicted in a secret trial on charges of using false
documents and economic espionage.  With the real possibility for an improvement
in the relationship between the U.S. and Belarus we hope and are continuing to
press for a quick, humanitarian resolution in Mr. Zeltser's case.

	We will
continue to request consular access to Mr. Zeltser to monitor his welfare as
well as press for his access to his prescribed medications.  And as long as his
welfare remains endangered, we will continue our call for his humanitarian

	And I must add, Mr. Chairman, I was saddened to hear of the passing
this weekend of Mr. Zeltser's mother.

	No mater what relationship we have
with the government of Belarus, we have and will continue to provide assistance
to empower the Belarusian people so that they may determine their own future.
We strive to build NGO capacity, to increase public participation, bolster the
capacity of democratic political parties to unify, strategize, organize and
connect with constituents and strengthen independent media and expand access to
objective information.  

	Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty's Belarus service,
remains a leading international broadcaster, providing programming in the
Belarusian language.  The service's new television program has recently been
placed on a Polish-led satellite television channel.  In addition to that, the
Voice of America broadcasts are available to - are available in Russian to
audiences in Belarus.

	Recent assisting (ph) successes include our work with
five Belarus umbrella organizations and our programs supporting the development
of an NGO map to analyze civil society trends, improve strategic planning and
enhance donor coordination.  And we are supporting a Polish-led effort to
broadcast television to Belarus via satellite.  It is with this assistance that
the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute and
the National Democratic Institute as well as other non-governmental
organizations have been so critically helpful.  

	In closing, Mr. Chairman,
as President Bush has said, quote, "The United States will continue to stand
with the people of Belarus and all those who are working to help Belarus take
its rightful place in the community of democracies," close quote.  Our policy,
U.S. policy toward Belarus has never been driven by Minsk's relationship with
Moscow, whether warm or cold.  Instead our policy has been driven by the
government of Belarus' treatment of its own people.

	We have shown our
determination to take action against Belarus officials responsible for human
rights abuses, assaults on democracy and state corruption.  The targeted
sanctions and penalties we have imposed are not directed against the people of
Belarus.  With the release of all political prisoners by the government there,
we have begun a review of these sanctions and are allowing certain, but by no
means all, transactions to move forward.

	We never sought regime change per
say, merely a change in regime behavior.  And we hope we are seeing some
positive signs of such a change. 

	Again, we hope the government of Belarus
shows a true, sustained commitment to democratic reform and respect for human
rights so that we finally have the opportunity to move our relationship forward.
It is my hope that we will look back on this year, Mr. Chairman, as a time when
relations between Belarus and the United States got back on their rightful
track.  Thank you.

	CARDIN:  Thank you, Secretary Kramer.  I'm going to talk
to Chairman Hastings who has joined us.  I'm going to ask a few questions, and
then I'm going to turn the gavel over to Chairman Hastings.  The Senate has
started a vote, and I will need to go to the Senate floor in order to cast that

	But let me ask you one or two questions at this point.  And that is
you mentioned the fact that the Belarus government has released some of the
political prisoners as a positive step.  But what do you believe was the
motivation of the government at this particular moment in the release of these
prisoners?  Was it an effort to try to deal with the public relations
internationally?  Or was it a real change in direction of the Belarus

	KRAMER:  Mr. Chairman, the release of political prisoners
started earlier this year, in fact, the beginning of this year when I was still
in my previous position as the deputy assistant secretary in the European
Eurasian Bureau.  And it came about based on engagement we had in Minsk with our
embassy where we hoped and were led to believe that at that time the six
political prisoners in jail would all be released, including Mr. Kazulin.
Unfortunately, Mr. Kazulin was the only one who stayed in jail.  The other five
were released, which was a good thing.  Any time you can secure the release of
political prisoners, that is a positive development.

	But we made it clear at
that time that any way forward in our relationship required the release of all
six, not simply five out of six.  And after we ran out of patience and came to
the conclusion that Kazulin would not be released in due time as we had been
promised, we decided to take additional action as we did in early March against
the government.

	Since then I think it has been a combination of resolve we
have shown in underscoring to the government in Belarus that we would not bend
in our position in our principle that all political prisoners had to be released
as a precondition for the actual start of any kind of dialogue.  And I think it
has also been the resolve of the European Union, which has maintained a similar
firm view.  And I think together this united position has been critical.
Finally, I think while...

	CARDIN:  So you're saying that you believe that
this action was as a result of Belarus recognizing in order to have dialogue
with Europe and America that they needed to make this step?  Is that...
KRAMER:  Since 2006 following their election and then the detention of a number
of individuals, including Kazulin, but others, too, we and the European Union
tightened the noose around the government of Belarus.  We made life difficult by
imposing an expansive visa ban that prevented people from - well, in fact, I
can't mention the names, but from the highest levels on down, from traveling to
the United States, certainly.  And the E.U. did the same thing.  The E.U.'s list
actually is publicly available.

	We also froze the assets of a number of
individuals.  Well, oddly enough or interestingly enough, that list is publicly
available from the U.S. Department of Treasury.  And then beyond that we, in
November of 2007, because we continued to think that there was not going to be
any release of these political prisoners, imposed an asset freeze and imposed
sanctions on Belneftekhim, their largest exporter to the United States.

think it was a combination of these targeted measures against key individuals
and against state-owned enterprises that key individuals had a vested interest
in that got their attention in a very serious way.  And it was the looming
threat of further sanctions because we made clear after imposing the freeze on
Belneftekhim that more sanctions could follow.

	The other point I would just
add very quickly, Mr. Chairman, is at the risk of trying to read their minds, I
do think that the Russian attack against Georgia also contributed to Belarus'
decision to take this step.  I think the repercussions of that move on all of
Russia's neighbors have forced them to rethink some of their policies and

	And I think there is the possibility - again, I can't say this
with certainty - that the government in Belarus decided keeping its options open
to the West was something they desired.  And they knew the only way to do that
was to release all the political prisoners.  That was based on the clear message
we had sent.

	CARDIN:  Thank you.  Let me just make one other comment.  And
that is the September 28th elections - you've already alluded to it that it's
not just counting the votes accurately and openly, but it's what leads up to the
elections.  We are just a couple weeks away from the elections now.

	We know
that in the 102 districts, I think - 110 districts, I believe it is, that there
have been repressive practices that have already been deployed making it
virtually impossible for opposition candidates to have an opportunity at a fair
shot of election.  So it appears, at least from our observations that there
these elections will not meet the standards that we expect for open, free and
competitive elections and that what we are asking now with the observation
teams, et cetera is to look at what happens on the ground leading up to the
elections and the actual casting of ballots and the counting of ballots.

I don't want to give the impression that just because votes are cast and counted
that they're open and free elections.

	KRAMER:  Yes.

	CARDIN:  And I hope
that you will stay very strong in reporting what has happened in regards to
opposition candidates, the commission members, including opposition candidates
and how much progress, in fact, will have been made by Belarus in regards to
these parliamentary elections.

	KRAMER:  Well, Mr. Chairman, let me assure
you that the positive move on the release of political prisoners by no means
guarantees the government of Belarus a pass on these upcoming elections.  We
will call these elections as we see them.  We will rely, of course, on the
assessments of the observation teams in place, the ODIHR mission, parliamentary
assembly of the OSCE and others who will be on-hand to observe these elections.
We do have concerns about the way they have been conducted so far.  We regret
that the government of Belarus has not followed through on the recommendations
that have been made.

	The problems that opposition representation has
encountered in being on district election commissions, the fact that almost 20
percent of opposition candidates have been denied registration, transparency of
voting, ballot box security, vote counting, all of these things - as you rightly
point out, Mr. Chairman, it is not simply what happens on the 28th.  It's
everything leading up to the 28th as well as the 28th and following the 28th.
And that's how we'll judge these elections.

	CARDIN:  We'll be looking
forward to getting the reports.

	I now turn the gavel over to Chairman
Hastings.  Thank you.

	HASTINGS:  Thank you very much, Senator.  And I'll
thank you for carrying forth my apologies for having floor responsibilities
before coming here as well.

	In light of the fact that the ranking member and
the distinguished special representative were here before myself, I would ask of
them their indulgence to allow that I read my opening statement.  And then I
won't ask questions.

	But before doing that, I'll take the distinct pleasure
in introducing to the audience two people that I've spent a large portion of my
life with, including in Belarus, I might add, at the elections that took place
previously.  The secretary general of the parliamentary assembly of the OSCE and
the deputy secretary general of the parliamentary assembly, Spencer Oliver and
Tina Schon over here in this corner.  

	Welcome.  And tomorrow Mr. Oliver
will be presenting to the Helsinki Commission.

	This hearing comes at a very
interesting time for a country which has the sad distinction of having one of
the worst domestic human rights records in Europe.  Quite frankly, Commissioner
Kramer, Mr. Assistant Secretary, I don't know too many people, if any, in the
government that have had a more hands on experience in dealing with Belarus than
yourself.  And my compliments to you for your efforts on behalf of our
government and the Belarusian people in those ventures (ph).

invasion of Georgia and ongoing occupation has changed the dynamics within much
of the OSCE region.  With even heretofore normally staunch Russian allies such
as Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, wary of Moscow's aggression and
reluctant to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, on a concrete positive note,
the three remaining internationally-recognized political prisoners were
released, including Belarus' most prominent political prisoner that I know you
and others of us and Mr. Smith and countless of us have raised the issue with
reference to Alexander Kazulin.  

	And as a result, the U.S. has temporarily
suspended its ban on two U.S. companies dealing with Belarus.  There's a huge
state-controlled petro-chemical concern.  Although other sanctions remain in
place pending future progress.

	Despite some slight improvements, the
election environment in Belarus remains significantly problematical, as you just
pointed out.  And since I was the one who led the last OSCE election observation
mission to Minsk in March of '06, I can tell you that there is much room for
improvement.  And I can also tell you that as in many countries, I was extremely
impressed with the young people in Belarus who in spite of pressures and being
told that they could be arrested, went forth with their demonstrations that took
place during that time.

	I hope that the Belarusian authorities will take
resolute steps to improve the election climate in the short time left.  And I
also remain concerned, Mr. Secretary, about the imprisoned U.S. citizen, Emanuel
Zeltser, whose health has reportedly seriously deteriorated and who has been
denied his doctor-prescribed medications.  Although I'm told two of them that
are vital to him have been allowed to be given to him.

	And also he has been
denied some regular consular access.  And hopefully that will improve.  And I
call for his humanitarian release.  His brother lives within the confines and
curtellage (ph) of the district that I represent.

	The human rights and
democracy situation in Belarus is so wanting that it will undoubtedly take a
long and considerable effort to reverse the damage done over the course of the
last 14 years.  As I remarked in Minsk in March of '06 and Deputy Secretary
Schon was there with me, the Belarusian people deserve better.  However, should
the Belarusian authorities display a concrete willingness to begin making
progress with respect to their democracy and human rights, the United States
should be open to prudent and measured engagement.

	So with the release of
the political prisoners, are we witnessing a glimmer of hope for the beginnings
of long-awaited change?  Or is it business as usual?  I look forward to hearing
from the other witnesses that are with us.  And I'm glad I heard some of your
testimony.  Our other witnesses, too, have extensive experience and deep
involvement in encouraging respect for human rights and democratic change in
Belarus.  And they're uniquely qualified to assess the prospects for democratic
change in that long-suffering country.

	I see Steve Nix is here.  I know he
is going to be onboard.  And he and I have been in a lot of these places at
different times with IRI and NDI and other non-governmental organizations
working to improve democracy in these areas.

	With that, I would ask the
ranking member if he would have any questions, to be followed by Ms. Solis.
SMITH:  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

	Let me just ask Secretary Kramer
a couple of questions.  It's in regard to the sanctions which have been waived
until March of 2009.  If these reports of Anatoli Lebedko and others being
beaten - and if it's as severe as it could be - and hopefully it is not, but it
could be - what kind of message have we - or what are our instructions basically
in terms of those sanctions?  Is there a snap-back capability to say, OK, you
know, in good faith we have waived - you know, we had hoped that you were going
in the right direction, but frankly, when you go and you beat people up and send
bully boys out, you know, that flies in the face of reform, which I know you
agree with?

	But is the March 9th in concrete?  Or is that something that
very quickly could evaporate, that's it, we're going right back to where we were

	Secondly, it's my understanding that Lukashenko's government still
has not and hopefully will not recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as
independent states.  And it was telling, I think, to some extent that Lukashenko
did not join the bandwagon in Moscow as many of our friends in the Duma did in
backing that violence.

	Now, we all remember that Nicolae Ceausescus played
the West and the United States for fools.  I read Ion Pacepa's book.  I worked
with his daughter, along with Frank Wilps (ph) to get her out after he defected.
And in Red Horizon he made it very clear that he played this dual track
difference from Moscow in order to curry certain favor in the West.  And we
swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

	And, you know, there's not, it would
seem to me, a whole lot of downside to Lukashenko remaining mute on South
Ossetia and Abkhazia if we fawn over that.  It's good.  It's positive.  If it's
sincere, it's very good.  But if it's nothing but duplicity, I think we need to
have our eyes opened on that and at least be asking that question.  Because
again, Ceausescus was perhaps among the most brutal, as Alcee knows so well, and
Sonny Horn (ph) and all of us who were there.  

	And Spencer Oliver, you
know, he really had the most brutal secret police, securitate, than anywhere
else in Europe.  And that's, you know, a pretty dubious distinction.  So I'm a
little bit concerned about that, and I'd be interested in your views.

finally, on the issue of the new media law that goes into effect shortly in
February.  As you know, I've introduced the Global Online Freedom Act, have been
trying to get it passed for three years.  It has stalled again even though it's
ready to come to the floor.  All three committees have approved it, or at least
waived it --Foreign Affairs.  And we know it's often we think of China and other
countries like Vietnam because of their use of the Internet to restrict
information.  It's a propaganda tool, but also to find dissidents who have Yahoo
accounts or any other account.

	And you know what the bill does and how it
would force or compel disclosure.  Now, this law appears to move Lukashenko's
government further down the line on restricting the Internet and using it as a
secret police tool in a very large toolbox of repression capabilities that he
has.  Your view on that, and I thank you.

	KRAMER:  Congressman Smith, thank
you very much for the questions.  Let me try to answer them to the best I can.
On the temporary lifting of the two subsidiaries of Belneftekhim, it is not
Belneftekhim itself that the sanction has been lifted.  It is on two
subsidiaries of Belneftekhim.  Those were imposed following the initial
imposition of sanctions on Belneftekhim in November of 2007.

	They came in
March of this year.  And they were imposed after we came to the conclusion that
Kazulin, the last of the six prisoners, would also not be released.  And we took
that step because we felt the government in Belarus left us no choice and we
needed to get their attention once again, as I think we very successfully did in
November in 2007.

	The lifting of those sanctions is a goodwill gesture in
response to the release of the political prisoners.  It can certainly be
reimposed if need be.  And certainly, what happened today will be a factor as we
examine our sanctions policy toward Belarus.  And any future possible negative
developments that would happen would also be factored into those considerations.
While we are hopeful that the government will take further positive steps
that would match the release of political prisoners.  We will not rely on hope.
We will not rely on wishful thinking.  And this comes to the second question you
asked, not only about recognition, but about the possibility of Lukashenko
playing us off of Russia.

	We won't rely on wishful thinking.  We will rely
on specific concrete actions that the government of Belarus needs to take in
order for us to respond in a positive way.  It's similar to what had been
proposed several years ago step by step or selective engagement with the
government of Belarus that is predicated on specific steps that the government
takes in a forward, positive direction that also means not just one step and one
step backward.  It means steps forward, so a continuum in that direction.
And we are cognizant of the possibility that he is taking the step in releasing
the political prisoners to ease the pressure off, at least from the West, as
Russia affords him little haven, given the rising energy prices that Russia
keeps imposing on Belarus.  Belarus has not exactly had a lot of friends close
by or even more distant in the United States.

	The release of all political
prisoners, I think, was a significant development, one that we had told the
government for two years we would respond positively to if they took that step.
But we have also told them that is not the be all and end all.  We will judge
them based on their overall behavior.  And release of political prisoners does
not secure them a pass so that they can behave any way they want in other areas.
SMITH:  On that let me just congratulate you on securing their freedom.
That is an extraordinary feat, and you're to be greatly commended for it.
KRAMER:  And I must say the policy on this has been a model of interagency
coordination, including with the Pentagon because the Pentagon has had issues
with Belarus' partnership, the peace relationship.  They've been extremely
helpful.  The NSC has been outstanding, the vice president's office.  Treasury
Department has been indispensable in terms of the sanctions that we've imposed.
So it's really been a model for interagency coordination and also with the
European Union.

	On the recognition part of the question, sir, they have not
recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  In fact, the only country that I'm aware
of that has is Nicaragua.  And Abkhazia and South Ossetia have recognized each
other.  I'm not sure I'd rack that up to a great diplomatic success.

	We have
engaged them on this issue.  Nothing, from what we've been told, will happen
before the parliamentary elections.  We also hope that they won't take that step
after the parliamentary elections.  And we'll continue to engage with them on
this issue. 

	They are facing, I think - there's no question - significant
pressure to recognize.  They're not the only ones facing such pressure.  And we
hope all the neighbors resist this pressure.

	On your third question, the
media law, this is a cause of concern.  When the parliament passed the
legislation and then it was signed in August into law, we registered our serious
concerns with this.  You're absolutely right that this will have an affect of
requiring all media outlets, including domestic-based Internet Web sites to
reregister with the government, which is likely to lead to the hindering, if not
outright closure, of some of these media organizations.  This, too, will factor
into our overall approach in policy toward Belarus and what kind of steps we
take in a positive way that would respond to positive developments, but also how
we need to respond to get their attention when they engage in negative activity.
HASTINGS:  Ms. Solis?

	SOLIS:  Thank you, Mr. Kramer.  I just wanted to
touch base again on the sanctions.  And if you could just go over that again,
that we're somehow putting those back, so to speak.  And it's because of the
release of these prisoners in part.

	KRAMER:  Yes.

	SOLIS:  What happens
after the elections?  What happens with the notion of the sanctions?  And with
the detention of Mr. Emanuel Zeltser, who is already - we've already, I guess,
appealed to have him released.  It seems to me that there should be some
standard, I'm assuming, that you all are looking at.  And what is that?  What is
that standard, if you could share some of that?

	KRAMER:  No, thank you.
Thank you for the question and the opportunity to elaborate on this.  In
November of 2007, the Treasury Department in full coordination with the
interagency issued an announcement freezing the assets of Belneftekhim.  And
that imposed, I think, significant hardship on that company and on the
Belarusian state as a whole as well as, I think, arguably some individuals that
had ties to that entity.

	In March of this year, after we concluded that
Kazulin would not be released along with the other five political prisoners, we
asked the Treasury Department to issue a clarification or an elaboration of the
announcement from November 2007.  And in that announcement in March, the
Treasury Department extended the asset freeze and sanctions to several of
Belneftekhim's subsidiaries.  

	There had been, I would argue, rather helpful
ambiguity as to whether those subsidiaries had been covered under the initial
November 2007 announcement.  The March announcement removed that ambiguity and
made it clear that those subsidiaries were covered.

	Now, as we all know -
and I apologize.  I'm going to digress for a second.  That March announcement by
treasury's OFAC unit led the Belarusian authorities to force out our ambassador
and to significantly scale down the presence of our embassy down to five
individuals, whom I highly commend for the outstanding job they've done under
very adverse conditions.  And let me also, if I may use the opportunity, commend
the Foreign Service nationals who have also been operating under extremely
adverse and difficult circumstances and have behaved heroically, in my view.
We then were prepared to go ahead with further steps and further sanctions.
And I think that the way we looked at the lifting of these sanctions in light of
the release of political prisoners we scaled back what was done in March of this
year.  But we did not scale back what was done in November of last year.  So we
simply dealt with two of the three subsidiaries that were announced in March.
But the broader Belneftekhim sanction stays in place as a point of leverage,
quite frankly, to try to prevent further negative behavior.  And that's
something that we will continue to review.

	Lifting that overall sanction
would be a pretty significant step.  I hope the government of Belarus earns the
lifting of that sanction.  But it'll have to earn it.

	SOLIS:  So what would
be a trigger that?

	KRAMER:  To lift it?

	SOLIS:  Yes.  Because you're
looking at the elections.

	KRAMER:  The elections will be one.


	KRAMER:  We'll see how the elections go.  And we discussed, there are
some serious problems with the elections.  Treatment of members of the
opposition, treatment of journalists, treatment of NGOs, the ability of NGOs and
journalists to operate in an unhindered and unfettered fashion inside the

	SOLIS:  Is it premature to say you might have a timeline, a
conceptual timeline to look at to get so folks might be able to review that?
KRAMER:  It's conceivable.  And, quite frankly, when in January we were
approached about what our response would be to the release of the prisoners
then, we and the government in Belarus came to an understanding that there was a
timeline there, that the release of political prisoners could not be dragged on
endlessly so as to try to stave off the imposition of further sanctions.
Because they knew - at least I hoped that they didn't doubt that further
sanctions were possible since we've hit them several times with this after
giving them full and fair warning that further sanctions would come.

don't necessarily have a particular timeline.  Now, obviously September 28th
would be voting day as well as the campaign and everything leading up to it is a
point to keep there in mind.  But I think we'll have to wait and see.  I think
our expectation is to have further discussions with them after the elections to
see how the elections go, to see what they might do after the elections on
non-election related issues.  And then we can gauge and determine what kind of
response we would have from that.

	SOLIS:  I'm being a bit facetious, but is
there maybe an expectation that something might happen before our elections?
KRAMER:  There's hope.  But I'm not sure.  By November 4th I'm not sure I would
recommend getting expectations too high.

	SOLIS:  Timelines the word has
different meanings for different people.

	Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KRAMER:  If I may, though, just on that point, I think it is fair to say this
administration, as you know, will be out the door January 20th.  But everything
I can infer suggests that whichever senator winds up the next president, I think
this policy that we have had toward Belarus will continue.

Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.  Mr. Secretary, in light of the time
constraints and I am anticipating that we will have a vote real shortly and I do
want to get to our next witnesses, so I'd ask you please just catalogue two
questions for me.  And one is not a question, but rather if you would have your
good offices tell me just what, if anything, has been done with reference to the
U.S. citizen that Ms. Solis and I have mentioned, Emanuel Zeltser.

	I'd like
to know more about the present circumstances.  I'm mindful of the facts, at
least as are presented, and would like to know what, if anything, the government
is doing or can do.  

	The second thing has to do with your good offices
telling us about relations between the Democratic forces of Belarus with
neighboring countries.  What I have found is significant changes take place when
people can communicate.  And more specifically Poland and Lithuania and Latvia
and Ukraine are what I have reference to.  But you and I can talk about that

	I'd like to get to the next panel.  You're welcome to stay and
join us if you can.  And if not, then we certainly understand that you have
other business.  But thank you so much for your testimony.

	KRAMER:  Sure.
Thank you very much.

	HASTINGS:  OK.  I'd like to invite now and am pleased
to do so Representatives from three organizations, which have been in the
forefront with respect to Belarus.  I had mentioned earlier a longstanding good
friend, Stephen Nix, who is the regional program director for Eurasia at the
International Republican Institute and Laura Jewett, the regional director for
Eurasia for the National Democratic Institute and Rodger Potocki, the director
for Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy.

	Lady and
gentlemen, I would appreciate very much - I believe it was earlier announced
that your full statements would be made a part of the record.  And if you could
abbreviate as much as possible.  And if Mr. Smith and Ms. Solis are still here,
I'm going to begin the questioning by asking Mr. Smith to go forward and then
Ms. Solis.  And I'll be last since I was last to arrive.

	Mr. Nix, no
reflection.  I know you better than I do our other witnesses.  I do know Ms.
Jewett.  But let's begin with the lady, all right?

	NIX:  Certainly.  I'll
defer to you, Mr. Chairman.  Of course.

	HASTINGS:  Ms. Jewett?  OK.
JEWETT:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the commission.  I'm Laura
Jewett from the National Democratic Institute.  And it's a pleasure to be here.
And I thank you for this opportunity to comment on the upcoming elections.
These elections may turn out to be significant, but not for the reasons usually
ascribed to elections.  They will not produce a representative parliament that
will legislate on behalf of constituents' interests, which is the outcome
expected of democratic elections.  They are also unlikely to cause a dramatic
transformation in the Belarusian political system, which has been the outcome of
popular reactions to some fraudulent elections in the region in recent years.
In short, these elections will not likely be remembered for having brought
democracy to Belarus.  They're more likely to be remembered for their role as
both an agent and a barometer of improvements in Belarusian relations with the

	They are also noteworthy because of the opportunity they provide to
Belarusian Democrats to organize and build support for alternative political
viewpoints.  If Belarusian relations with the West do, in fact, improve and if
the Democratic opposition makes the most of its opportunities, limited though
they may be, the long-term prospects for Belarusian democracy may brighten

	Belarus has yet to organize an election that meets even minimum
international standards.  ODIHR, the Office for Democratic Institutes and Human
Rights that you know well, has observed elections in Belarus in 2000, 2001, 2004
and 2006.  The ODIHR reports have repeatedly concluded that the elections have
fallen well short of OSCE commitments.  These were elections in name only.
And the September 28th elections are not likely to break what is by now a
well-established pattern.  The political environment is simply hostile to
competitive participatory elections.  I would like to highlight just two of the
many adverse conditions.

	Most forms of independent political activity,
including NGO and political party organizing, have been repressed.  2005
amendments to the criminal code made operating an unregistered organization
punishable by up to two years in prison.  In Belarus registration is reserved
only for the organizations most loyal to the government.  So these provisions
constitute a serious threat for many civic groups.  And they were employed
liberally in the run-up to the March 2006 presidential election.

	In fact, in
February 2006, several civic activists partnering with NDI were accused of
illegally running an unregistered organization and sentenced to prison for
periods from six months to two years.  Opposition political parties have faced
particular obstacles.  The government has arbitrarily deregistered some parties
and closed down regional branches of others.  Party activists are regularly
fired from jobs, expelled from universities, sentenced to prison terms on
manufactured charges such as using obscenities in public.  And party activists
are regularly beaten, as we have seen as recently as today.

	The threat of
arbitrary liquidation is just one of a large assortment of tools the government
has used to prevent parties from gaining a foothold.  NDI's own experience,
alongside that of other international democracy assistance organizations, is
evidence of the harsh environment.  NDI has conducted democracy assistance
programs in Belarus since 2000 partnering with citizens who want to build
democratic political institutions.  If the institute is unable to open an office
inside Belarus and staff are unable to get visas to travel to the country,
programs are conducted from an office outside Belarus.

	There are no quick
fixes to the repression and resulting underdevelopment of civil society and
political parties in Belarus.  These are entrenched features of the political
environment.  When we look back on the 2008 parliamentary elections and compare
them with their predecessors, it's a safe bet that we will see more continuity
than discontinuity.

	That said, as Assistant Secretary Kramer outlined, there
are signs of a mild thaw in U.S./Belarusian relations, which may find reflection
in some aspects of this month's electoral process.  The conduct of the upcoming
elections will serve as another measure of the government's intentions.  I would
suggest that the following six items would be indicators of relative
improvements to the process.

	First, the territorial election commissions
have registered 77 of the 110 unified list opposition candidates who applied, a
ratio of roughly two-thirds, which is a mildly positive sign.  Will any of these
77 be deregistered for minor infractions such as spelling errors in application
documents or improper placement of campaign booths before they make it onto the

	Number two, I think Steve Nix and I have slightly different
numbers, but the conclusion is the same.  Of 1,430 district election
commissioners, 36 are from the opposition.  Of 69,845 precinct election
commissioners, 41 are from the opposition.  Opposition representation on
election commissions is thus miniscule.  Nonetheless, are these individuals
being allowed to exercise their rights and responsibilities?

	Number three,
do candidates have the freedom to conduct active campaigns?  This includes the
freedom to travel throughout their districts, to conduct campaign activities in
locations that are accessible to voters.  It precludes arbitrary arrests and
detentions of candidates or their teams, dismissals from jobs and other forms of
intimidation and pressure.

	Number four, do candidates have access to the
government news media beyond the mandated five minutes of free television and
radio time?  This would include invitations for interviews, coverage of events
and opportunities to respond publicly to any coverage.

	Five, are domestic
and international observers granted accreditation and full access to all stages
of the electoral process, including the vote count and tabulation?  

are complaints about the process given due hearing by the appropriate electoral
or judicial bodies?  And are violators prosecuted?

	Two weeks into the
four-week campaign we have preliminary answers to a couple of these questions.
In regard to campaigning, some opposition candidates are facing obstacles.  Some
have been arrested or detained.  Some are under investigation for alleged crimes
unrelated to the elections.  Some have had trouble getting campaign literature
printed or have had literature confiscated.  And we've heard some reports of
candidates not being allowed to set up campaign booths to meet with voters.
With regard to the media, opposition candidates have not been given access to
state-controlled media, aside from the mandated five minutes of air time.  It's
also the case that the negative attacks on candidates that were prevalent in
2006 seem not to be occurring this year.

	So while the news is not positive,
it may be slightly less negative than it was two years ago.  And I leave that to
your judgment whether that's an improvement or not.

	If by September 29th,
the day following the election, the answer to most of the six questions turns
out to be no, we can conclude that these elections are business as usual in
Belarus.  If the answers turn out to be yes, it would not necessarily suggest
that the elections are legitimate, but rather that the government of Belarus is
making a modest effort to respond to U.S. and European concerns with the aim of
getting sanctions lifted and improving its positioning with respect to Russia.
That effort could in turn open slightly more space in the country for
democratic political organizing.  These elections also provide a narrow but
important opportunity for the democratic forces in the country to take advantage
of limited political space by articulating an alternative vision for Belarus and
building public support.  It has been encouraging to see some progress in the
opposition's efforts over time, including nominating a unified list of
candidates through a decentralized and participatory process.  These
achievements are impressive in the highly restrictive Belarusian setting.
NDI approaches democracy assistance in Belarus as a long-term process.  No
single election will deliver the final result.  The September 28th elections
provide an opportunity for incremental progress due to the broader international
context and the efforts of Belarusian Democrats.  We should encourage those
trends while keeping in check expectations for dramatic, immediate change.
NDI appreciates the efforts of Congress to support the people of Belarus in
establishing a full democracy, the rule of law and respect for political and
civil rights.  We value the role of this commission in defending human rights
and respect for all elements of the Helsinki process and in promoting a cohesive
U.S. and European position toward the government of Belarus.

	Thank you, Mr.
Chairman and members of the commission.

	HASTINGS:  Mr. Potocki?

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the commission, thank you for the
opportunity to comment on the political situation prior to Belarus' September
28th parliamentary elections.  In comparison to 2004, the regime in Minsk has
adopted a different approach to this election.  But the changes are of style,
not of substance.  Belarus has not held a free or fair election in 14 years.
And the end result of this one will almost certainly be no different.

	To win
Transatlantic  political and economic concessions, the regime is altering the
way it conducts elections in three ways, by allowing international scrutiny,
asserting technical improvements and moderating the campaign climate.  In the
past, Alexander Lukashenko cared little about Western outcry over his
persecution of the opposition and falsification of elections.

	The regime's
new business plan is to minimize international condemnation of and encourage
domestic apathy about what is already a flawed process.  Lukashenko wants a
"quiet election" that can be sold to the West by advertising "progress" on
several fronts.

	The regime's first move towards muting international
criticism has been to open up the elections to the outside world.  Unlike
Russia, Belarus has welcomed international monitors.  In contrast to 2004, the
regime has been less obstructionist, granting the OSCE mission access to the
highest levels of government.  Lukashenko has declared "We want to show Western
countries and Russia how elections should be organized."

	This election is
being orchestrated to improve Belarus' image abroad.  The countries top election
official has made it clear that the primary goal is to "have the results
recognized by the international community."  The acceptance of and focus on
international observers also helps gain legitimacy amongst the 71 percent of the
people who think the election should be monitored.

	But just as importantly
the regime's detente with the West seeks to divert citizens' attention away from
the election's domestic aspects.  Up to a third of the state media's election
coverage is centered on the international monitors, not  candidates or races.
The regime's international spotlight has been carefully focused.   In terms of
monitoring, it has concentrated on the more friendly CIS observers.  In
mid-August, the state news agency Belta devoted four times as much coverage to
the CIS monitors than to their Western counterparts.  There has been almost no
official coverage of domestic observation efforts.

	Like the government,
democratic leaders also recognized the paramount role of the international
community.  By trying to compete with the regime for Western attention instead
of campaigning at home, the opposition is also deflecting the electorate's
attention away from domestic issues.  The OSCE's first interim report stated
that there is "very little evidence" that an election is actually underway in
Belarus.  Calls for a boycott by some of the opposition also threaten to turn
the election into exclusively an international show.

	The second tact to
temper international dissatisfaction with the election process is the regime's
focus on organizational matters.  Lukashenko has declared "we want the election
to be held in such a way so that nobody will be able to criticize us."  The
Central Election Commission is pointing to procedural improvements as evidence
of Belarus "coming closer to international standards." 

	The Central Election
Commission has pointed out, for example, it has received a total of only 275
complaints since the parliamentary campaign began as compared to 888 during the
2004 campaign.  The CIS mission has lauded the Belarusian authorities for
successfully "securing the proper organization of the election process."
Cosmetic changes in routine can produce good publicity, especially if the state
controls the media.  If this election is perceived as more efficiently run, it
gives the appearance of being more democratic.  A focus on procedures helps to
influence the one-third of voters who consider Belarus' Election Code as flawed
and do not believe that this will be a free and fair election.

the state media is reporting on those who are running the election, not those
running in the election.  During the second half of July, it devoted more than
70 percent of its parliamentary coverage to President Lukashenko.  During the
first half of August, Gomel Pravda, a state regional newspaper covering 17
election districts, allocated 99.82 percent of its election space to the
president and Central Election Commission.  

	An orderly election also
contrasts nicely with a democratic opposition painted by the regime as
disorganized and riven by conflict.  The regime, which bases its legitimacy on
stability, is using opposition protests against procedural irregularities to
accuse the democrats of disturbing the peace.  By confronting the regime over
procedures rather ideas, the opposition is reinforcing the regime's
"well-ordered" election plan.

	The state's actions are not designed to inform
voters, but to influence foreign observers and foster mass indifference.
According to one OSCE employee, the most important thing for the regime is how
this election looks to the West, not how it affects Belarusians.

	The third
means to ensure a quiet election is to temper political noise at home.  The
regime has moderated its repression against the opposition.  Candidates report
that the current environment is appreciably better than it was in 2004.  The
state media's coverage has improved in the sense that there as been less vitriol
flung at the opposition.  

But again, this is a change in approach, not in
direction. Heavy-handedness has been shelved for subtlety, brute force has been
set aside in favor of low-level harassment, and intimidation has been replaced
by indifference.  While raising the international profile of the election for
its own purposes, the regime is downplaying it at home.

	Before the campaign
began, the regime made sure to eliminate many of the troublemakers.  A dozen of
the opposition's "rising stars" who had previously run strong campaigns and
developed popular support were not registered.  Until today, those who had made
it past the procedural hurdles had not been subjected to the full force of the
state's repression apparatus.  But they had been forced to undergo tax
inspections, expelled from university, fired from their jobs, drafted into the
army and suffered other pressure.  The regime hasn't abandoned the use of force,
just ratcheted down its intensity.	In fact, because it wants this election to
come off well, most of the election-related arrests have focused on those
advocating a boycott.  

To foster indifference, state media has minimized
reporting on the election.  From July to August, election-related coverage
actually decreased.  The state broadcast media has devoted more time to
reporting on the weather than the elections.  It has offered almost zero
coverage of opposition campaigns. State radio rejected the opposition's request
to hold debates.  As late as the first week of September, Soviet Belarus and The
Republic, two leading state dailies, provided no positive or no negative
reporting on political parties --  they simply ignored them. 	The main news
program on state television devoted less than 3 percent of its election
reporting to an anonymous opposition and anonymous political parties.  An
independent monitor reported that "there is literally no election campaigns
going on in the media."

	Finally, the regime is using its administrative
resources to limit the public outreach of opposition campaigns.  Candidates'
television addresses were broadcast during rush hour, when working people were
still commuting home.  They appeared not on national television, but on
less-watched regional channels.  The state provided the equivalent of $800 to
each candidate for campaigning, the only funding that can be legally used to get
out his or her message.  Meetings with voters have been restricted to only a
few, out-of-the-way places.  Campaign materials are limited to isolated

	The regime's goal is to make the elections uneventful for the
general public.  Citizens are being encouraged to go the polls without a
knowledge of their choices, and the regime is perpetuating the ritual of voting
that still dominates in this post-Soviet state.

	Mr. Chairman, during Soviet
times Belarus was known as "the quiet Republic."  The regime is doing all it can
today to make this a "quiet election," palatable for the West.  But the "sounds
of silence" emanating from Minsk ensure that this will not be a free and fair
election.  To answer to the question in the title of this hearing, it is not
business as usual in Minsk this fall, but the same old scam is still in the
works.  Thank you.

	HASTINGS:  Thanks, Mr. Potocki.

	Mr. Nix?

Mr. Chairman, I hope you know that it's a true honor to appear before you and
the members of this commission.  I'd like to thank you for your gracious remarks
in your opening statement.  And I would like to thank you and the members of
this commission for your engagement and your interest in this important area,
the important area of the world that we all work in, the former Soviet states.
Mr. Chairman, I'd like to comment first in the title of today's hearing,
Belarus on the eve of elections, business as usual.  Unfortunately, I fear that
this is an appropriate title for the pre-election period of Belarus.  Sadly the
government of Belarus has a track record of denying its people their fundamental
right to have their voices heard in the ballot box.  And we fear that this
election will prove to be no different.

	A view of the history in post-Soviet
Belarus is sobering in terms of elections.  Parliamentary elections held in 2007
were declared by OSCE observers as failing to meet international standards.
2004 elections fared no better.  They were declared to have fallen significantly
short of OSCE requirements.

	According to exit polling conducted in the 2004
elections by IRI, those results demonstrated that Lukashenko's proposal to amend
the constitution to allow for a third presidential term did not have the support
of a majority of voters and would not have passed.  Based on the exit polling,
an estimated 22 pro-democratic candidates would have won seats had the votes
been counted fairly.  But as you know, Mr. Chairman, no members of the
opposition were allowed to take seats in that parliament.

	During recent
actions by the government of Belarus, there appears to be cautious optimism by
some in the international community that Mr. Lukashenko is taking steps to
improve relations with the West and to lighten his grip on the opposition.  In
this past month, as was noted earlier, we witnessed the release of political
prisoners, including Alexander Kazulin, and we heralded the release of these
brave men.

	However, we must remember that this action by the regime is
singular in nature and it falls short of the list of requirements for increased
diplomatic engagement that have been set forth by both the European Union and
the United States.  We must be careful not to view the upcoming elections
through rose-colored glasses.  And we must be increasingly on guard to monitor
both the pre-election as well as election day events.

	Now, in assessing
whether these elections will be free and fair, I think it's instructive to use
the standard set, the findings of fact from the delegation that you led
yourself, sir, the last time out.  And there are four of them, since my
colleagues have covered some of them already.

	The first one is the executive
apparatus maintains control on election commissions.  Assistant Secretary Kramer
alluded to this.  I'd like to go into more detail.

	There are 110 district
election commissions in Belarus with a total membership of 1,430, is the figure
we have.  Out of these, the opposition was only allowed appointment to 44 seats,
representation of only 3.1 percent of the seats.

	Next there's a total of
6,485 precinct election commissions with a total of 69,845 seats.  Of these, the
opposition was allowed to have 48.  And that amounts to 0.07 percent of the
available seats.

	Mr. Chairman, let me be very blunt.  If the regime in
Belarus were truly interested in running free and fair elections, it would
ensure that all the votes are truthfully counted.  However, when only 0.7
percent of the precinct election commissions, the very commissions where the
votes are tabulated, are opposition members, this is evidence enough that the
regime has every interest in controlling the voting results.

standard, candidate registration procedures were abused to prevent undesirable
candidates from participating in the election, limiting voters' choice.  Again,
we see little change.  On August 29th, the CEC (ph) announced that only 276 out
of 365 candidates were registered.  I'll cut through some of the details because
you've heard from some of my colleagues.

	Three hundred and sixty-five people
sought registration.  That means 25 percent were denied the right to be on the
ballot.  Of the candidates registered, 78 are opposition members.  With 110
electoral districts, this means that voters in approximately 29 percent of the
districts are not being allowed a choice.  If they vote, they have no option but
to support the regime's candidate.

	Third point, significant restrictions on
fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association had an intimidating
and constraining effect on the campaign.  In Belarus there is a law against mass
gatherings, which means that any group of two or more people must receive
official government permission to do so.  This law is largely used to control
opposition meetings with voters.

	In August, the CEC (ph) actually published
a list of approved venues where candidates can meet with voters.  Candidates
must receive permission in the event they want to meet with voters in any venue
not listed.  This completely hinders effective voter outreach by the candidates.
Fourth point, provisions for early voting, mobile ballot boxes, vote counts
fall short of minimum transparency requirements for independent verification.
Again, it's no news to you, Mr. Chairman, early voting five days before election
day is the period during which much of the fraud and vote rigging (ph) that you
and others have so well documented takes place.  Again, we foresee similar
problems with this election.

	In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, it appears that
once again it is business as usual in Belarus and that the odds are
overwhelmingly stacked in the regime's favor.  Yet even in the midst of this
repressive culture, the United Democratic Forces, a coalition of pro-democratic
activists in Belarus, is ardently striving to offer voters an alternative to the

	UDF has drafted and has implemented a strategy for these elections
the cornerstone of which is developing a single unified list of candidates in
each of the 110 constituencies.  The goal of the UDF campaign message is to
prove to voters that they are a viable alternative to the regime and that they
have concrete ideas of how to bring positive change to the country.

elections in Belarus were free and fair, I truly believe that the UDF would be
represented in this parliament.  IRI's polling demonstrates that the citizens of
Belarus are ready for a change, and they deserve to be heard.  U.S. and European
government officials must remain vigilant in calling for democratic reform in
Belarus.  We need to remind the Belarusian government that the world is paying
close attention to this situation and improved relations with the West are
related to the transparency of the elections in Belarus.

	And finally, Mr.
Chairman, the UDF have proven their willingness to unite and campaign against
all odds.  But they realize their campaign to bring change to their country is
not limited to the parliamentary elections this September.  This is a campaign
that knows no electoral boundaries.

	The regime might prevent change via the
ballot box in September of 2008, but it cannot squelch the will of the people
forever.  Voters want change, and UDF represent that change.  We owe it to the
people to acknowledge their dedication and stand with them until the end when
they witness a truly free and democratic Belarus.  

	HASTINGS:  Thank you
very much.

	NIX:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

	HASTINGS:  And I'll turn now
to the ranking member, my colleague and friend, Mr. Smith.

	SMITH:  Thank you
very much, Mr. Chairman.

	And thank you, all three, for, not only the very
effective testimony, but for the excellent work you do on behalf of democracy,
and especially as it relates today to Belarus.  Let me just ask a couple of

	Ms. Jewett, both you and Mr. Nix, all three of you really, focus
on the executive apparatus and how it is so unconscionably stacked in favor of
the government.  I mean, any of us if we ran into this kind of situation, the
temptation to boycott would be overwhelming because we all know at the end of
the day when the doors are closed, we lose.  And, you know, we saw that with
Meles in Ethiopia.  And your organizations were kicked out for your good work

	And I actually visited President Meles.  And, you know, I do believe
he's a dictator and has met the opposition with bullets, mass arrests.  And then
when the reballotting occurred under international pressure, the commission was
so stacked that they only focused, or largely focused on, any of the seats that
they had lost.  Yet despite it all, the opposition did extraordinarily well,
even though everything was stacked against them.

	And you mentioned, Mr. Nix,
about 71 percent of the sentiment of the people in favor of - how did you put
it, just to be clear?

	NIX:  Alluding to the previous parliamentary

	SMITH:  Previous parliamentary elections.

	NIX:  Yes.
SMITH:  (inaudible) OK.


	SMITH:  Exactly.  But let me
just ask you, if I could, about these numbers.  

	I mean, Ms. Jewett, you
mentioned 110, 77 were OK, 33 were not.  The 33 that were denied, what kind of
cause did they give?  And were they some of the best and most promising
candidates perhaps that were being put forward, you know, taking care of the
strong ones and let some of the weaker candidates get approved?  Can any of you
shed light on the beatings on this day of solidarity that occurred or apparently
have occurred in Belarus?

	Let me just ask you very briefly about is your
recommendation to the opposition - should they boycott?  You know, at what point
does that become, you know, the more prudent thing to do?  We know that in
Nicaragua, as was mentioned earlier, the only area or country that's recognized
Abkhazia and South Ossetia recently.  Well, when Daniel Ortega was running and
Uno (ph) united and all of those who wanted to sit on the sideline finally
didn't, it made the difference and Vilada Chimmorra (ph) ended up winning that

	So, you know, if the opposition is split, you almost guarantee a
loss, and a worse loss had it would have been had they been united and went
down.  So there's a very hard call to make.  But, you know, I think it hurts.
And finally, Mr. Potocki, you mentioned the sounds of silence and the quiet
election.  And I think it was very incisive on your part.  It reminds me of that
Simon and Garfunkel song, "Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend," because the silence
does lead to a darkness that we're already seeing.

	And I do have a lot of
questions, but I'll just finish it with this.  The OSCE ODIHR deployment that's
been there since August 15th - have they been able to quantify and qualify this
media blockout?  You know, five minutes and presumably the five minutes gets
given to you at midnight so nobody sees it anyway.  Are they creating a robust
record of what will be an unfair and unfree election?  Because as we all know
and have said, what leads up to it is as important, if not more so, than the day
of balloting.


	JEWETT:  Thank you.  As for the 33
or 32 candidates whose registration was rejected, we did not see a clear pattern
in whose registration was accepted and whose was rejected.  But perhaps my
colleagues have a more incisive eye for that.  It was not obvious to us whether
there was cherry picking going on or whether it was arbitrary.

	As to the
boycott question, there have been discussions certainly in Belarus about a
boycott and among the opposition.  And it's my understanding that the political
council of the UDF will make a final decision this weekend.  It's our sense that
they will decide against a boycott.

	NDI's advice in these situations
typically is that these are decisions that, of course, must be made by the
participants themselves.  And it's easy sitting here to make judgments about
what should be done.  But generally speaking, our advice is that it's best to

	Participating in an election does not in itself make an
illegitimate exercise legitimate.  But it does give opportunities to speak to
voters, legal opportunities to speak to voters, articulate an alternative vision
and build support and to pry a little bit of wedge to open up political space.
So on balance, participating is the better option, is generally our advice.
HASTINGS:  I would ask you all to give us snap answers at this point.  So if Ms.
Solis has any questions, all of you know what that bell means or what those
bells mean.

	Either of you gentlemen go forth.

	NIX:  I would just say in
response to your question about competition, our advice and counsel to the UDF
has been to stay in the game to compete.  In fact, when we meet with opposition
leaders, they are not allowed - we will not allow them to use the boycott word.
We feel very strongly that it's in their interests to compete in this election.
We've made that very clear to them.

	Last week at the council meeting alluded
to earlier, Mr. Kazulin made a very impassioned plea to everyone that's on the
ballot to remain in the race.  We believe that that will be the case.
POTOCKI:  I would make two points, one in terms of the candidates.  I agree with
Laura in the sense that there is no pattern.  But we have seen these dozen or so
whom we know were not registered were young people who had done already very
well in terms of running campaigns and taking part in local or parliamentary
elections in the past.  And so, people that had generated some popular support.
In terms of the boycott, we also agree that the candidates should remain in
the race until the end.  This is the only legal chance they have to participate
and they eliminate the government's need to falsify if they drop out of the

	And finally, I would answer Rep. Smith's question about the
media monitoring.  These are figures from a combination of OSCE media monitors
as well as independent domestic Belarusian monitors that have been trained with
National Endowment for Democracy resources.

	NIX:  One comment in response to
your request for additional information on the events of today.  Mr. Lebedko we
can confirm was beaten.  But he was not the only one.  In addition to that,
Vinsu Viachorka (ph), with whom you have both met many, many times, was also
badly beaten as well as his teenage son.  Mr. Viachorka (ph) was quoted after he
was taken for treatment for the beating.  He said these events are savagery.
And the European Union and the United States should draw the appropriate
conclusions.  And I agree with him.

	HASTINGS:  Ms. Solis?

	SOLIS:  Mr.
Chairman, I am just flabbergasted and disgusted from what I'm hearing.  And all
I could - my first thought is that we have to make public this information from
the witnesses and what we've gleaned.  I would be a little bit reluctant to say
that ODR should be giving us anything now because usually that might put another
effect on their authority to do their work.  And we've already seen instances
where much of that has already been pre-judged in other elections.

	But I
think anything we can do as OSCE and members of Congress to help shed light on
this, I think that's maybe a good word to use, is to really provide more
transparency on what we know already.  Because what you're telling me is there's
not going to be a change in the elections.  

	And I would be very concerned
about any folks that are campaigning or running for office that would be further
harassed, intimidated or incarcerated.  And I think those are expectations that,
you know, if that's the way the government wants to proceed, then folks ought to
just know that business is as usual and we ought to be prepared to come up with
our own solutions shortly after the election.

	HASTINGS:  Right.  I
appreciate both of you.

	Mr. Smith asked several questions.  I think you all
responded to them all.  But to the extent that any were left out there,
including any that I may ask our staff to forward on to you I would appreciate a
response.  We actively put our information now on our Web site.  And so, if you
do receive questions for us, your time permitting, I would appreciate it very
much if you would respond accordingly.

	I thank you all.  My favorite
expression is it's hard to apologize for working.  But we do have to go and
vote.  And I thank you all so very much.

                    [Whereupon the
hearing ended at 04:07 p.m.]




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