Belarusian Dissident Warns Against Ties with Regime

(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) After weeks of fierce debate, the EU has decided to include Belarus in an outreach plan for ex-Soviet states. But a leader of Belarus' pro-democracy movement told RFE/RL that Europe is "capitulating before a dictator" and urged the EU to include civil society groups in its negotiations with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

"It would be one thing if the last dictator in Europe changed and said, 'I have recognized my mistakes,'" said Alyaksandr Kazulin, in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL. "But what is happening is just the opposite - Belarusian television is saying it is the Europeans who have recognized their mistakes."

"So when we talk about a dialogue, what are we talking about? Negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. There needs to be a wider discussion in which civil and democratic society also participates," he said.

Kazulin also discussed the recent death of 33 year-old Belarusian lawyer and human rights activist, Yana Palyakova, who committed suicide after being convicted of slandering a police officer who she claimed had harassed her in prison. [more on Palyakova's final days]

"Yana was baited into this because of her principles, her convictions, and the ideals she believed in," said Kazulin. "I think this shows the conditions people are living in. Often, people forget how they lived earlier. The Czechs are forgetting about 1968, the Prague Spring, and the Velvet Revolution. The Poles are forgetting about Solidarity, and the Germans are forgetting about fascism. What is happening today in Belarus already happened to them."

A long-time critic of Lukashenka, Kazulin squared off against Lukashenka in the 2006 presidential election before being thrown into jail as a prisoner of conscience. While in prison, he endured a 56-day hunger strike and the death of his wife, Iryna, from cancer. Now free, Kazulin is a leader of Belarus' pro-democracy movement and opposes European overtures to Lukashenka's government, which is widely described as "Europe's last dictatorship."

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service Launches 'Day of the Blogger'

In a fusion of traditional and new media, RFE/RL's Belarusian website recently invited eight well-known bloggers to post on its home page for a day. The 'Day of the Blogger' featured a prominent poet, a disabled girl from a remote village, Britain's ambassador to Belarus, and a political analyst from Siberia, among others.

"We received an avalanche of comments from users," said RFE/RL Belarusian Service Director Alexander Lukashuk. "It was so successful that we arranged a second 'Day of the Blogger' which included a 71 year-old Israeli blogger describing his Belarusan family's ordeal in the Holocaust, a teenager from Moscow musing on his Belarusian identity, and a political activist from Minsk with strong views on social issues."

Lukashuk said his team plans to make the popular 'Day of the Blogger' a weekly feature of RFE/RL's Belarusian website.

About RFE/RL's Belarus Service

The Belarus Service was established in 1954 as part of Radio Liberty's broadcasts to the former Soviet Union. With much of the independent media in Belarus silenced, the service remains one of the few media outlets accessible to Belarusians in their own language, providing timely, objective, and balanced information to residents of "Europe's last dictatorship."



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