Belarus weekend

A Candle of Solidarity for Belarus

The importance of civil society engagement and young people

, by Åsa Gunvén

A Candle of Solidarity for Belarus

Can a European count with democracy and freedom in 2006? If one looks at Belarus the answer is a clear No. That is why JEF - Young European Federalists - organised a pan European action from Skopje to Edinburgh to show that the situation inside Belarus is a concern of every European and raise awareness about the ongoing dictatorship of Lukashenka, despite “elections” on March 16th 2006.

Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, civil society engagement and similar rights taken for granted elsewhere in Europe are not only forbidden in Belarus but also severely punished.

On the 16th day of each month prior to the presidential elections in Belarus candles have been lit all over the world as a symbol of freedom and solidarity with the Belarusian people. Inside Belarus, students having lit candles and put them in their windows had been banned from University and thrown out of their flats. Demonstrations were suppressed immediately as well as any gathering of more than 10 people forbidden.

Conducting an election campaign or any civil society engagement for that matter is under such circumstances virtually impossible. The completely state (e.g. Lukashenka) dominated national media and arrests of opposition candidates as well as many other activists do not make things any easier. On March 19th Lukashenka was confirmed his “legal” third term (after changes to the Constitution) as President of Belarus, coming out of the “elections” as winner with 82% of the votes.

Schroeder and Putin

The situation in our neighbouring country is unknown to most of Europeans and consequently it is a low priority issue on the agenda of our governments, way behind Gas and Oil priorities and friendly relations with Russia. Schroeder’s hugging of Putin, without whose support Lukashenka’s regime would crack down within months, is a sad symbol of the situation. It seems as if we forgot that the borders of Europe and the vowed European solidarity going beyond the borders of the European Union.

So the young federalists that have been fighting for democracy in Europe for the last 50 years, not only in the EU but also its neighbourhood, saw it as their duty to help support the civil society and democratic opposition forces inside Belarus. This solidarity was expressed in a innovative way, namely by gauging statues in a night/morning action in 23 cities across Europe. From the Sphinx in Paris to Karl Marx in Chemnitz were prevented so speak just like the people of Belarus are prevented to speak out freely. Young activist, comprised of JEFers, Belarusian exile opposition activists and other NGOs, also put a sign with the message “Give the Citizens of Belarus a Voice” on the mentioned statues.

One cannot topple a dictatorship on its own, but as individuals we can help a repressed nation and their fight for democracy with small symbolic acts and actions and show our moral support, for which neither money nor resources are necessary. And unlike our Belarusian neighbours we do not need to gather special courage to do so.

On March 16th the political parties and the Swedish foreign ministry organised a demonstration in Stockholm with brilliant speeches with little content in support of democracy in Belarus, mainly intended for media purposes. Two hours later I went to a square next door where my Belarusian friends from the night action organised a Belarusian demonstration with candles. I was the only non-Belarusian person there. And JEF was the only other organisation present. Therefore I was not that surprised when a Belarusian independent journalist said the interview with me about our pan European action would get priority over the interview she just made with the Swedish foreign minister.

It must be the civil society that supports the civil society in Belarus, the democracy fighters that support and accompany the democratic forces in Belarus, young people that talk directly to their young Belarusian neighbours. In this spirit we as JEF will repeat our action each anniversary of the Belarusian Election Day, to demonstrate that young people do care and are ready to wake up early in order to give their little, yet significant, contribution to democracy in Europe.

Source of images: Wikimedia


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