Belarus week

Muzzled Europeans deserve more attention

JEF Pan-European action drags Belarus terror into daylight – join in!

, by Åsa Gunvén

Muzzled Europeans deserve more attention

In Minsk, a European city closer to my home in Stockholm then Brussels, civil society engagement is illegal, journalists work under threat and state critique can lead to long prison sentences. On the 19th of March, JEF, just as last year, leads the way in a massive Pan-European action demanding a voice for the citizens of Belarus and pleading Europe to act now!

During the last elections in March 2006, which were condemned by the OSCE as being “severely flawed”, Alexander Lukashenka secured a third term in power in Belarus, winning 82 percent of the votes. Before the elections a series of new laws were introduced to make the live of the opposition or the emergence of a civil society hard, if not impossible. Almost all NGOs were made illegal, followed by a law making any meeting of more than 10 people forbidden. Critique of the regime has also been declared illegal, and can result in year-long prison sentences. Through this crackdown, the foundations of a democratic society and of a public space where debate and exchange can take place, has effectively been removed. These circumstances make it impossible for an opposition to function, as the imprisonment of the opposition leader before the last elections illustrates. With no basis for an opposition, a completely state dominated media and a journalistic climate characterized by Reporters Without Borders as among the 10 worst in the world, Lukashenka can continue his dictatorship without much fear.

So, is this what we call a democratic, free and united Europe? And is this really something we can ignore? It is clear that what has been called Europe’s last dictatorship is still up and running with little or few concerns coming from the rest of Europe. Both the US and the EU have frozen Lukashenka’s assets, and have refused to grant him and other top political officials visas, which are clearly steps in the right direction. But the fact remains that whereas the necessity for Russian energy now is one of the top priorities on our political agenda, the situation for our neighbours in Belarus is hardly touched upon in Europe (perhaps Schroeder’s hugging Putin serves to illustrate this attitude…). Neither did last year’s doubling of European visa fees help to increase transnational exchanges and to support civil society in Belarus. Open doors to the rest of Europe are necessary when youth activists, who are planning to participate in training workshops with JEF have to organize events outside of Belarus in order to avoid harassments. Open borders are also of the highest importance when free radio, the closed European Humanistic university and the National Youth Council have to work in exile.

Not only the EU, but all European citizens must act in unison for democracy in Belarus, and JEF is prepared to take a leading role. Last year JEF organised a pan-European Action Night where the youth, NGOs and Belarusian opposition movements in 23 different European cities, from Skopje to Edinburgh, muzzled statues along with the sign “Give a the citizens of Belarus a voice”. The action, where many NGOs, youngsters and Belarusian refugees joined in, was extensively covered in media all over Europe including in Belarus. JEF has made a strong commitment to continue this highly successful and visible action in support of our European neighbours every year on the night of the scammed elections, until the day Europe’s last dictatorship falls. Indeed, JEF will also go out on the streets this year on the night between 18-19th March, together with young Europeans, NGOs and Byelorussians, muzzling statues for the sake of the Belarusian people.

Acting jointly across the borders of Europe, JEF can show that the pan-European civil society is strong and united enough to support our Belarusian counterparts. This is the first step in breaking the hermetic border that separates Belarus from Europe, and moves us closer to our dream of a united, free and democratic Europe.


 a JEFer during the pan European Belarus action in Latvia, March 2006, source and copyright: JEF

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