The quest for democracy and freedom is in the hands of the people of Belarus. They should know that they are not alone, writes David McAllister.
MEP David McAllister (EPP) is chair of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
The Kalinowski Forum, which took place on Monday, brought together the leaders of the Belarusian democratic forces, European and international organisations, as well as key parliamentarians and diplomats. I would like to thank the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania for organising this very timely event. Lithuania has been especially active in keeping the issue of democratic change in Belarus at the top of the European political agenda. And rightly so!
Vilnius is the closest capital of an EU Member State to Belarus. It has also become a place of refuge for many Belarusians, who were forced out of their country for daring to resist the Lukashenko regime. Vilnius and Warsaw are the major hubs of activity of Belarusian pro-democratic forces, civil society organisations, academic institutions and independent media.
The purpose of the Kalinowski Conference was – inter alia – to take stock of what we have done since the dramatic changes in Belarus last summer. The European Parliament has a lead role in recognising and supporting the Belarusian democratic forces and raising their profile at an international level. Parliament was the first EU institution that invited Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya when it became clear that she was deprived of her victory in the presidential election through obvious fraud and falsifications. Ms Tsikhanouskaya appeared before the Committee on Foreign Affairs on 25 August. Since then, she has become a regular guest in the European Parliament, taking part in several discussions about the situation in Belarus.
Democratic resistance is a joint effort of various Belarusian political forces, civil society organisations, human rights activists and ordinary people, who have had enough of living in a dictatorship and demand that the dignity and the fundamental rights of citizens are finally respected.
The European Parliament awarded its 2020 Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought to the democratic opposition of Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council, an initiative of brave women, as well as prominent political and civil society figures, in recognition of their extraordinary courage in facing a ruthless regime.
The cause of the democratic movement in Belarus enjoys overwhelming cross-party support in the European Parliament. We have sent strong political signals through our resolutions, drawing attention to ongoing serious human rights violations and calling for concrete action by the European Union and its Member States.
As the situation in Belarus keeps on evolving, it is important to be in close contact with the key actors in the democratic movement, to listen to their perspective and to know how we can effectively and meaningfully assist them. For this purpose, the European Parliament organised a digital fact-finding mission last December.
It included meetings with a broad range of Belarusian interlocutors, such as the members of the Coordination Council, representatives of independent media, trade unions, civil society and academia.
On 25 March, Belarusians will be commemorating Freedom Day. It will be a day of defiance against the regime, which is once again preparing for a crackdown.
In reaction to such systematic violations of human rights, on 26 March the European Parliament will launch the Platform for discussion and strategic coordination on the fight against impunity in Belarus.
It will include democracy support measures and international mediation that would lead to the genuine national dialogue and a peaceful democratic transition. It will be a strong political signal to the regime in Minsk.
This initiative comes in response to the concrete needs of Belarusian human rights organisations. Its aim is to provide a space for all relevant actors to come together, with a view to exploring ways to provide operational and strategic support to those Belarusian civil society organisations that are collecting evidence of human rights violations in the country.
The regular meetings will bring together Belarusian umbrella human rights organisations, key international and local initiatives aimed at fighting impunity, as well as the representatives of the EU institutions.
The Platform is a work in progress that will evolve to respond to the needs of the Belarusian civil society. It is envisaged that it will perform the following three functions:
- A regular independent assessment of the human rights situation in Belarus and allegations of human rights abuses;
- Acting as a coordination and contact centre for stakeholders from Belarus and international actors working on Belarus;
- Providing expert advice and mentoring for Belarusian human rights defenders and other civil society initiatives.
With these activities, the Platform should address important gaps in the international reaction to the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus.
The mass protests that erupted following the fraudulent elections show that a new Belarus has emerged. However, it is still being ruled by the old regime, which is trying to suffocate the spirit of freedom with an iron grip of repression. As the resistance regains strength after the harsh winter, the slogan of that defined the events of last summer – “we believe, we can, we will win” – is still very much relevant.
The quest for democracy and freedom is in the hands of the people of Belarus. They should know that they are not alone. It is the responsibility of the democratic community to support this struggle not only with messages of encouragement but also with deeds.
This is particularly important at this crucial juncture for the protest movement. The Belarusian people have shown courage and determination. We should do the same. Therefore, Belarus will remain at the top of the political agenda of the European Parliament.