Over the past few days, I have been talking about the situation in Belarus — a very grim situation indeed. For Parts I and II, go here and here. Today we will have the final installment.
Since that awful Election Day, and worse night, in December, Belarusians have been under siege. I will count a few of the ways.
Families of political prisoners have been unable to deliver things to them: food, clothing, toiletries. In many cases, lawyers have been unable to see their clients. One lawyer — a human-rights lawyer — tells me, “No lawyer can work in this environment.”
The homes and offices of democrats and dissidents have been searched and raided; the property of these people has been confiscated. They have been stripped of their phones and computers. Communication with them is obviously very difficult.
Passports have been taken away, trapping people within Belarusian borders — Lukashenko’s borders. Independent media outlets have been shut down. A blogger named Andrei Pachobut was beaten by the KGB. One could name many others.
Since 1998, the OSCE — the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — has operated in Belarus. It has been a representative of the West and democracy in that battered country. After the election, Lukashenko flicked it out.
Lukashenko and his government have portrayed the protesting democrats as bandits, saboteurs, drunkards, drug addicts, and terrorists — people out to destabilize wonderful, stable Belarus. Lukashenko made the following, remarkable declaration:
“That’s it. I warned you that if some commotion started, we’d have enough forces. Folks, you tangled with the wrong guy. I’m not going to hide in the basement. So let’s be done with it. There will be no more hare-brained democracy. We won’t allow the country to be torn to pieces.”
By that last statement, he means, “I won’t allow democracy to dislodge me.”
Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, and other Poles are reminded of the imposition of martial law — which occurred in their country on December 13, 1981. Then as now, people were arrested in the dead of winter; some simply disappeared.
And Belarus’s brave and struggling democrats remind Poles of the Solidarity people, who toughed it out against the Communist dictatorship.
As we have mentioned that dictatorship: Sikorski says that Lukashenko “could have gotten onto the path of General Jaruzelski,” who “very much sinned in the past,” but “then transitioned his country toward democracy.” Because he did this, “he lives in Poland. He has court cases, but otherwise he’s unmolested.” Instead, Lukashenko “has firmly taken the route of Ben Ali” — the Tunisian dictator who turned with ferocity on his people, after they rose up against him. (In the end, of course, he had to flee.)
Anna Gerasimova, you remember, is the Belarusian human-rights advocate living and working in Lithuania. I mentioned her early on in these notes. She says that Lukashenko made a “huge mistake” in his crackdown: because now more people than ever are against him; and the democratic opposition is united. Before, that opposition was relatively weak. “No one believed it could do anything,” says Gerasimova. Now, however, the particulars of the opposition hardly matter. “What matters is that this president should go. He cannot be in power. He didn’t win the election,” and everyone knows it.
Before, people could say, “Okay: Whatever he did, he probably got more than 50 percent of the vote, legitimately.” But not in 2010: He lost it, and this is plain to one and all.
The before-quoted human-rights lawyer — who is in Belarus and of course cannot be further identified — says, “Even regular people have been aroused, and they are coming out to help us.” What does she mean by “regular people”? She means ordinary citizens who have not previously been engaged in the democracy movement. “They say, ‘What should we do now?’”
The lawyer adds, “I am very proud for my people. Finally, we had the courage and wit to show that our opinion has to be considered.”
I ask the lawyer, “How can you keep going, in the face of these dangers, all this imprisonment, all this beating, all this breaking of bones?” She says, “There’s not another choice. . . . We have to continue working under all conditions. The human-rights cause in Belarus has not been shut down.”
I will quote once more from Aleksandr Bialiatski’s 2009 speech before the Oslo Freedom Forum. He said, “When I am asked whether I would like to leave Belarus, where time seems to have stopped over ten years ago, my unequivocal answer is, ‘No.’ . . . We did not start the democratic movement in our country to stop halfway to the goal. We Belarusian human-rights advocates tread our soil with confidence. We are sure of the final outcome of our struggle.”
Why don’t the democrats retreat, as Lukashenko and his forces are doing their worst? Joanna Rohozinska, a specialist with the National Endowment for Democracy (in Washington), says, “In my experience, they’re not built that way.” That is my experience too, with democrats and dissidents in tyrannies all over.