Democracy Denied in Belarus

Democracy Denied in Belarus

Hon.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
United States
Senate
106th Congress Congress
Second Session Session
Thursday, October 19, 2000

Mr. President, I am pleased to join as an original cosponsor of this resolution introduced by my colleague from Illinois, Senator Durbin, to address the continuing constitutional crisis in Belarus. As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, during the 106th Congress I have worked on a bipartisan basis to promote the core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus in keeping with that country's commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

 

Back in April the OSCE set four criteria for international observation of parliamentary elections held this past weekend: respect for human rights and an end to the climate of fear; opposition access to the state media; a democratic electoral code; and the granting of real power to the new parliament. Regrettably, the Lukashenka regime responded with at best half-hearted measures aimed at giving the appearance of progress while keeping democracy in check. Instead of using the elections process to return Belarus to the path of democracy and end the country's self-isolation, Mr. Lukashenka tightened his grip on power launching an intensified campaign of harassment against the democratic opposition and fledgling independent media.

 

Accordingly, a technical assessment team dispatched by the OSCE concluded that the elections ‘fell short of meeting minimum commitments for free, fair, equal accountable, and transparent elections.’ The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE confirmed the flawed nature of the campaign period.

 

We recently saw how Slobodan Milosevic was swept from power by a wave of popular discontent following years of repression. After his ouster, Belarus now has the dubious distinction of being the sole remaining dictatorship in Europe. Misguided steps toward recognition of the results of Belarus's flawed parliamentary elections would only serve to bolster Mr. Lukashenka in the lead up to presidential elections slated for next year.

 

This situation was addressed today in an editorial in the Washington Times. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a copy of this editorial be printed in the Record following my remarks. I commend Senator Durbin for his leadership on this issue and will continue to work with my colleagues to support the people of Belarus in their quest to move beyond dictatorship to genuine democracy.

 

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: From the Washington Times, Oct. 19, 2000- Battle for Belarus: In Belarus last weekend, the opposition leaders did not light their parliament on fire as their Yugoslavian counterparts had the week before. They did not crush the walls of the state media outlet with bulldozers or leave key sites in their capital in shambles. No, the people living under the last dictator of Europe met this weekend's parliamentary elections with silence. Opposition parties rallied the people to boycott, and what they didn't say at the polls, the international community said for them. The U.S. State Department declared the results ‘not free, fair, or transparent’ and replete with ‘gross abuses’ by President Alexander Lukashenko's regime. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the European parliament and the European Union said the same.

 

The dictator's allies got most of the 43 seats in districts where the winner received a majority of the vote. Where no candidate received a majority of the vote, run-offs will occur Oct. 26, another opportunity for the dictator to demonstrate his unique election methods. However, a record-low turnout in many towns, claimed as a victory by the opposition, will force new elections in three months.

 

What will it take for the people to push Mr. Lukashenko to follow Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic into political oblivion in next year's presidential election? Nothing short of war, if one asks the international coordinator for Charter '97, Andrei Sannikov. `I don't know how the country survives. [Approximately] 48.5 percent live below the poverty level,' Mr. Sannikov told reporters and editors of The Washington Times. `That increases to 60 percent in rural areas. It would provoke an extreme reaction anywhere else. Here, they won't act as long as there is no war'.

 

But the people of Belarus are getting restless. Out of the 50 percent of the people who don't know who they support, 90 percent are not satisfied with Mr. Lukashenko and with their lives in Belarus, Mr. Sannikov said. The dictator's behavior before last weekend's elections didn't help any.

 

In his statement three days before the elections, Rep. Chris Smith, chairman of the OSCE, listed just a few reasons why the people should take to the streets: `Since August 30, the Lukashenko regime has denied registration to many opposition candidates on highly questionable grounds, detained, fined or beaten over 100 individuals advocating a boycott of the elections, burglarized the headquarters of an opposition party, and confiscated 100,000 copies of an independent newspaper.'

 

Mr. Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, was himself a victim last year when he was beaten unconcious, and three ribs and his nose were broken, in what he said was a government-planned attack. He and the rest of the opposition don't want to be victims in next year's election. If the opposition can rally behind one formidable leader, war won't have to precede change, nor will Mr. Lukashenko again make democracy a fatality.

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The context in which these elections took place was also complicated by the conflict in Croatia that began in earnest in July 1991 as militants among the alienated ethnic-Serb population of Croatia, with the encouragement of the Serbian leadership in Belgrade and the help of the Yugoslav military, demonstrated violently their opposition to the republic's independence. After severe human casualties, population displacement and destruction, the conflict generally ended in January 1992 with a U.N. negotiated ceasefire that included the deployment of U.N. protection forces on much of Croatia's territory A new constitution and growing stability argued for holding new elections. Despite opposition complaints that August was not an appropriate time for elections, President Tudjman scheduled them with the likely calculation that his party stood its best chances in a quick election before growing economic hardship and pressure for genuine democratization replaced the joys of independence and renewed peace. During the campaign period, 29 political parties fielded candidates. They faced no major difficulties in organizing rallies and distributing their literature to the public. At the same time, the Croatian media was only moderately free, with television and radio broadcasts much less so than newspapers and journals. Only toward the end of the campaign did the media seem to open up fully The stated objective in organizing the elections was to be fair and impartial to all contending parties. At the same time, the electoral procedures were not as fully satisfactory as they easily could have been, raising suspicions of an intent to manipulate the results. 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  • PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUMS IN THE BALTIC STATES, THE SOVIET UNION AND SUCCESSOR STATES

    1991 was the year of independence referendums and presidential elections in the republics of the Soviet Union. Not coincidentally, it was also the year the Soviet Union fell apart. Its Communist Party elite and institutions proved unable to continue ruling through intimidation or to overcome the powerful sweep of nationalism, stoked by the personal ambition of politicians and mediated through electoral politics. With varying defrees of satisfaction and eagerness, the Baltic States and the constituent republics struck out on their own. The following is a compilation of reports by the Helsinki Commission on presidential elections and independence referendums in the Baltic States, the Soviet Union, and successor states in 1991 and 1992.

  • Staff Delegation to Moscow, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus

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  • The New Commonwealth of Independent States: Problems, Perspectives, and U.S. Policy Implications

    This hearing discussed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of a series of succeeding states. The hearing covered the theme of regional and ethnic divisions as key elements in the unpredicted dissolution of the Soviet Union. The witnesses covered the particular challenges of securing peaceful independence from the “commonwealth of former Soviet Republics” and the democratization process. The conversation centered on the human rights dimension and the process of newly created states signing on to several international treaties and obtaining memberships in international organizations.

  • Report: the Referendum on Indipendence and Presidential Election in Uzbekistan

    Uzbekistan held a referendum on independence and its first direct, contested presidential election on December 29,1991. According to the republic's Central Election Commission, over 98 percent of voters cast ballots for independence, and more - important - 86 percent voted for Islam Karimov as president. Karimov, former head of Uzbekistan's Communist Party (now renamed Party deputy to the republic's Supreme Soviet and chairman of the opposition party Erk). Uzbekistan's referendum on independence was a mere formality, given the dissolution of the URSS. Karimov's victory in a direct, two-candidate election signaled significant progress compared to the republic's previous practices and relative to other Central Asia republics, most of which did not hold contested presidential elections. But Karimov's advantages over Salih in the campaign, the exclusion of Pulatov, and the prevalence of old voting habits, both among voters and polling station officials, indicate that much remains to be done before Uzbekistan attains Western and CSCE notions of political pluralism and electoral probity. Two Helsinki Commission staffers observed Uzbekistan's referendum and presidential election, at the invitation of the republic's Supreme Soviet. They spent four days in Tashkent, the capital, and also traveled to Samarkand, to interview spokesmen of unofficial movements about the election and the general political situation in Uzbekistan.

  • Ukraine's Referendum on Independence and Presidential Election

    In an historic referendum/presidential election on December 1, 1991, residents of Ukraine overwhelmingly voted for independence and chose Leonid Kravchuk, the chairman of the republic's Supreme Soviet, as president. Hundreds of foreign observers and correspondents watched as 84 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Over 90 percent of participants, including many non-Ukrainians, cast ballots for independence. Former Communist Party apparatchik Kravchuk handily won the presidency on the first round, garnering about 60 percent of the votes. Among the candidates he defeated were two widely admired former dissidents and political prisoners who had served many years in Soviet prisons for advocating Ukrainian independence. The outcome of the referendum, while expected, was nevertheless momentous. Ukraine's emergence as an independent state ended any prospects of salvaging a federated or even confederated USSR. The results of the voting provided the direct impetus for the December 8 agreement among the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to create the Commonwealth of Independent States as the successor entity to the Soviet Union, which they formally declared dead. The rise of Ukraine -- a large state with 52 million people, a highly developed industrial base, rich agricultural capabilities, and, not least, nuclear weapons on its territory -- also altered the geo-political map of Europe. Western capitals, observing the quickly unfolding events and grasping their ramifications, made determined efforts to stop referring to the new republic in their midst as "the" Ukraine, while pondering how its military plans and potential affect security arrangements in the post Cold War world. Given the importance of Ukraine's referendum and presidential election, as well as the republic's size and regional differences, the Helsinki Commission sent three staffers to observe the voting. Ukraine's parliament had previously conveyed formal invitations to the Commission, which selected three distinct cities as representative sites to monitor the voting, gauge the popular mood and gain different perspectives on the political implications: Kiev, the capital, in central Ukraine; Lviv, the regional capital of Western Ukraine, reputedly the most highly nationalist area of the republic; and Donetsk, in Eastern Ukraine, where the population is heavily Russian or Russified. Unfortunately, logistical and transportation breakdowns in the decaying Soviet Union foiled plans to reach Donetsk, and Commission staff instead traveled to the city of Kaniv (a small city on the Dnipro river). The following report is based on staff observations over several days, and is supplemented by many conversations with voters and officials, as well as Ukrainian and central Soviet newspaper and television coverage.

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