Supporting Democracy in Belarus

Supporting Democracy in Belarus

Hon.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
United States
Senate
108th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Thursday, October 07, 2004

Mr. President, I welcome the unanimous passage of the Belarus Democracy Act, BDA, by the United States Senate last night following similar action by the House of Representatives earlier this week. As co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am particularly pleased at timely adoption of this important legislation. I thank Chairman Lugar and Senator Biden for their assistance in facilitating consideration of this bill by the full Senate.

 

Repression and stagnation have been the hallmarks of the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka, the leader of Belarus who increasingly tightened the noose around those who express independent views. A series of fundamentally flawed elections have left Belarus without legitimate executive and parliamentary leadership. Against this backdrop, preparations are underway for parliamentary elections and a referendum later this month. The elections take place in an environment in which the regime has intensified its repression of the remaining independent media and vilification of the opposition and their supporters. Lukashenka is also seeking to manipulate the situation to extend his rule by eliminating constitutional term limits for president, possibly paving the way for him to become a ``president-for-life.''

 

As co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have maintained a strong interest in Belarus and have tried to inform my Senate colleagues about the increasingly troubling developments in that strategically located country, whose 10 million people have suffered cruelty at the hands of czars, Nazis, Communists and now, Aleksandr Lukashenka. During my service on the Commission, I have met and come to know many of the courageous individuals, who often at personal risk have spoken out in support of democracy in the face of Europe's last dictatorship, including the spouses of opposition leaders and a journalist who disappeared in 1999 and 2000 because they dared speak to the truth.

 

Belarus, under Lukashenka, has the worst human rights record in Europe. His regime has increasingly violated basic human rights and freedoms. The goal of the Belarus Democracy Act is to help put an end to repression and human rights violations in Belarus and to promote Belarus' entry into a democratic Euro-Atlantic community of nations following years of self-imposed isolation.

 

The Belarus Democracy Act authorizes additional assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for NGOs, independent media, including radio broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. It also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, which have been notably absent in Belarus and which look to be highly problematic when they are held on October 17, judging by the pre-election environment and the regime's tight control over the electoral process.

 

The BDA includes sense of the Congress language that would prohibit U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian reasons and U.S. executive directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance for humanitarian needs. The bill also requires a report from the President concerning the sale of delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states and on the personal wealth and assets of Lukashenka.

 

Nearly 2 years after the introduction of the Belarus Democracy Act the situation in that country has spiraled downward. Adoption and implementation of the Belarus Democracy Act will offer hope that the current period of political, economic and social stagnation will indeed end. It shows our concrete support for the courageous individuals, non-governmental organizations, independent media and independent trade unions struggling mightily against the machine of repression. And it shows our support for the people of Belarus, who deserve a chance for a brighter future.

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    Mikhail Gorbachev's March 17, 1991 referendum on maintaining the USSR as a "renewed federation" was the first in Soviet, or Russian, history. As the following report makes clear, the referendum was not merely an exercise in public opinion polling or a guide to policymakers. It was intended to give Gorbachev a popular mandate for pressuring the newly elected legislatures of the Baltic States and Soviet republics seeking independence or greater sovereignty. In this light, the referendum amounted to an attempt to use democratic methods to undermine the results of democracy. Its other purposes aside, however, Gorbachev's referendum does represent an aspect of the democratization of Soviet politics that has taken place since 1985. The Helsinki Commission has carefully tracked this process through public hearings and extensive staff reports on perestroika and on the Baltic States. In 1990, in accordance with its mandate to monitor and promote compliance with the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent CSCE documents, the Commission sent staffers to observe parliamentary elections in the Baltic States and the Soviet republics. A compendium of their reports was published in December 1990. This year, Commission staffers monitored the March 3 "counter-referendums" on independence held in Latvia and Estonia, at the invitation of their parliaments and governments. The Commission also sent staffers to observe the conduct of the voting on March 17 in Latvia, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and on March 31 observed Georgia's plebiscite on independence. The following report reflects their on-site observations, supplemented by subsequent published reportage about the referendum, and contains as well an analysis· of the referendum's implications. In retrospect, perhaps the most striking thing about the referendum is how little notice the Soviet and international media now pay to an event depicted as "historic." To some extent, the fast pace of change in Soviet politics precludes lingering on last month's news. But the lack of attention also reflects the referendum's minimal impact: as a stategem, it was flawed; as policy, it was irrelevant, since the jurisdictional disputes in the USSR between center and republics had already gone too far for mere strategems to be effective. In fact, the failure of the March referendum to deliver what its initiators sought was its greatest contribution to Soviet politics, since it helped produce the "April Pact" between Gorbachev and leaders of nine republics. That agreement, if followed through sincerely, promises to be a watershed in the decentralization and democratization of the Soviet Union, and may prove genuinely "historic."

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    This hearing centered the economic and political crisis in the Soviet Union. The Commissioners praised the diligent work of Gorbachev by positively changing the human rights dimension in Eastern Europe. From multi-party participation to higher freedoms of speech and assembly, the Soviet Union has pivoted to international standard of human rights. Despite the reforms made towards the advancement of human rights the economic situation has never been so pronounced in recent memory. The economic challenges facing the people of the Soviet Union is affecting the political atmosphere in very concerning way- increased powers to the KGB and arms deals that violate past international treaties. The hearing reviewed whether the economic crisis is causing the Soviet state to use military methods to save the Soviet power.

  • Soviet Crackdown in the Baltic States

    This hearing, which Steny H. Hoyer presided over, came at a time during which the United States’ time was occupied elsewhere in the world (i.e. the Middle East). Therefore, the running time of this hearing was expected to be an hour, with a more in-depth hearing to follow later on. In any case, attendees discussed, from the view of the U.S., anyway, that the Baltic States (i.e. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) had all been illegally absorbed into what was then the Soviet Union. Likewise, the Baltic States had raised the issue that enforcement of conscription laws of the Soviet Union in these countries is in and of itself legal within the framework of the Geneva Convention. The consensus of the hearing was that the attempt by Moscow to crush democracy in the Baltic States must be met by the U.S. with the same resolve that the U.S. took in meeting similar attempts in other parts of the world, including collaboration with other countries.

  • Supreme Soviet Elections in Azerbaijan

    After long delays and one official postponement, the elections to the Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet finally went off as planned on September 30. The late date of the Azerbaijani election reflects the region-wide instability in Transcaucasia: voters in Armenia chose their legislature only on May 20 and Georgia's elections (the last ones scheduled) took place on October 28, having been postponed from March. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in Azerbaijan was peculiarly charged, even by today's Soviet standards. Azerbaijan was the only Soviet republic to hold its Supreme Soviet elections with its capital city, Baku, and other regions, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO), in a state of emergency. This dubious distinction indicates the level of unresolved tensions in Azerbaijan as well as the determination of the central authorities in Moscow, abetted by the Communist Party of Azerbaijan (CPA), to keep tight reins on this strategically and economically vital republic. 

  • Elections in the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic

    This report is based on the findings of a staff delegation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic from 6-11 June 1990. The staff met with representatives of several political parties and movements, as well as of the Electoral Commission. It also observed the voting and some aspects of the counting of ballots. The Commission wishes to thank the National Democratic and National Republican Institutes for International Affairs for allowing the staff delegation to be included in the activities of their international election observer mission to the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.

  • Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria

    Bulgaria's first free and contested elections in over 40 years were held on June 10 and 17, 1990 to choose representatives to its new parliament. Although they were marred by instances of irregularities and intimidation, the Bulgarian parties have accepted the results of the elections. In the words of one opposition leader, the elections were "free and democratic, but not completely fair." Based on Commission staff election-day visits to over 30 polling places, the election process appeared to be calm, orderly and, considering the relatively brief period of time in which Bulgarians had to prepare for the elections, fairly well organized and efficient. Election procedures were consistent among precincts and problems appeared to be resolved quickly. This was consistent with the observations of other international observers. Representatives of different parties and independent observers monitored the majority of polling stations, thus helping to ensure the integrity of the voting process. Nevertheless, the elections were marred by numerous reports of irregularities and violations during the campaigning and in the elections themselves. The most serious problem appeared to be that of widespread intimidation of opposition supporters and especially voters.

  • Parliamentary and Presidential Elections in Romania

    Romania's first free elections in over 40 years were marred by a variety of irregularities, from the campaign through the course of the elections themselves, which cast significant doubt on their fairness. The Front for National Salvation (FSN), which took over power in Romania following the December revolution, won the elections with an overwhelming margin. FSN Presidential candidate Ion Iliescu won 85.07 percent of the votes, while the FSN gained 66.31 of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies and 67.01 percent for the Senate. The contestants to the election were competing on an uneven field, with unequal accessboth to resources and to the most far-reaching mass medium, television. FSN candidates enjoyed decided advantages in these areas. Inconsistent and faulty application of electoral procedures on election day, together with the absense in some polling places of opposition party representatives, likewise shifted the advantage to the Front.

  • The Supreme Soviet Elections in Estonia

    The March 18 elections to the Estonian Supreme Soviet were the first since 1940 in which many political groups and parties freely took part. The crucial issue in the election, in which everyone took for granted the participation of non-communist parties, was Estonian independence; the crucial question was whether pro-independence forces would win the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution and declare independence. Like the surrounding society, opinions on independence tended to divide along national lines: Estonians have generally backed "independence," through they differed about its meaning, while Russians have generally favored Estonia's remaining within the Soviet Union. The campaign and the results of the March 18 Supreme Soviet elections also broadly reflected this alignment of nationality and politics.

  • Parliamentary Elections in the Republic of Hungary

    After reading through Hungary's complex electoral law this winter, a Hungarian scholar concluded that if he did not yet fully comprehend the mechanics of Hungary's leap to democracy, at least he understood why it had to have been a Hungarian who invented the Rubik's cube. The law was a product of Hungary's first democratic exercise, the roundtable among the ruling Socialist Party, its allied social organizations, and the major opposition parties which together mapped out the transition to a multi-party system. It represented the first of many compromises Hungarian political leaders have made and will continue to make in the transition to democracy. Common wisdom holds that unlike the situation in other countries in the region, Hungary's reform was masterminded by the ruling Socialist Party. Yet the issues at stake in this election underlined the essential role of the opposition in the 1970s and 1980s in setting the agenda for Hungary's journey to democracy. If massive street demonstrations did not force the ruling party to bend, unrelenting discussion of Hungary's future among the Democratic Opposition, and its sustained impact on public opinion, did. During the past two years, reform-oriented Socialist Party leaders have hustled to get to the right side of the issues, and they have consequently found themselves playing the incongruous role of morticians for the ruling party they helped to nurture. One of the most remarkable transformations to be witnessed in Hungary over the past year was the new political engagement of people who had associated politics with dirty business all their lives. Candidates who entered the campaign with some ambivalence about the corrupting power of politics quickly shifted their attitudes. Voters who had been forced to participate in electoral charades in the past, or subjected as one Free Democratic representative put it, "to a life of unrelenting Communist Party campaigning," felt that their vote could make a difference this time. Yet some voters who had been forced to participate in electoral charades in the past, or subjected as one Free Democratic representative put it, "to a life of unrelenting Communist Party campaigning," felt that their vote could make a difference this time. Yet some voters objected bitterly to the divisive nature of the campaign, which they attributed to the "arrogance" of the vying parties. At a time when the country needed to pull together, they felt, the parties were tearing communities apart in the run-up to elections. Yet by the time election day arrived, the parties were pulling together after all. The major parties participated in orchestrating the country's transition with the current government. Rival party representatives staffed local electoral commissions, and worked together elbow-to-elbow to inform voters of procedures and collect and count the votes. The bitterness and personal acrimony between leaders of Hungary's two leading opposition parties, the Hungarian Democratic Forum and Alliance of Free Democrats, melted away -- at least for election day melted away -- at least for election day.

  • Germany Unification and the CSCE Process

    German unification is a critical issue to the future of Europe. The process of German unification will entail finding solutions to many of the problems the Eastern community will face as they work to integrate into the common European home. The unification process makes it necessary to devise a framework for the input of other nations. This hearing hopes to provide policies directed towards the easing the process of unification.

  • April and May 1990 Elections in Slovenia and Croatia

    This report is based on the findings of two Helsinki Commission delegations to Yugoslavia. First, Commission Chairman Dennis DeConcini led a congressional delegation to Ljubljana, Slovenia, from April 7-8, 1990. The delegation observed the voting at polling stations in Ljubljana as well as in nearby villages on April 8, and met with the President of Slovenia, the President of the Slovenian Assembly, the Slovenian Republic Election Commission, and representatives of the LCS-Party of Democratic Renewal, DEMOS­ United Opposition, and the Progressive People's Party of the Center. A staff delegation then traveled to Zagreb, Croatia, from April 20-23, 1990. It observed the voting and some counting of ballots at polling stations in Zagreb and surrounding towns and villages on April 22, as well as voting in Krsko, Slovenia, for the run-off elections in that republic. The delegation also observed voting and the counting of ballots at work places on April 23, and met with the Croatian Republic Election Commission, the Committee for Information, and representatives of the Croatian Democratic Union and the Democratic Union of Albanians in Croatia. During the course of both visits, the delegations also had numerous informal meetings with Communist, opposition and independent candidates. Other sources include the Croatian and Slovenian press, Tanjug news agency and Radio Free Europe reports. The U.S. Consulate in Zagreb and U.S. Embassy in Belgrade both provided considerable assistance in arranging the congressional and staff delegation visits, which was greatly appreciated. In April and May 1990, the republics of Slovenia and Croatia in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia held the first genuinely free elections in that country since World War II. In both cases, a large number of alternative parties fielded candidates, and the local Communist Parties lost control of both republic governments. The Slovenian and Croatian elections took place during a time of major political and economic problems within Yugoslavia, as well as ethnic strife. Beyond the creation of multi-party, democratic political systems in Slovenia and Croatia, the election debate in these two northern republics focused on their respective futures in the Yugoslav federation, with consideration being given to the formation of a confederation and, sometime in the future, perhaps even independence.

  • Elections in the German Democratic Republic

    The unexpected landslide victory of the East Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a reformed ally of the former Communist regime, indicates the strong East German desire for rapid unification. The CDU and its conservative Alliance for Germany coalition won almost 50 percent of the vote. This was the first free, multiparty election in the GDR. All parties agreed that there had been no government interference with the campaign. There were no charges of fraud and both the GDR Electoral Commssion and foreign observers testified to the fairness of the election. The Alliance for Germany has moved quickly to form a coalition government with the 2/3 majority needed to change the Constitution in order to proceed with unification. They have invited the centrist Alliance of Free Democrats, and the Social Democratic Part (SPD) to join them. The FDP has agreed while the SDP is negotiating with the CDD. Among SPD demands are that a future government should immediately recognize the current border with Poland, reaffirm existing ownership rights in the GDR, and promote social welfare and worker participation in corporate decisions.  However, the legacy of 40 years of totalitarian rule is dogging the new government as accusations surface that many of the new legislators collaborated with the secret police (STASI) in the past. Although the GDR cast an unequivocal vote for democracy, unification, and a market economy, the ambiguities of the past may make it difficult for the new leadership to deal with the challenges of the present.

  • Status Report on Soviet Jewry

    This hearing, which Representative Steny H. Hoyer presided over, was a portion of multiple hearings held on March 7, 1990, when attendees looked at the dramatic consequences of the Soviet government’s decision to relax its emigration policies, in addition to the impact of Glasnost on Jewish life in what was then the U.S.S.R. This new decision, the emigration policy of which was expected to soon be codified by the Supreme Soviet soon after the hearing took place, had negative and positive implications. While a record number of Jewish individuals were allowed to leave the U.S.S.R., Soviet citizens still needed explicit permission to leave the country. In spite of these reforms, though, there were still at least 100 refusenik cases, not to mention fear of an active anti-Semitic movement in the country.

  • The Supreme Soviet Elections in Lithuania

    This report is based on the findings of a Helsinki Commission staff delegation to Vilnius, Lithuania, from February 21 through February 26, 1990 to observe the political processes taking shape around the February 24 elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet. The delegation interview representatives of the Communist Party, the Lithuanian Reform Movement Sajudis, the Lithuanian Democratic, Christian Democratic, Social Democratic and Green Parties, Yedinstvo, the Union of Poles in Lithuania, and various other organizations and minority groups. Officials from district and republic-level electoral commissions, as well as candidates, their supporters, and the voters at the polls, were also interviewed.

  • Revolt Against the Silence - The State of Human Rights in Romania: An Update

    Patterns of repression in Romania remain sadly the same year after year. The Romanian regime has kept up pressure on members of religious and national minorities, as well as on all who have sought to express themselves freely. It has harassed and punished would-be emigrants by removing them from jobs and housing. It has exiled writers, philosophers and former leaders. It has jailed those who have sought the means to worship freely, and used psychiatric incarceration to punish free expression. The regime has steadily curtailed the opportunities for members of ethnic minorities to maintain and cultivate their cultural heritage, cutting minority-language instruction and publishing to a minimum. Minority cultural and family ties have also been strictly limited. The regime has used violence and threats of violence to discourage citizens from seeking to exercise their rights. Many Romanian dissidents inside and outside the country have received black-bordered death threats, widely believed to be a favorite calling-card of Romania's notorious Securitate (secret police). Increasingly, the regime's persecution has touched all Romanian citizens, who suffer from severe, state-imposed food shortages and the threat of displacement through the sjstematizare, or systematization, program. Despite the Romanian Government's March announcement, with great fanfare, that it had repaid the country's foreign debt, there is no sign that the regime will reorder its fiscal priorities in favor of consumption. Rationing continues unabated, while construction of new industrial projects seems to be moving forward with redoubled speed.

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    The hearing looked into the role of the Supreme Soviet in promulgating and institutionalizing human rights in the Soviet Union. Our Soviet guest today was Mr. Fyodor Burlatskiy who gave testimony alongside Louise Shelley, consultant to the Helsinki Watch on issues of Soviet law. This briefing was a follow-up to talks in Moscow in November of 1988.

  • A Changing Soviet Society

    This hearing addressed Soviet nationalism and the Baltic States’ argument for self-determination. The April attack by armed troops on peaceful demonstrations in Georgia was provided as an example of how dangerous official Soviet reaction to popular protests can be. The need for the Kremlin to learn tolerant methods of dealing with dissent was emphasized. Witnesses testifying at this hearing addressed the changes occurring in the U.S.S.R and called for a set of criteria by which Soviet progress or lack thereof could be assessed. The impact of these changes on the human rights arena, including the right to due process, was also a topic of discussion.

  • The London Information Forum of the CSCE - Compilation of Speeches

    The London Information Forum was the first non-military follow-up activity to be held within the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe following the conclusion of the Vienna CSCE Review Meeting. The forum's aims, as mandated by the Vienna document, included examination of the circulation of, access to and exchange of information; cooperation in the field of information; and the improvement of working conditions for journalists. The London Information Forum addressed fundamental human rights questions: the right to free expression and free choice of information sources. At issue were not only new initiatives in the exchange of information, but also improved compliance with existing CSCE commitments.

  • THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE AND IMPART INFORMATION - PRELUDE TO THE LONDON INFORMATION FORUM

    This Commission hearing focused on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Accords in the member countries of Eastern Europe. The hearing reviewed the compliance records of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with the provisions regarding the free flow of information. The East has had a mixed record in regards to its compliance of the information provisions of the Helsinki Accords. Expert witnesses gave testimony to bring better understanding of the bewildering, and sometimes contradictory signals the East is sending on its information policies.

  • The State of Human Rights in Romania: An Update

    One year after worker-led disturbances erupted in Brasov and other Romanian cities, Romanian society remains tense, divided and increasingly impatient with a regime that exhibits little regard for the well-being of its citizenry. While the Romanian Party and Government have succeeded in quashing most open expressions of dissent, they have failed abysmally in garnering popular support for their programs -- if such support was ever solicited or even de­sired. Systematically depriving its citizens of the possibility to exer­cise the most fundamental human rights, and robbing them of the social and economic rights it supports so heartily in words, the Ro­manian regime has lost any legitimacy it might once have enjoyed among its citizens. Romanian citizens and recent emigrants from that country testi­fy that repression has grown in the year after Brasov. While most prisoners of conscience were released under a January 1988 amnes­ ty, dissidents continue to be surveilled, followed, called in repeatedly for questioning by the Securitate, and placed under house arrest. Telephone lines are cut and mail intercepted to increase the dissidents' sense of isolation not only from the world outside Romania, but also from contacts within the country. Censorship has become more severe, and the security apparatus maintains an even more visible presence than before. The notorious but still unpublished Decree 408, which requires Romanian citizens to report to police all meetings with foreign citizens within 24 hours, is stringently enforced. Romania's economy continues to deteriorate. Fuel and electricity have been rationed for years. Staple foods, including milk, bread and flour, are rationed, and in many localities even these are unavailable. Meat is a rarity; soup bones only occasionally appear in stores. Decades of financial misplanning and inefficient industrial devel­opment have led to the dire condition of the Romanian economy, making it the poorest in Europe after Albania. The Government continues to repay its foreign debts at a swift rate and modernizeat the expense of the Romanian people's well-being.  

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