On December 19, 2010 Belarusians were supposed to elect the country’s new President. In theory. But in practice their fragile dreams were destroyed in less than an hour in a most brutal way.
The latest election campaign was the most liberal since Lukashenka came to power in 1994: initiative groups could collect citizens’ signatures openly in the streets, opposition candidates were registered, campaigning was allowed, including on the state television (all candidates had two times of 30 minutes prime time) and even debates were organized on the 1st national TV channel. The elections were the litmus test that the Belarusian government had to take in front of its people after all the small positive steps towards democratization that had been made for the last two years. At the same time it was a check point for the relations with the European Union, which was ready to go on with the “conditional engagement” of Belarus in its policies thus giving the country a chance to have an alternative partner (in fact 27 alternative partners) to Russia. But what we saw in the evening of the Election Day stroke everyone with utmost reality.
In the evening of December 19th people went out for a peaceful demonstration in the main street of the capital to express their protest against the regime and the election results - with all the violations observed during early voting (which lasted for 5 days) and on the day of elections, the outcome was obvious. Still, after the two months of a “liberal campaign” Belarusians forgot about their fears and decided to speak up. Nobody expected Lukashenka to welcome the protest but neither anyone could picture that in less than an hour he would destroy all the successful work that had been done since 2008. However, in a few minutes the police special forces together with KGB agents in civil clothes brutally “cleaned” the Independence square, arresting more than 700 people, including presidential candidates. At the same time searches and detentions started in the offices and homes of the opposition, civic society activists, journalists and human rights defenders, which have been carried on until today. A heavy propaganda by the state media and Alexander Lukashenka himself declared that the regime had saved the country from a revolution prepared by the German and Polish secret services.
According to the official results the incumbent won by 79.6% of votes.
The EU and the U.S. did not recognize the elections in Belarus, while Russian leadership sent congratulations to the regime and started preparations for the upcoming meetings during which they would agree to built a nuclear power plant in Belarus (which initially was supposed to help the country to get rid of the total dependence on Russian energy), merge large state enterprises and conduct a series of other actions directed at the full economic control over their western neighbor, which is on the edge of a default.
At the same time the EU, as well as the U.S. renewed visa sanctions against the government officials by extending the ban list up to more than 170 people and froze their assets, and at the moment is considering further economic sanctions against the regime. But sadly enough this does not seem to work either. Just recently young opposition activists have been sentenced to 2-4 years of prison and many more trials are still to take place, including cases of ex-candidates who are facing up to 15 years of imprisonment.
It is highly important today that Belarusian civil society, including the opposition, would join their forces to continue fighting for democracy despite all the fear and difficulties created by those who are in power. It is also very important that the people of Belarus would not find themselves isolated from the outside world and would feel the international support.
SEMINAR: ELECTION MONITORING: A CASE STUDY OF BELARUS
On November 29, 2010 members of LYMEC MOs from Germany, Lithuania, Belgium, Netherlands and Belarus learnt about the state of EU-Belarus relations and recent developments ahead of the Presidential elections in December.
This was followed by an overview of what elections in Belarus are about in general and an introduction into the ongoing campaign was made.
In the afternoon session MEP Fiona Hall shared her extensive experience in election monitoring, followed by a training on the essentials of short-term election observation by Mr Pietro Ducci, Head of Election Observation Unit of the European Parliament.
The event was initiated and organized by LYMEC activists Kseniya Shvedova (IMS, Belarus), Julius Lizunas (LLY, Lithuania) and Daniel George (LHG, Germany).
Many thanks for the support of ALDE MEPs Kristiina Ojuland, Ivars Godmanis, Leonidas Donskis and Jan Mulder!