by Philippe Adriaenssens
For the 6th time in a row, the Young European Federalists (JEF) have mobilised their network in over a 100 cities to criticise the last standing dictatorship on European soil, Lukashenko's Belarus, and campaign for a more meaningful EU engagement to strengthen civil society and support international democratic and human rights standards in the country.
Although in power since 1994, Lukashenko claimed to be re-elected President of Belarus for a fourth time on Sunday 19/12 with an unbelievable majority of 79,67%. Andrei Sannikov, who ended second, supposedly gathered a mere 2.56% of the votes.
On top of these staggering results, the regime detained over 600 people following the 19 December demonstrations in Minsk and started administrative trials against those who were charged with participation in an unsanctioned demonstration. Many of the detainees were not given any water or food and their relatives were refused information as to their whereabouts and their court proceedings. In addition, the authorities have opened a criminal case on mass disorder and the night policy raided the offices of opposition candidates and human rights organisations such as "Viasna" (which had conducted local election observation) to arrest people, conduct searches and confiscate computer equipment and archives. Journalists were reported to have been beaten during the night.
These facts are all known to the OSCE Office in Minsk which has maintained a presence since 1998 but now risks to be shut down as the Belarusian authorities did not extend its mandate at the end of 2010 arguing that its mission is basically fulfilled...
These acts are unworthy of a democratic regime and are unworthy of a European country bordering the EU. It does not matter so much who wins the elections, as long as that person is elected by free and fair elections and ensures that the human rights obligations of Belarus are fulfilled without cracking down on the population. So far, however, the EU's reaction was rather weak and consisted only of a joint statement by Catherine Ashton and Hillary Clinton on 23 December in which both say that: "Respect for democracy and human rights remain central to improving Belarus's relations with the United States and the European Union. Without substantial progress in these areas, relations will not improve."
For JEF, the EU must strongly condemn all breaches of human rights in Belarus, and be at the forefront of supporting and monitoring the democratic development in the country. Young European Federalists point to the discrepancy that there is a dictatorship right at the EU's doorstep and therefore urge the EU to take a clearer stance against the schizophrenic regime in Belarus. If, for instance, its leader and high officials wish to travel through Europe, it should only be possible upon the condition of further economic and political integration in Europe. Furthermore, the EU should not recognise the election results, increase assistance to Belarusian civil society and human rights projects and abolish visa requirements for students and NGO staff.
JEF will thus continue its vicious struggle for democracy. This year, JEF demanded a free and democratic Belarus in several Press Releases , distributed an informative Action Pack among partner organisations , published articles from the opposition movement on this online magazine and networked with Members of the European Parliament to ask for their support as patrons (all 4 MEPs are members of the official EP's Delegation for relations with Belarus) and spread the message to policy-makers. The 6th edition of the street action again took place in 100 cities simultaneously. Famous statues were gagged with cloth to show solidarity with the oppressed population and demand freedom of expression, assembly and association for all Belarusian citizens, equal access to the media for all parties and the alignment of electoral laws as well as human rights standards with European norms.
Each year JEF hopes to organise its last street action but as long as there is oppression in Belarus, the Young European Federalists will continue to raise their voice and mobilise their pro-democratic network!