Political Crisis in Belarus: Allied Legislators Condemn Violence and Call for Respect of Fundamental Freedoms
14 September 2020
Video of the meeting can be found at the bottom of the press release
“The NATO Parliamentary Assembly stands for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Therefore, we cannot ignore when peaceful protests in the heart of Europe are met with violent repressions and arrests,” President Attila Mesterhazy (Hungary) said when opening a webinar dedicated to the situation in Belarus. 35 parliamentarians joined the discussions from across the Alliance, partner nations, and the European Parliament.
The President repeated his condemnation of violence against peaceful demonstrators and called on Minsk to fully respect its international commitments and fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
Addressing the way out of the crisis, President Mesterhazy stressed that “this is the struggle of the Belarusian people. No one can fight it for them, and no one should interfere with their struggle.”
“Belarus is a sovereign and independent nation,” he underlined, “but the international community can and must find ways of ensuring that the violence stops and that the people of Belarus can choose their leaders and political future freely.”
President Mesterhazy also addressed disinformation efforts designed to paint the North Atlantic Alliance as interfering and as a military threat to Belarus. He recalled the statements made by the NATO Secretary General that NATO has no military build-up in the region and that its posture is strictly defensive, while remaining vigilant and ready to protect the citizens of the Alliance.
NATO legislators engaged in a lively, frank, and in-depth exchange with two prominent experts.
Franak Viačorka, a Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council, provided an update on the evolving political situation and discussed the prospects of the democratic change. Addressing the regime’s repressive methods, he drew on his own experience as a Belarusian democracy activist and journalist – activities for which the Belarus authorities jailed him multiple times. Mr Viačorka likened the current situation to Belarus’ struggle for independence from the Soviet Union in 1989/90. Even though the regime seeks to “behead the opposition”, he was certain that the protests would continue and evolve in the face of ongoing repression, especially if the economic situation continues to deteriorate. Mr Viačorka feared, however, that Russia would try to set up a “puppet regime” in Belarus.
On the day of Mr Lukashenko’s meeting with President Putin in Moscow, Dr Mark Galeotti, one of the most prominent British experts on Russia and the post-Soviet space addressed the international context, the Russia factor, and policy options for the democratic international community. Dr Galeotti argued that the Kremlin has almost guaranteed that Belarus would see anti-Russian protests given Moscow’s heavy-handed interference. Lukashenko had “made his choice”, Dr Galeotti argued: he would “barter away Belarusian autonomy” to survive in his position. While Russia is deeply unenthusiastic about supporting Lukashenko, Putin has decided he has no choice but to protect the regime in Minsk as part of his perceived “existential struggle with the West”.
Both speakers discussed constructive ways out of the crisis. The international community must prevent further escalation, they argued, and engage with all parts of Belarusian society to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and independence. They called for individual sanctions to be expanded. Most importantly, they said, the international community should continue to make clear to the Belarusian people that the world is watching and that they are not being abandoned.
Closing the meeting, President Mesterhazy reassured members that the Assembly would keep the situation in Belarus high on its agenda.
The Parliament of Belarus was granted Associate membership of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in 1992 but its status remains suspended since 1997.
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