Friday, May 26, 2006

Belarus Bans Helsinki Committee

Yesterday, a voice of freedom, justice, and democracy was silenced in Belarus. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee was finally banned by the Lukashenka regime, having fought a long and uneven struggle in defence of Human Rights. This leaves the people of Belarus without a champion for the individual rights and freedoms enjoyed by the bulk of European citizens.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court decision to illegalise the Helsinki Committe was announced by Belarusian Ministry of Justice. Supreme Court judges are appointed by the president, why the decision to ban the Committee must be seen in this context. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee has fought a consistent and continuous battle for the observance of Human Rights in Belarus. Since last autumn, its activities have however gradually petered out in view of the regime's increasingly oppressive measures against it, drastically curtailing conditions for its mere existence. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Lukashenka regime now has taken the final step of closing down the committee by outlawing it.

The pretext for the ban are accusations of Committee irregularities during the 2004 parliamentary elections, and breach of laws regulating NGO activities in Belarus. Last autumn, the Helsinki Committe was fined some 75,000 USD for tax evasion. Needless to say, most of the charges brought against the Committee have been fabricated by the regime. The ban testifies to Lukashenka's fear of the power of human rights and individual freedoms. He is probably right in this fear, as norms and values have previously proven a mighty power to change the minds of people in Central and Eastern Europe. The struggle for human rights was a contributing factor to the demise of the communist East bloc. Creating awareness of these issues led people to realise that: "We can no longer live like this - we have rights."

Little did Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev realise that values and not weapons would become the crucial issue, when he in 1975 approved the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Its third basket, dealing with individual freedoms, laid the foundation of a rights movement that was to contribute to the downfall of the Soviet Union and put an end to political oppression in the Eastern bloc. In 1976, the Moscow Helsinki Group was formed to make the Soviet Union observe its commitments from Helsinki, inspiring dissidents throughout the East bloc to follow in Czechoslovakia - Charta 77 - and in Poland in 1977. The inspiration from Helsinki initiated a movement today associated with names such as Nobel laureates Andrei Sakharov and Vaclav Havel, and fellow dissidents like Yelena Bonner, Adam Michnik, and Jacek Kuron.

The Helsinki Final Act to this day stands out as a beacon for freedom and enlightenment in the eyes of the oppressed throughout the Eurasian hemisphere. By linking peace and security with the respect for human rights, soft security in the 1980s made the difference for change whereas hard security spiralled into an arms race threatening our very existence. Instead, by the recognition of universal rights, humanity became the salvation for mankind. Today, peace is secured but the Helsinki rights live on - as self-evident and inalienable as those of the American bill of rights.

When Lukashenka now bans the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, it is because he understands that it is a threat to his power. What he does not realise is that ideas, norms, and values can neither be suppressed nor banned, while they rest in the minds of people. Lukashenka may deprive the people of their rights, but he cannot silence the voices of the people calling for freedom and justice. Instead, robbing the people of their rights only leaves them with a feeling that they are bereaved of what is intrinsically theirs. It only serves to further spur them to better know and act upon their rights and duties, and by exercising them bring about change. It is with this in mind, one realises that the ban of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee is yet another step towards a level of repression that in the end will produce a counter-reaction. Sooner or later the people will rise to the challenge of reinstating freedom and democracy in Belarus. That day, come when it may, will inevitably mean the downfall of Lukashenka and his dictatorial accomplices.


Yahor said...

I like your optimism but the situation looks a little bit different in Belarus.

Belarus isn't a dictatorial country yet. If you aren't interesting in politics your rights will not be limited. You can even talk smut and drink vodka on the street.

You have no right for a different vision. But if you haven't the Internet and watch Belarusian TV daily you haven't a possibility for the different vision. The propaganda is very strong and many people think Belarusian order is the best in the World.

I bother the changes can be delayed.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Yahor,

Of course, I know the situation is somewhat different and that political lethargy has become a characteristic feature of Belarusian society. From the looks of it, support for the regime seems unyielding, and why care about who runs the country as long as you are not directly affected.
Of course, Belarus is not a full-fledged dictatorship. Of course, I am far too optimistic.

However, I would like to ask you to stop and think for a moment. Is not all this exactly what we were saying about the Soviet Union back in the 1980s? I know, parallels are perilous, but one should not underestimate the power of ideas, values and norms, causing a final eruption in the face of Lukashenka & consortes. The point is that with this power, a very small number of people may turn history around. When will we see a Sakharov of Salihorsk, a Havel of Homiel? Don't you think that there may be some room - greater than may be expected - for realizing such dreams and hopes?