Belarus - a fight for freedom

Belarus - a fight for freedom

 

As European Liberals we must clearly be on the side of the demonstrators and solidarize with the democrats and fighters for human rights. Silence is not an option. It`s in our political DNA to fight for liberal values worldwide, all the more if they are threatened right in front of us. For Liberals it`s not bearable to have a dictatorship right on our front porch. Europe is a place of freedom and democracy, and as Liberals we will never take a step back from fighting for these values. 

 

Written by Franz Märtl, Member of Libertas Editorial Team 

 

HISTORICAL & POLITICAL CONTEXT

Belarus declares to be a presidential republic, reigned by President Lukashenko, who was elected for the first time in 1994. In 1996 he extended the election period from five to seven years. The referendum on the extension was denounced as a “fantastic fake” by the chief electoral officer, Victor Hanchar, who was kicked out of office afterwards.[1] In this referendum four out of seven questions were related to changing the constitution.[2]

Not only because of the referendum, Belarus is called “Europe`s last dictatorship” by western journalists.[3][4] Belarus is actually the last country in Europe to have the death penalty, even though in the Extension Referendum of 1996 Lukashenko deleted it from the constitution.[5]

Next to being the worst country for press freedom in Europe according to reporters without borders, Belarus is ranked 157th out of 180 and Belarus Democracy Index is rated the lowest in Europe. Additionally, its labelled as “not free” by Freedom House.[6]

 

2020 – FANTASTIC FAKE 2.0?

THE PAST

 

The referendum from 1994 shows exactly how Belarus is manipulating elections. Having a closer look at the critique that was brought forward in 1996, maybe it`s an eye-opener to understand what’s happening in Belarus right now.

In 1996 only Russia and some other CIS countries were recognising the results of the referendum as reliable.[7] CIS means “Commonwealth of Independent States” and is a regional intergovernmental organization of nine members containing states like Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, […], encouraging cooperation in economic, political and military affairs.

Critique on the referendum was brought forward by the Belarusian Helsinki Committee: 

  1. The local referendum commissions that should have been formed by local legislative bodies no later than one month before the referendum were only set up for 5–7 days;
  2. President Lukashenko illegally removed Viktar Hanchar, chairman of the Central Commission for Elections and National Referendums, from office. As a result, the work of the Commission that was supposed to control the legality of the vote was paralyzed;
  3. By the time early voting began (November 9th ), polling stations had not been provided with proposed amendments and additions to the Constitutions, so the citizens did not know what they were voting on;
  4. Voters were illegally called (and in many cases forced) to vote earlier than the actual date of the referendum. As a result, by the day of the referendum, nearly a quarter of voters had already voted;
  5. Ballot papers were printed by the Office of Presidential Affairs of the Republic of Belarus. They were taken to polling stations without passing through the Central Commission for Elections and National Referendums and its regional divisions. There was no accounting for the number of ballots;
  6. The referendum was funded not from the state budget, but from unknown "charitable" contributions, which was illegal. The Central Commission for Elections and National Referendums was completely removed from funding the referendum;
  7. There was agitation and propaganda in favour of the position of president Lukashenko. In some cases the agitation was carried out directly at polling stations;
  8. On the day of the referendum observers, representatives of political parties and public organizations had obstacles placed in their way in trying to monitor the voting. They were not allowed to enter the voting stations and were not given the information that they required;
  9. There were numerous violations of the law at polling stations, such as no booths for secret ballots, no draft amendments and additions to the Constitution, voters were allowed to vote without presenting identification documents, seals on ballot boxes had been damaged and evidence of forgery of voter signatures had been found.”[8]

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee is a non-governmental human rights association established in 1995 in Belarus. The opposition also accused Lukashenko of practicing vote rigging. According to statements from politicians out of the opposition, 20 to 50 % of the votes counted had been manipulated.[9]

 

 

On 9th August 2020, Lukashenko was re-elected with 80,23 % of all counting votes.[10] Lukashenko’s opponent Tichanowskaja received 9,9% according to the electoral commission of Belarus. The Opposition and a huge part of the population are not accepting the outcome of the vote. According to the German “Tagesschau” independent exit-polls in Belarus showed 71% for Tichanowskaja, who`s not accepting the vote either.[11]

Until now it`s unclear how the elections have been manipulated, but taking the referendum from 1994 into consideration, it is highly probable that there were similar occurrences again.

In the night between 9th and 10th August, there was a huge demonstration for freedom, democracy and human rights in Minsk and 30 other cities. The demonstration got more and more brutal and ended in street fights between the demonstrators and state forces as the police and even the military, which cracked down on the demonstrations brutally. At the moment it`s not sure how many people have been hurt or killed.

 

A ROLE FOR DEMOCRATS

 

Only few know what sacrifices Tichanowskaja had to bear or how she got into running for office. Her husband Zichanouski announced to run for office, but the electoral commission forbade his application. Tichanowskaja had to take over and made her husband head of her campaign team, which lead to him being arrested for public commotion.[12] Amnesty International does not recognise the charge and reproaches corruption.[13] Because of not only this incident, but also because of receiving death threats, Tichanowskaja had to take her children out of Belarus. At the moment they are staying in an unknown European State. On Tuesday 11th August, Tichanowskaja herself had to leave Belarus and flee to Lithuania.[14]

 

THE FUTURE

 

As European Liberals we must clearly be on the side of the demonstrators and solidarize with the democrats and fighters for human rights. Silence is not an option. It`s in our political DNA to fight for liberal values worldwide, all the more if they are threatened right in front of us. For Liberals it`s not bearable to have a dictatorship right on our front porch. Europe is a place of freedom and democracy, and as Liberals we will never take a step back from fighting for these values.

 

 

 

[1] Jeffries, Ian (2004). The countries of the former Soviet Union at the turn of the twenty-first century: the Baltic and European states in transition. Routledge. p. 274. ISBN 0-415-25230-X
[2] Jeffries, Ian (2004). The countries of the former Soviet Union at the turn of the twenty-first century: the Baltic and European states in transition. Routledge. p. 274. ISBN 0-415-25230-X
[3] "Belarus's Lukashenko: "Better a dictator than gay"". Berlin. Reuters. 4 March 2012. ...German Foreign Minister's branding him 'Europe's last dictator'
[4] Rausing, Sigrid (7 October 2012). "Belarus: inside Europe's last dictatorship". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
[5] Press Freedom Index 2013/2014, Reporters Without Borders, January 2014, archived from the original on 14 February 2014, retrieved 6 March 2014
[6] Press Freedom Index 2013/2014, Reporters Without Borders, January 2014, archived from the original on 14 February 2014, retrieved 6 March 2014
[7] Dieter Nohlen & Philip Stöver (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p237 ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7
[8] Referendum 96 (Opinion of the Opposition): numbers, judgments, law. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Minsk, 1996
[9] Народная воля, № 109; Свабода, 1996, нумар ад 29 лiстапада
[10] https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/belarus-praesidentenwahl-ergebnisse-101.html
[11] https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/belarus-wahl-lukaschenko-vorwuerfe-105.html visited 11th August 2020; Tagesschau: German National Public Television, News;
[12] Barbara Oertel: Präsidentschaftswahl in Weißrussland: Kandidatin aus dem Nichts. In: taz. 23. Juli 2020, visited on the 11th of August 2020
[13] Belarus: Full-scale attack on human rights ahead of presidential election. In: Amnesty International. 29. Juni 2020, visited on the 11th of August 2020
[14] https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/belarus-wahl-lukaschenko-vorwuerfe-105.html visited on the 11th of August 2020

 

 

About the Author: 

Franz Märtl is from Germany and he is a member of JULIS (Junge Liberale) since 2017. He is currently leading the editorial office of the JuLi-Member-Magazine and he decided to join the LYMEC Libertas Editorial team recently.

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