During the past year I got to follow the developments in Belarus quite closely. I met with both government and opposition officials. I was one of those who argued for giving Alexander Lukashenko's government the benefit of the doubt and see whether the situation could change. The situation has indeed changed, but to the worse.
We are witnessing the political cleansing of practically all the opposition leaders. The potential challengers of the current President in the next election have all been jailed. The arrests of Marinich, Levaneuski, Vaileu, Skrabets, Statkevich and Sevyarynets are a case in point. Mr Skrabets has now been on a hunger strike for more than 40 days to protest against his arrest. The authorities' reaction is simply to ignore him.
The opposition forces, which are now finally getting together, are quite sure that once they name their official candidate for President, he or she will be jailed too. The parties themselves are going underground since stricter obligations are being imposed on their registration. For example, a political party must now have a registered address in a public building. Nevertheless, few landlords are willing to rent part of their property for such purposes since they are afraid of possible consequences.
The key to a future free Belarus is a free media. The present channels are practically monopolised by the regime. Coverage of the opposition is minimal, if not non-existent. This is why both the opposition forces are calling for the setting up of a radio station in a neighbouring country to broadcast in the Belorussian territory. Both the European Union and the United States are considering financing this project.
Unfortunately, Brussels is slow to move. It is slow in diverting funds towards civil society and towards projects that can help young people and women, which are two particularly vulnerable groupings in the country.
The EU is also slow in implementing other proposals that have been put forward by the European Parliament, including the setting up of a fund to help the families of those politicians and journalists who have "disappeared" after having been critical of the regime. These families cannot even apply for the most basic social benefits as they cannot prove that their relatives are dead!
There is one other crucial player that can make a difference in this country: Russia. I am one of those who think that even more than the European Union or the United States, it is Vladimir Putin who holds the key to a peaceful solution to the problems of Belarus.
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
Informing the public about issues in this area that receive little coverage in the Western media.
Staging peaceful demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns in support of specific causes.
Supporting and publicising nonviolent pro-democracy groups throughout the region.
Encouraging European and American involvement.
Support the Belarusian cartoonists
Third Way, the Belarusian organisation whose members are being prosecuted for producing satirical cartoons about Lukashenka,
have set up a web page where you can make a donation via PayPal. The group urgently
need money for their legal defence and operating expenses. Please give what you can today! Read more
We are continuing to focus our efforts on the Belarusian prisoner of conscience Mikhail Marinich.
We are campaigning for him to receive proper medical treatment, to be permitted to see his family,
and ultimately to be released from prison pending a review of his case. You can help by distributing
our factsheets and letters.
Members of these groups have joined our blog to share their views and experiences.