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Standing for Freedom in Belarus
It’s hard to imagine that 20 years after the collapse of communism autocracy is alive in Europe. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and millions of East Germans crossed into freedom. Two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed and 15 republics claimed their independence. Alexander Lukashenko, a former state farm director, came to power in Belarus promising that “there will be no dictatorship” in his country. Unfortunately, he reneged. Since his first election to the presidency in 1994, Lukashenko has systematically denied the citizens of Belarus their fundamental civil and political rights. Elections have been stolen. Opponents have been silenced. Independent journalists have disappeared. Early privatizations have been rolled back. An estimated 80 percent of industry remains under state control. On December 20, 2011, Lukashenko once again squandered the opportunity to foster freedom in his country. When thousands of peaceful protesters took to the streets of Minsk, the capital, to protest a highly flawed presidential election, Lukashenko sent in the police. Seven presidential candidates and hundreds of protesters were arrested. Many were beaten. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed that the election was highly flawed: “[T]he process deteriorated significantly during the vote count…. Observers assessed the vote count as bad and very bad in almost half of all observed polling stations.” Although Belarus’s freedom advocates never had a chance in the election, they have not been forgotten. On New Year’s Eve, President Bush joined former Czech president Vaclav Havel, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, other world leaders, and dissidents from across the globe to voice their support for the future of a free Belarus. In solidarity with the country’s pro-democracy advocates, and broadcast by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, they read the names one by one of 700 detained individuals. To listen to the solidarity reading on Radio Svaboda, click here.