15 August 2022, Monday, 3:01
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Have We Forgotten Belarus?

2
Have We Forgotten Belarus?
Pavol Demes
photo: svaboda.org

History of one photograph.

Five years ago, on March 2, 2011 a public event titled “Free the Belarusian Political Prisoners!” took place in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia.

It was a rather emotional side event of the annual GLOBSEC security conference, which was hosted by Foreign Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, and attended by Slovak politicians and civic leaders as well as well-known members of the Belarusian opposition including Stanislav Shuskhevich, Alexander Milinkevich and Alexander Kozulin.

This solidarity action saw participants displaying photographs of 14 Belarusian political prisoners (including five presidential candidates), which ended up in prison following the fraudulent December 2010 presidential elections. It took place at a highly symbolic place: the memorial to the 1988 Candle Demonstration in Bratislava which, brutally dispersed by police, became one of the most significant public expressions of resistance against the Communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia.

Back in 2011, the international community – including the Secretary General of the United Nations, representatives of European institutions, and the governments of EU member countries, the United States and Canada –resolutely condemned the brutality of the Lukashenka regime. They called for the immediate release of all political prisoners and demanded that all charges against them be dropped. In all democratic countries, a wave of solidarity and protest against repressions in Belarus emerged.

What happened to those brave 14 politicians, activist and journalists? They endured a brutal ordeal in jail but none has given up the struggle for a free and democratic Belarus, whether in the country or in exile. All of them have been freed since last summer (Mikalai Statkievich was released last) and remain active.

International solidarity and pressure played an important role in releasing the political prisoners in Belarus. Nonetheless, their unreformed country ruled by the same autocratic president Lukashenka, is still lacking basic political and civic rights. Surprisingly, this year’s GLOBSEC conference, along with many important international gatherings, have stopped inviting participants from Belarus and including this country as a topic for discussion. Western oblivion notwithstanding, the former political prisoners of Belarus, and many of their countrymen, continue to remind us of basic European values and solidarity, and of the strategic importance of their country for the European project.

People on the photograph taken by Pavel Neubauer (from right to left):

Mikulas Dzurinda (then-Slovak Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister).

Alexandr Milinkevich (Belarusian politician) holding Mikalai Statkevich (presidential candidate, released from prison after 4 years and 8 months. He lives in Minsk and is active in politics).

Vladimir Podgol (Belarusian analyst) holding Ales Mikhalevich (presidential candidate, released from prison after 2 months. He lives in Minsk and is active in civil society).

Ales Lahviniec (Belarusian politician) holding Alexandr Feduta (member of Vladimir Nyeklyaev’s campaign team, released from prison after 3.5 months. He lives in Minsk (temporarily in Kiev) and is active as a journalist.

Zuzana Szatmary (Slovak human rights activist) holding Andrei Sannikov (presidential candidate, released from prison after 1 year and 4 months. Lives in exile in Warsaw and is active in politics).

Stanislav Shushkevich (first President of Belarus).

Lubomira Slusna (Slovak cultural specialist) holding Vlad Kobets (member of Andrei Sannikov’s campaign team, released from prison after 1 month. Lives in exile in Warsaw, civic activist).

Richard Stanke (Slovak actor) holding Vitaly Rymashevky (presidential candidate, released from prison after 11 days. He lives in Minsk, active in politics).

Tatiana Rosova (Mayor of Bratislava Old Town) holding Irina Khalip (wife of Andrei Sannikov. Released from prison after 1.5 months. She lives in Minsk and continues to be active as journalist).

Sergey Kalyakin (Belarusian politician).

Magda Vasaryova (Slovak politician) holding Natallia Radzina (journalist, released from prison after 1.5 months. Lives in exile in Warsaw, active as a journalist ).

Peter Osusky (Slovak politician) holding Anatoly Lebedka (Belarusian politician, released from prison after 3.5 months. Lives in Minsk, active in politics).

Andrej Ban (Slovak photographer) holding Vladimir Neklyayev (presidential candidate. Released from prison after 1.5 months. Lives in Minsk, active as politician).

Alexander Kozulin (Belarusian politician) holding Aleksandr Otroshchenkov (member of Andrei Sannikov’s campaign team. Released from prison after 10 months. Lives in exile in Warsaw, left public life).

Nora Benakova (Slovak NGO activist) holding Zmitser Bandarenka (member of Andrei Sannikov’s campaign team. Released from prison after 1 year and four months. Lives in exile in Warsaw. Active in politics).

Denis Sadouski (Belarussian politician).

Frantisek Miklosko (former Speaker of the Slovak Parliament) holding Pavel Severinets (member of Vitaly Rymashevsky’s campaign team. Released from prison after 3 years. Lives in Minsk, active in politics).

Aliaksej Janukievich (Belarusian politician).

Milan Jezovica (then-Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister) holding Nasta Palazhanka–Dashkevich  (youth activist, released from prison after 2 months. Lives in Minsk and studies political science).

Pavol Demes (civic activist, former Slovak Foreign Minister).

Pavol Demes, civic activist and photographer, former Slovak Foreign Minister, specially for charter97.org