The website Charter97.org has presented the National Human Rights Award.
On January 31, Charter97.org news website conducted the presenting ceremony of the National Human Rights Award named after Viktar Ivashkevich in Warsaw.
"It has been over 20 years since we awarded this prize to the people who, sacrificing themselves, are fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights in Belarus. I am deeply convinced that this fight will end in victory, and we will finally be able to live in a free country," says Editor-in-Chief of the Charter97.org Natallia Radzina.
In 2019, Charter’97 gave the National Human Rights Award to five people and one organization.
"We saw the future Belarus in Vilnius"
The public association "Belarusian National Memory", which acted as one of the organizers of the solemn reburial of the remains of Kastus Kalinouski and his allies-rebels in Vilnius, became the first laureate.
"Thousands of Belarusians, under the white-red-white flags, participated in the solemn ceremony, thus having shown the entire world the strength of our nation, and our longing for independence and freedom. This became one of the most inspiring events in 2019. In Vilnius, we saw the image of the country, which Belarus should be, and certainly will be," Natallia Radzina said.
The public association "Belarusian National Memory" received the award for many years of activity on preservation of the historical memory of Belarusians. Anatol Mikhnavets, the leader of the organization, received the award from the hands of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Poland, Professor at the Warsaw University, one of the supervisors of the Kastus Kalinouski program Wiktor Ross.
-This is a great honour for me to be the first to present this award to the organization "Belarusian National Memory", represented today by Anatol Mikhnavets. We know each other very well, he even used to be my student. I would like to stress that this organization plays a very significant role in the preservation of the national memory of Belarusians, which makes a great contribution to the struggle for democratization.
Last year, the solemn ceremony of reburial of Kastus Kalinouski and his fellow rebels,comrades in arms, was carried out in Vilnius. During the rebellion of 1863, Belarusians and Poles fought for freedom together. Sadly, Kalinouski and his rebels were captured by tsar’s soldiers and executed. However, we see that the very spirit of cooperation between the Polish and Belarusian democrats still lives. And the "Belarusian National Memory" remains very important in terms of preserving these traditions. As I am representing Poland today, I would like to thank Belarusians for their work," Wiktor Ross said.
Accepting the award, Anatol Mikhnavets said the following:
-Thank you for this award, thank you, Charter’97, thank you, Natallia, dear friends, for letting me stand here on this spot. Thousands of Belarusians have proved that the succession of generations exists, and it will not be interrupted. Belarusians came to Vilnius to pay tribute to their national hero. No matter what the authorities say - we see that our people did not succumb, that there is free Belarus ahead of us, we saw this Belarus on the screen today. Reading the “Letters from under the Gallows” or “Rustic Truth”, written by Kastus Kalinouski, we see that they are still relevant. The password of the rebels is also relevant: “Who do you love? - I love Belarus! - This is mutual!”. This is exactly why I believe in our people. The frames we saw confirm that changes are coming. And the miracle that happened in Vilnius, when everyone knew that Kalinouski was on the mountain, but no one even dreamed about the reburial ceremony - it did happen. I wish our people strength, and 2020 will become the year of changes. Thank you, everyone! Long Live Belarus!
"2020 will be a decisive year for Belarus in many aspects"
Activist of the European Belarus civil campaign Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk became the next laureate of the National Human Rights Award. She was one of the strongest and brightest participants of the "parliamentary campaign" of 2019. Her pickets were the most massive in Brest, and brought together many adherents of changes, while her bold speech on the Belarusian Television, when she voiced the demand of Lukashenka’s resignation, became a real sensation, and made it to the top discussions on the independent websites and social media. As a protest against the falsification of the "election" results, Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk burnt her "deputy" certificate in one of the central squares in Minsk, having declared her intention to seek conducting free elections in Belarus. The European Belarus activist received the award for upholding the right to fair elections in the nomination “For Personal Courage”.
President of the Polish International Solidarity Foundation Rafał Dzięciołowski presented the award to Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk.
- First, my sincere admiration of Palina’s bravery and dedication. The International Solidarity Foundation observed this "election", and we share your opinion that it was everything but not election.
Secondly, I would like to stress that our presence here is the confirmation of the classical concept of solidarity, which was born in the Gdansk shipyard in 1980. This means that everywhere where the struggle for freedom is going on, where there are those persecuted and beaten, we, the Poles, must stand near to give a helpful hand. And I am convinced that we will be there.
Thirdly, I would like to sincerely thank Palina for the decisiveness which is not only the confirmation of the strength of her character, but the truthfulness of her political program, and the declaration that Palina is returning moral principles to the world. I cordially congratulate her on this, and thank her at the same time," Rafał Dzięciołowski said.
Accepting the award, Palina Sharenda-Panasyuk said:
- I also want to thank everyone for this award: Natallia Radzina, the editor's office of the Charter'97. I want to thank my husband Andrei as well, as we took part in this campaign together. To some extent, this is his award, too.
I want to greet all those present - the people whom I have known for many years, and new people, new faces who have emerged in the Belarusian politics. This indicates that Belarus is awakening after the hibernation of the last decade.
We conducted a vibrant, powerful campaign in the autumn of 2019. With this campaign, we broke the scenario of the regime. And this campaign woke people up, prompted the society to action.
People united around the truth. We saw this in Vilnius during the reburial ceremony of Kastus Kalinouski and his brothers-in-arms. We saw this when people very boldly and decisively opposed falsifications. This was shown by the actions in defense of independence. 2020 will indeed be decisive for Belarus in many aspects.
We, Belarusians, are a European nation. We are worthy of having our own democratic independent country. We deserve to be free. Long Live Belarus!
I would also like to thank the representatives of the Polish side. Poland was and is for us an example of a successful struggle for independence, an example of a positive effect which the protection of native language and culture gives.
For centuries, our ancestors fought together for these values. And now I would very much like to thank Poland for this. Thanks to the Polish side, we can safely gather here and present these awards. I really hope that Poland will continue to support Belarus, support our independence and freedom. For our and your freedom!
"The case of Lukashenka’s crimes has reached the international level"
The next winners were the Deutsche Welle reporters Natallia Makushyna, Uladzimir Dorakhau, and Katsiaryna Sotnik - the authors of the sensational interview with ex-fighter of the Belarusian SOBR Yuri Garavski.
“These testimonies about the involvement of Lukashenka and his entourage in the abductions and killings of opposition leaders shocked Belarus and the entire world. New and detailed evidence of the terrible crimes of the dictatorial regime was added to the previously known facts, which became the basis for an international investigation, ” said Natallia Radzina.
Journalists of the Deutsche Welle were awarded for upholding the right to freedom of speech and obtaining socially important information. Natallia Makushyna came from Bonn to receive a prize for herself and for her colleagues, and Zbigniew Gluza, the head of the famous Polish publishing house KARTA, presented the award to the journalist.
- Good evening everyone. What the Deutsche Welle reporters did is one of the most important public accomplishments that opposes dictatorships. The testimonies of Yuri Garavski, and the acceptance of the credibility of these testimonies, is a very important act. This is a unique situation.
In communist and post-communist regimes, people die without a trace, and often there is no chance to investigate. And what happened testifies that it could be otherwise. This is an absolute basic value.
I am happy that this award is presented in Poland, because we do not have good experience in this direction. The fact that the killers of priest Jerzy Popieluszko were uncovered is a matter of chance.
As a documentation center, we appealed to officials and security officials of the communist regime in Poland to confess, to tell us about what they did. We said that they would not be persecuted, it is important for us to understand this process. Nobody turned to us.
The fact that this person, Yuri Garavski, agreed, is essential. And the important thing is that his testimony is so strong, and it was possible to show it to the public. This is a big step, and a big warning for dictators, including Lukashenka,” Zbigniew Gluza said.
Accepting the award, Natallia Makushyna said:
- The hardest thing is to speak in front of you now. This is worse than sitting next to the person who confessed of having committed the murder. I must say many thanks to my fellow journalists who drew attention to this case.
I am also grateful to Poland for the fact that this case was covered internationally, for recognizing our work as a reminder that even after years we can deal with the crimes committed by the Lukashenka regime.
One of the important results of the investigation of the Deutsche Welle team was that three criminal cases were resumed regarding the disappearance of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, former Central Election Commission head Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski, a businessman who supported the opposition.
There is a hope that dies last, that maybe something will move from the dead spot in Belarus.
However, I must tell you that we are already now being insolently deceived. Because the fourth case, regarding the disappearance of our fellow journalist Dzmitry Zavadzki, has not been resumed. And they did not renew it on the simple basis that the case was allegedly "completed". Sviatlana Zavadzkaya has now filed a complaint demanding the continuation of this case, because few people know that two criminal cases were opened. One, indeed, was completed and the court allegedly found those who were involved in the abduction of Zavadzki, but no one knows who decided on his life further on. This first refusal to institute proceedings regarding the transfer of Zavadzki to unidentified persons suggests that the investigation lasted for 20 years, and nothing was found.
Therefore, my personal opinion is that politicians in Europe should keep this case under control. If possible, create a commission in the European Parliament as part of the committee on relations with Belarus to control how this case is being investigated domestically. You can also create a commission at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, at the UN - that is, there are many organizations that can somehow monitor what is happening in our country.
For 20 years we have been fooled - and now there is a man who so far acts as a witness, and there is a reason to say that the cases should be resumed. An impartial investigation must be conducted, otherwise it will all remain unchanged.
My colleagues are forced to work here in Poland, instead of working in the field of journalism in my native country, I have also been practically expelled. As for those journalists who work in Belarus, you know better than anyone how the authorities torment them.
Therefore, I am very glad that this case has reached an international level. I am happy that the Deutsche Welle was engaged in this, as we consider it our mission to work with independent information in those countries where this is impossible. And, my deepest gratitude to the Poles. By the way, I remember watching the case of priest Popieluszko when it was being investigated. We sat embracing the Riga radio receiver and listening, and were very worried about what would happen next - and now we found ourselves in the same situation.
"The next prize will be awarded where it should be - in Minsk, Belarus"
The next winner was Hanna Tolchykava. Her emotional video instantly went viral on the Internet. The young IT pro was an observer in the so-called "parliamentary election" in Belarus, and recorded an impudent falsification of the turnout, and rigging of the voting results.
Hanna Tolchykava received the award for upholding the right to fair and free elections in the nomination "For Personal Courage."
The prize was awarded to Hanna by former candidate for president of Belarus, leader of the European Belarus civil campaign Andrei Sannikov.
- I am happy to have the honor to congratulate the participant of the 2010 Square on the award. Honestly, I am not very good at observing. And to be completely honest, I feel bad about it. What does observation mean in Belarus, and why do people go there, why do our friends from the democratic movement support observation? Because it is safe.
- Will you be in the Square?”
- No, because I will observe.
- Will you go to a protest today?
- No, we need to observe.
I have nothing against observation in principle, but what can be observed in the 26th year of the dictatorship? And this applies not only to our observers, but also to international ones. I talk with them and ask: is it possible to somehow organize this process? For example, in 2000 we organized the observation ourselves, and simply physically counted those who came to the voting stations. Then we immediately held a press conference and said that the election at the voting station did not take place. Then, even the CEC confirmed this.
I remember the example of the status observer Uta Zapf, who headed the OSCE working group on Belarus for many years. She always said that the West needed to talk with Lukashenka, that there was no need for isolation, that it was necessary to observe the "elections", although there were none ... And once, during this observation, physical force was used against her, and she was pushed out of the voting station. This meeting with the asphalt opened her eyes. When she was leaving her post, she said: "I failed in Belarus." They could not do anything with the falsifications that take place in Belarus.
People still contact me saying that in 2010, the opposition won at the voting stations where they were observers. Lukashenka then did not gain the number of votes that would allow him to take his post.
But this does not refer to Hanna Tolchykava. If there were at least ten such observers who reacted so emotionally, if they called on journalists to listen to them, then perhaps the situation would be different. Maybe then we would get out of prisons not after several years, but in a few days.
I sincerely congratulate Hanna. No wonder I started with the fact that she is a participant in the 2010 Square. Thank you very much for retaining the emotion that was then in the Square. Here is my personal gratitude. I wish you success and all the best! - said Andrei Sannikov.
Hanna Tolchykava, accepting the award, noted the following:
- I was a little shocked to find out it was you who would hand me the award. All my thoughts scattered.
In fact, I could not have imagined that my simple (for myself) actions would so much resonate in the minds of thousands of Belarusians, and bring me here. That these actions will be recognized by the "elders", the people of the first magnitude in the political sphere. The people who have been fighting for the freedom of our country for many years, who sacrificed so much for this. For me, it is like meeting a Hollywood star. This is how I feel. Thank you for your recognition, and your work.
I still have pain for my country, for Belarusians ... And it hurts me that at the time when we are supposedly independent, people remain under pressure. Since childhood I have heard phrases like: "Be quiet, be silent there." Why should I be silent if I am telling the truth, if I uphold my civil rights? I will not be silent, and it will cease to hurt at the moment when fair elections are held in Belarus. I am sure that this must happen in 2020. Therefore, I wish that next year, your awarding ceremony will be held where it should be - in Minsk, Belarus.