IRI Hosts Freed Belarusian Political Prisoner Alyaksandr Kazulin

The International Republican Institute hosted Alyaksandr Kazulin, former political prisoner and presidential candidate, for a discussion on the political situation in Belarus.  During his remarks Kazulin discussed the upcoming parliamentary elections, the rule of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, and the role of the United States and the European Union in Belarus.

As Belarusians prepare to head to the polls on September 28, 2008, to elect a new parliament, Kazulin expressed his concern over the inability of opposition candidates to compete fairly, including his daughter Olga Kazulin.  “It is obvious today that the results of the parliamentary elections are known now…. However, there are still a number of people going to participate in the race until the bitter end.  They are doing it to show the international community in the most bright and vivid terms the fact that the elections will be falsified.”

When asked about his release and the release of two other political prisoners, Kazulin pointed out that their release was a negotiating tactic of Lukashenko’s.  He highlighted that the ability to arrest and imprison people for political actions still exists in Belarus and that while he was grateful to be free he urged the international community to pressure the regime to change the law rather than just release prisoners.

Kazulin thanked the U.S. for pressuring the Belarusian regime to free him and recognized the sacrifice of this wife Irina who passed away on February 23, 2008 after a battle with cancer.  “She had to sacrifice her own life for my freedom.  She had to sacrifice for the freedom and independence of my country.”

Kazulin is one of the most prominent activists in Belarus.  As leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (“Gramada”) he ran for president of Belarus in 2006.  Several weeks before the election, on March 2, 2006, Kazulin was beaten and detained by police after attempting to enter the All Belarusian People’s Assembly.  On March 25, Kazulin was beaten and arrested during a peaceful demonstration protesting the fraudulent presidential election.

On July 13, 2006, Kazulin was sentenced to five and a half years in prison on official charges of hooliganism and inciting mass disorder for his role in the March events.  Internationally, he was recognized as a prisoner of conscience.  On August 16, 2008, he was granted early release.

Kazulin holds a PhD in mathematics and pedagogy.  He served as rector of the Belarusian State University from 1996 to 2003 and as a government minister under Aleksandr Lukashenko.  He has two daughters and a grandson.  His wife, Irina, passed away on February 23, 2008. 

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