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IRI Eurasia Director Testifies on the Struggle for Democracy in Belarus

March 9, 2006

Washington, DC – Stephen B. Nix, Regional Program Director for Eurasia at IRI, testified today before the United States Helsinki Commission, chaired by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). Nix's testimony highlighted the work of pro-democratic activists in Belarus to bring change to their country and the need for US and European support for those activists.

The situation in Belarus is dire, but the beacon of hope in Belarus is shining.

Nix testified, "The situation in Belarus is dire, but the beacon of hope in Belarus is shining.  In the midst of repeated human rights violations and continual repression of freedoms, a coalition of pro-democratic activists has emerged and united to offer a voice for the oppressed…It is vitally important that the United States and Europe remain committed to their support of this democratic coalition; not only in the run up to the election, but post-election as well."

Nix went on to discuss achievements of the democratic opposition in the face of increasing government repression.  Nix cited the formation and growth of the People's Coalition Five Plus, now called the Unified Democratic Forces and their process to elect a single candidate to represent all pro-democratic forces in the upcoming presidential election.  Nix highlighted the series of local caucuses followed by the National Democratic Congress held in Minsk where a single candidate, Aleksander Milinkevich, was chosen to run against President Alexander Lukashenko for president of Belarus and the successful certification of Milinkevich to run in the election.

The government, increasingly fearful of democratic change, has responded.  Only two pro-democratic representatives were named to voting precinct commissions out of 74,104 members nationwide.  A law was passed prohibiting foreign nongovernmental assistance in "preparing and conducting elections and referenda, recalling deputies and members of the Council of the Republic, staging gatherings, rallies, street marches, demonstrations, picketing, strikes, producing and distributing campaign materials and for other forms of mass politicking among the population."  Government control and monitoring of political parties has increased.  The government-controlled National Academy of Science of Belarus took over the organizing and monitoring of all opinion polls taken in Belarus.

Despite this crackdown democratic activists continue their struggle.  As Milinkevich recently said to The New York Times, "We go into these elections not because we believe in their fairness, but because this is a chance to go to the people…when they see others who are not afraid, who dare to tell the truth, they will start to have more courage."