Democracy Movement in Belarus Deserves America’s Support

COMMENTARY Europe

Democracy Movement in Belarus Deserves America’s Support

Jul 27th, 2021 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Anthony B. Kim

Research Manager and Editor of the Index of Economic Freedom

Anthony B. Kim researches international economic issues at The Heritage Foundation, with a focus on economic freedom and free trade.
Belarus Opposition Leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks at a news conference on the continuing unrest in Belarus at the National Press Club on July 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited Washington last week and conveyed an unambiguous message; namely, that “it’s high time for democratic countries to unite and show their teeth.”

In remarks at the Victims of Communism Memorial, Tsikhanouskaya explained:

This memorial … in no small part is dedicated to Belarusians. …

Indeed, Belarusians found themselves captured in an autocratic cage. This cage is partially a legacy of communism. But the [regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko] only made its walls stronger.

Tsikhanouskaya has become the face of the democratic movement as an opposition leader in Belarus over the past year. She did not intend for that to happen, but only decided to run for Belarusian president after her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanousky, was disqualified from doing so after being arrested for organizing pro-democracy protests.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994 and has been dubbed by some as the last dictator in Europe, has brutally cracked down on the protesters, with an increasing number of Belarusians suffering from arrests and beatings in response to their peaceful protests.

According to the latest Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the State Department:

Belarus is an authoritarian state. Citizens were unable to choose their government through free and fair elections.

Since 1994, [Lukashenko] has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. …

Authorities at all levels generally operated with impunity and always failed to take steps to prosecute or punish officials in the government or security forces who committed human rights abuses.

Concerning Belarus’ economic governance, The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom reports that Belarus is ranked 43rd among 45 countries in the Europe region, with its overall score below the regional and world averages.

The index further notes that courts are subservient to the president, who appoints Supreme Court justices with the approval of the rubber-stamp parliament. The state controls more than 70% of the economy, feeding widespread corruption, exacerbated by a severe lack of transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately, the suffering of the Belarusian people inflicted by the brutal, freedom-defying tyranny does not appear to be ending anytime soon.

The United States cannot overlook Belarusians, who have been risking their lives for freedom. Ensuring U.S. solidarity with the pro-democracy movement and support for the people of Belarus matter more than ever.

As Heritage Foundation analyst Alexis Mrachek recently noted, a strong case can be made that it is in America’s foreign policy interest to work closely with Europe, and especially with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, to promote freedom in Belarus.

Given that these like-minded and willing allies of the U.S. border on Belarus and know the country best, strategizing with them about what practical course of action to take regarding the future of Belarus would be desirable.

In that vein, it’s also welcome and encouraging to see that four members of Congress—Democrats Bill Keating of Massachusetts and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, and Republicans Chris Smith of New Jersey and Joe Wilson of South Carolina—this month launched a bipartisan caucus of “Friends of Belarus” in the House of Representatives to send “a message to the world that the U.S. supports those who strive for freedom facing oppression.”

Smith, who authored the bill for democracy and human rights in Belarus passed by Congress in 2020, highlighted that “we support the courageous people of Belarus, who deserve true democracy and are fighting against Europe’s last dictator … and his accomplice, Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

Indeed, now’s the time for the U.S. to stand firmly with the Belarusian people who aspire for freedom and democracy.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal