An important letter with an important message

A letter written by Dr. Stanislau Shushkevich to Mauricio Claver-Carone at Capitol Hill Cubans:

Dear Mr. Claver-Carone,

On behalf of the democratic forces of Belarus, my wife Irina and I would like to thank you not only for your valuable time, but especially for your ongoing efforts to bring democracy back to your ancestral land of Cuba, and give a voice to the rest of us attempting the same in our own long-suffering countries.

As you know, Belarus was once a new and struggling, but nonetheless free country. We achieved the total, unilateral and unconditional surrender of our Soviet nuclear arsenal (81 strategic warheads); had excellent relations with all nations, including Russia and the United States; full press, assembly and religious freedoms; and potential for development.

Those of us who strive daily to return to core European values are confident that the days of the current regime are numbered. We are indebted to our friends in the Western democracies who share this faith, and act to accelerate the inevitable and prepare Belarus for a new chance.

Winston Churchill once quipped that “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”

I disagree. As we discussed, the United States of America has been steadfast and unwavering since 1996 in “calling a spade a spade.” Several waves of sanctions did fulfill their mission of targeting the Lukashenka regime and its allies. The European Union, after a long bout of appeasement, is coming around to the American position and likewise applying sanctions on the regime while carefully avoiding hurting the people. Especially heartening is a contact core group formed by Poland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Germany, among others.

The Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 and then 2011 was an important step. To make this Law a reality, some steps need to be elaborated further. Namely:

1) Financing Belsat television as directly as possible. I mentioned while in Washington that Belsat is a “godsend.” Even if it reaches only 15% of television viewers for now, it is the most popular independent broadcaster, according to U.S.- and EU- sponsored surveys. As the regime controls most mass media, Belsat provides what my friend the late Václav Havel called “speaking the truth to power.” Though initiator of the project, Poland lacks the funds to scale up Belsat to the next logical level of mass appeal and distribution. Being in media yourself, I don’t need to convince you of the worthiness of the likes of Radio Martí, TV Martí, Radio República and your “From Washington al Mundo” show in hammering away at the wall of lies imposed by dictatorships.

2) Pressure Russia directly on Belarus. Though this is difficult for Congress to achieve, the U.S. administration would be remiss not to notice the lifeline to the Lukashenka regime runs through Moscow. Though Lukashenka has been crafty playing both Moscow and the West against each other, U.S. and EU policy could narrow the margin of maneuver for the regime by putting Belarusian democracy also on the list of priorities with the Kremlin. Neither our country nor our democratic forces are nor have been antagonistic to Russia.

3) Pressing the International Ice Hockey Federation to move its 2014 World Championship from Minsk to a free country. Because Lukashenka and his regime have been touting this as a personal victory, and because symbolism matters in politics, the U.S. has done a great service by reminding both the IIHF and its sponsors that sport should not be a source of propaganda by a regime desperate for legitimacy.

4) Making it easier for young Belarusians to travel to the U.S. and EU. While Russia has no visa control for Belarusians, the onerous and expensive (one-fourth the average monthly income) procedures to obtain a visa sends the signal the West is not serious about eventually including Belarus into its family of nations.

These steps that simultaneously strengthen civil society while weakening the regime’s grip will accelerate our liberation and make it more durable this time.

Once again, please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your solidarity with a free Belarus, and I look forward to one day soon celebrating with you in Minsk and Havana the peaceful end of these dictatorships.

Dr. Stanislau Shushkevich
Truman-Reagan Award Recipient, 2012
Social-Democratic Assembly Party
Head of State of Belarus, 1991-1994