As the Belarus crisis continues to escalate a year after the country’s rigged election, Belarusian Canadians will rally on August 8 in support of the democratic movement in Belarus. Belarusian Canadian Alliance (BCA) asks Canadian officials to respond to this crisis with new measures to bring Belarusians targeted by the regime to Canada through preferential emigration, work and study programs.
“Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarus Olympian who made international headlines last weekend, brought to the spotlight the feelings many experience in Belarus,” says Alena Liavonchanka, head of the Belarusian Canadian Alliance, a non–profit organization that represents Canada’s Belarusian diaspora. “There’s a deep fear that no one can be safe at home or even abroad, that any dissent, any form of criticism of the regime can lead to imprisonment. For example, faculty and students who participated in the protests not only lose their jobs and academic careers, but are forced to leave the country for the fear of going to jail.”
As the regime’s repressive machine continues to scale up, Belarusian Canadians ask Canada to create specific programs to assist Belarusians facing state persecution in relocating to safe destinations. While Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine have become the main safe havens for Belarusians fleeing persecution, Canada should open up more doors for them.
“Belarusians who’ve chosen to come to Canada over the decades demonstrated a strong track record of becoming productive members of our society, contributing strongly to Canada’s economy and rich cultural diversity,” says Liavonchanka. Programs to bring the victims of repression to Canada should include special work, study and humanitarian visa arrangements, according to BCA.
Over the past year, Belarusian Canadian Alliance has continuously advocated on behalf of Belarusians repressed by the dictatorship. Speaking with the Canadian Parliamentarians for Democracy in Belarus, a newly formed parliamentary group led by the Members of Parliament James Bezan and Yvan Baker, BCA leaders updated them on the urgent situations where the regime’s political opponents and their families require urgent support.
In addition, Belarusian Canadians working in close collaboration with the leaders of the Belarusian democratic forces across the world call on Canada and the rest of the international community to launch tougher economic sanctions against the regime.
Violence inside the country and the violations of international norms outside its borders exemplified by a recent hijack of a Ryanair flight to arrest a dissident journalist aboard or kidnapping an Olympic athlete in Tokyo require fast coordinated action from the world proportionate to the threat. We applaud Canada for initiating earlier sanctions against Belarusian officials implicated in the violations of human rights and we also ask Canadians to supplement these measures with broader sectorial sanctions targeting specific industries that fund the dictatorship. Such industries include potash, petrochemicals, steel, wood products, banking and tobacco, among others.
The Background of the Crackdown
August 9 marks a year of protests in Belarus that rocked a Central European nation of 9.4 million since the August 2020 presidential election rigged in favor of Alyaksandr Lukashenka ruling the country since 1994. Lukashenka’s government responded with a massive crackdown on any form of dissent, and human rights atrocities became a systematic practice as the regime continues to step up the intimidation and violent repression of Belarusians.
Over the past year, leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country. More than 35,000 people have been arrested, with thousands beaten by police and 562 currently held as political prisoners. A recent “mopping–up operation” against civil society, following a sweeping crackdown on independent media, led to the closure of dozens of non–governmental organizations, from those campaigning for political prisoners’ rights to the organizations helping medics in the fight against coronavirus. July alone saw more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists.
Despite these massive challenges, Belarusians continue to spearhead a pro–democracy movement that may shape the future of the region, and Canadian support is critical during this transformative time.
About the Belarusian Canadian Alliance
The Belarusian Canadian Alliance has represented the Belarusian community in Canada since 1948. Throughout these years, it has built close relationships with many other Eastern European diaspora organizations in Canada, as well as the Coordination Council of Belarus led by the President–Elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The organization has repeatedly called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all illegally detained Belarusians and political prisoners, fully investigate all violations of human rights and run a fair and transparent election.