Belarusian political exiles demonstrate in Warsaw calling for an ultimatum to Lukashenka

Belarusian exiles living in Poland demonstrated in front of the European Parliament Liaison Office in the capital city of Warsaw. They demand that Poland and other EU member states sanction the transit of goods coming from Belarus in order to put pressure on the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka to release all political prisoners held in the country’s notorious prison system.
The official number of political prisoners in Belarus is more than 1,400 according to The Human Rights Center “Viasna”. But Dmitry Bolkunets, a Belarusian political scientist living in exile told TVP World’s Agata Dura, that the number actually exceeds 5,000.

“Most political prisoners have families in Belarus,” Bolkunets said and explained they do not want to attract attention to themselves and advertise their loved ones as political prisoners for fear of their own safety and the prisoners in the clutches of the regime.

As he pointed out, the regime has even imprisoned some former presidential candidates. In some cases, there has been no communication with them for as long as a year. The official charges? “Extremism,” a catch-all term Minsk uses against anyone who fails to toe the line.

“I think I’m also an extremist because I have some problem with Belarusian authority,” Bolkunets quipped.

He and other demonstrators believe that there actually exists a simple solution to pressure Lukashenka to stop the repression of dissidents and release political prisoners. All political prisoners, as they stressed.

“The European Union and the Polish government should send an ultimatum to Minsk and threaten to close transit for just a couple of days,” Bolkunets said, explaining that Lukashenka and his family are pocketing huge sums of money for the transit of goods through Belarusian territory. Money that should go to the state coffers.

Aside from Russia to the east, Belarus borders Ukraine, the border with which has effectively been closed since Lukashenka permitted Russian troops to launch an offensive against Kyiv from its territory in February and March 2022, and two European Union member states, Poland and Lithuania, the relations with which have been growing increasingly strenuous over the past years. If the border with EU countries is blocked, Belarus cannot serve as a transit country.

“No way for [Lukashenka] to win this game,” he said.

Furthermore, the current sanctions are not working because it is regular Belarusian people suffering their consequences, and not Lukashenka and his regime.

Bolkunets believes that if Lukashenka thinks he is “the big boss,” but if he can be pressured into releasing the prisoners, in the long run, it can help prevent the conflict between Belarus and Russia on one hand and the European Union on the other escalating into an actual war.

“I believe Putin and Lukashenka will prepare a new war in Europe,” and that preventing that from becoming a reality is a matter of “safety of Poland and the European Union.”

Journalists in prison

Among the numerous political prisoners held by the regime are at least 30 journalists, Ivan, a Belarusian journalist based in Poland, told TVP World. He himself fled his country in the aftermath of the crackdown brought down upon people protesting the fraudulent presidential elections held in the summer of 2020.

The imprisoned include people such as Andrzej Poczobut (Andrei Pachobut), a journalist and activist of the Polish minority in Belarus, as well as Iryna Slaunikava, a TVP journalist previously associated with Belsat, a Belarusian-language media outlet based in Poland and a subsidiary of Poland’s national broadcaster.
But as Ivan stressed, the protesters, all refugees who now live in Europe, demand that the EU close the border with Belarus and demand the release of all Belarusian political prisoners, not just journalists.
“Some of them are ready to close the border and chain themselves to train tracks,” he said “because some European countries continue to trade with the regime.”

He stressed that although it may not be advertised, it is not a secret either, “these are open source information.”

“People suffer while somebody trades with the regime,” Ivan told TVP World.

Ivan does not want to disclose too much about his activities against the regime while in Belarus. Echoing what Bolkunets said about why people prefer not to advertise their and their loved ones' trouble with the regime, he is worried his friends remaining in Belarus might be targeted.

“Nowadays Belarus looks like a prison,” Ivan said.

He said that some people view all Belarusians as complicit with the regime’s support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But they are in fact victims, who suffer. And those who actually are in prison suffer in terrible conditions.

“We know some of them die, they are dying right now,” Ivan said.

March 24 will mark the third anniversary of Pachobut’s imprisonment. To commemorate it and honor all those remaining in Lukashenka’s prisons as well as those who will never leave them alive, an open-air exhibition of paintings by Ales Pushkin, a Belarusian painter who died during his imprisonment in July 2023, will be held in Warsaw’s Konstytucji Square.
Warsaw: Belarusian exiles calling for sanctions on transit from Belarus (tvpworld.com)

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