How a community got DC to pay attention to Belarus amidst a pandemic and an election

Show me what Democracy looks like!

The Belarusian people have been fighting for their lives. Below, we honor the brave actions of the Belarusian people by displaying a ribbon for each of the 8,022+ people who have been either killed or arrested for fighting for democracy in Belarus.

The Belarusian people cannot and will not be left to stand alone. A community of American activists that includes Belarusians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles, Georgians, other Eastern Europeans, other American allies, and US government officials has been standing firm with the Belarusian people.

This is that community’s story of how we are standing by our brave sisters and brothers. Recently, we got two big wins: 1) A written promise from the Biden administration to support Belarus and 2) The House passed a bill to support Belarus. Neither win was guaranteed, and it took boots on the ground to talk to both the Biden campaign and Congress to make it happen.

 While this is not an all-encompassing timeline and doesn’t represent meetings, calls, conversations, and other actions taken by activists, we hope it can provide you some inspiration that when we get involved as a community – powerful voices will listen, even during a pandemic and an election.

The need for legislation from Congress builds

August 9 – Elections are held where Lukashenka is awarded 80.23% of the vote. 3,000 people are arrested in immediate demonstrations.

August 10 – Lukashenka declares himself the winner of Belarusian elections. His main opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, rejects the results.

August 11 – Tsikhanouskaya flees to Lithuania.

August 12 – Rally held in DC in support of Belarusian protesters.

August 12 rally in D.C.

August 17 – Strikes are organized across Belarus.

August 19 – EU refuses to acknowledge the result of the election. Here on Baltivist.com, we publish “Forgive me Belarus, I’m now ready to call for your freedom

August 23 – “Baltic Way/Freedom Way” human chains are organized in cities across the world, including between the Lithuanian and Belarusian embassies in Washington, D.C.

Baltic Way Freedom Way held in Washington, D.C.

September 10 – Ambassadors and diplomats visit the home of Svetlana Alexievitch in Minsk to prevent her arrest.

September 23 – Lukashenka is “sworn in”.

Congress introduces legislation

September 29Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act (H.R. 8438) is introduced by Representatives Engel (D-NY), McCaul (R-TX), Kaptur (D-OH & House Baltic Caucus Member), and Keating (D-MA & House Baltic Caucus Member).

October 1Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act (H.R. 8438) passes the Foreign Relations Committee.

October 2 – The European Union adopted sanctions against 40 Belarusians in response to the falsification of the country’s presidential election. The US expands its existing sanctions from 16 people to 24 people.

October 9 – A joint campaign between the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and Baltivist calls for Speaker Pelosi’s constituents to call Speaker Pelosi to bring H.R. 8438 for a vote.

October 10 – Women’s rally to support Belarusian protesters in Washington, D.C.

October 10th Women's Rally. Photo credit: Nadia Vauleva

October 21 – EU Parliament refuses to recognize Lukashenko as President of Belarus by a 602-44 vote.

October 22 – The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), a coalition of 18 national membership-based organizations representing Americans of central & eastern European descent, calls for the United States to “support the call for Lukashenka to resign, continue to condemn the use of force against peaceful protestors by security forces, and call for the immediate release of those who have been wrongly imprisoned.”

October 27 – The Biden Presidential Campaign officially responds to a questionnaire submitted by the CEEC and publicly reaffirms its position on Belarus. 

“As President, I will defend our values and stand with all those who share them. I stand with the people of Belarus, who are courageously demanding their democratic rights and freedoms, and I reiterate my call for Alexander Lukashenka to cease his regime’s violent repression of peaceful protesters, organize new elections open to international observers and free media, and release all political prisoners.

My administration will never shy away from standing up for democracy and human rights, and we will work with our allies and partners to speak with one voice in demanding these rights be respected. I support the expansion of U.S. sanctions on Belarusian officials and entities, in coordination with the EU and other like-minded countries, to pressure Lukashenka and his cronies to respect and honor the will of the Belarusian people. My administration will also engage with Belarusian democracy activists and expand existing support to independent media and civil society organizations working to create a more open and just Belarusian society.”

The CEEC also submitted the questionnaire to the Trump Presidential Campaign, who did not respond.

The House passes legislation

November 18 – Speaker Pelosi brings H.R. 8438 to a vote, and the House passes Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act. 9 of the 15 cosponsors are members of the House Baltic Caucus.

As of November 23, 2020 – H.R. 8438 now awaits consideration in the Senate.

That is what democracy looks like.

The previous text was published November 23, 2020. The following was added later:

The community of activists will continue to fight for the Belarusian people. We remember those arrested and those killed fighting for democracy and freedom, each represented with a ribbon below.

Call your Senator  today to ask them to support the Belarus Democracy Act, HR 8438. (202) 224-3121

To help support Baltic activism, donate to our friends from the Joint Baltic American National Committee at JBANC.org.

To join the community of  Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, and allied activists making a real impact on Congress, sign up for your $25 annual membership to Baltivist.com.

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