West should support Belarus after Lukashenka is gone, says David Kramer
The West should prepare a package of economic and political assistance to support Belarus after Alyaksandr Lukashenka is gone, David Kramer, a former US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor who is now executive director of Freedom House, said in the US House of Representatives on July 26.
"Alyaksandr Lukashenka is unquestionably on the thinnest ice of his political life, and we may be celebrating his departure from power – hopefully, sooner rather than later," said Mr. Kramer while giving testimony before the Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia of the US House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.
"Just as Egypt and Tunisia never had the possibility of becoming democratic as long as Mubarak and Ben Ali ruled those countries, Belarus has no democratic future as long as Lukashenka remains in power," he said. "Since the December 2010 presidential election, when tens of thousands protested Lukashenka’s rigged reelection and hundreds were beaten up and arrested, including a number of presidential candidates, protests have been occurring on a regular basis."
Mr. Kramer said that the Belarusian leader was under growing domestic and international pressure because of his "gross human rights abuses and responsibility for his country’s worst economic crisis since gaining independence 20 years ago." "The hardships Belarusians are now experiencing are leading many of them to take to the streets in protest, despite risk of injury and imprisonment," he said. "This growing dissent and empowerment of the people around the country, not just in Minsk, reflects that Belarusians have decided not to be intimidated by fear any longer."
He said that this resulted into a serious decline in Mr. Lukashenka’s support, which he noted had recently dropped below 30 percent for the first time since he came to power in 1994.
"With the economy in freefall, Lukashenka is desperately pinning his hopes on an International Monetary Fund bailout after an IMF delegation visited Belarus last month. Both the EU and US should also make clear that they will not support any loans to Belarus from the IMF until political prisoners are released unconditionally, at a minimum," Mr. Kramer warned.
"For the United States and Europe, the outcome in Belarus matters greatly," he stressed. "A brutal dictatorship on the doorstep of the EU is unacceptable and contrary to the decades-long vision of a Europe as ‘whole, free, and at peace.’ Should Lukashenka attempt to extend his rule by selling the country’s valuable economic assets to Moscow, he would weaken Belarus’ independence and stability. That is why, while ratcheting up pressure against the regime, the West also needs to prepare a package of economic and political assistance should Lukashenka flee or be removed from power one way or another."
"Those around Lukashenka need to know that a brighter future lies ahead after Lukashenka is gone," he added.