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Official Russian sources claim U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., driven by “hatred” of the Belarus government, is calling for “the virtual overthrow of the current regime in Belarus.”
A post-Soviet republic in Eastern Europe between Russia and Poland, Belarus has combined with Russia to form the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
U.S. lawmakers as a group are also denounced as dominated by “Cold War inertia” and as lacking “respect … for other countries’ sovereignty,” while claiming the right “to grossly intervene in the internal affairs of Belarus.”
The statements were carried by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.
Moscow’s wrath erupted over Helms’ introduction earlier this month of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2001 (S.1645), which condemns the Belarusian government for substantial human- and political-rights violations, and provides for countermeasures against Minsk.
Moscow charges that the Belarus Democracy Act is another in a series of instances where the U.S. government has “lashed out against” Belarus.
The Belarus Democracy Act refers to America’s “vital interest” in Belarus, and declares as its intention “the strengthening and consolidation of the independence and sovereignty” of that nation.
The blame for Belarus’ political situation is attributed directly to its president, Alexander Lukashenko, an ardent admirer of Josef Stalin and advocate of the re-establishment of the Soviet Union.
Lukashenko is also the president of the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
The Belarus Democracy Act enumerates a series of abuses including a pattern of violent attacks against peaceful demonstrators, systematic suppression of free speech and political opponents, fraudulent elections, and possible involvement in politically inspired murder.
The proposed Senate bill would require a variety of countermeasures, including direct financial aid to the Belarus democratic opposition in the amount of $30 million, denial of entry of Belarus officials into the United States, freezing of Belarus assets and funding for “independent [radio] broadcasting” into Belarus.
The Belarus opposition lauds the Helms proposal. According to a recent report in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, government restrictions are forcing the opposition, as well as what remains of the Belarus independent media, to rely upon support from abroad.
Since Lukashenko’s election in 1994, Western European nations and international organizations have also consistently lamented Belarus’ economic backwardness and condemned the central government’s undemocratic – and sometimes brutal – methods of maintaining power.
Belarus has also been implicated in the sale of weaponry to extremist groups.
Lukashenko continues to bind his nation ever more closely to Russia with military, technological and economic agreements, including the sale of large Belarusian industries to Russia.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin recently stated that his country’s integration into a community of free democratic countries has already become irreversible, and that Russia’s “historical choice” had been made “once and for all,” Moscow continues to support an individual with profoundly pro-Stalinist sympathies.
Lukashenko’s esteem of Stalin extends to the attempt to literally pave over a site believed to contain the remains of some 200,000 bodies of victims of Stalin’s secret police in the 1930s.
A wooded area near the capital Minsk, called Kurapaty, contains a memorial to those buried in the mass grave and was dedicated in 1994 by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton.
The site was first discovered in 1988, and has been a rallying point for opposition groups protesting first the Soviet-era Belarusian government, and later Lukashenko’s regime.
The site was first identified by Zyanon Paznyak, a Belarusian political opposition leader, who was eventually forced to seek asylum in the United States in 1996.
A proposed reconstruction of the Minsk beltway could destroy the site, which was recently attacked by unidentified vandals.
Protests defending the site are forcibly broken up, with participants often jailed or fined.