On March 26, Stanislaw Shushkevich, the former president of Belarus, made a difficult trip to the U.S. in order to speak about the difficult human rights situation in his country.
His itinerary included a presentation at The Heritage Foundation’s Pennsylvania Avenue office. Lee Edwards, Heritage Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought and chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, awarded Shushkevich the prestigious Truman–Reagan Medal of Freedom.
Shushkevich is a scientist with a Ph.D. in Physics. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he was the first head of state and chairman of the Belarus Supreme Soviet from 1991 to 1994.
In December 1991, he signed the historic Belovezha Accords with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine—Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk, respectively—which officially dissolved the Soviet Union and replaced it with the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In 1994, communist deputies of the Belarus Supreme Soviet forced him out of office following a vote of no confidence due to spurious corruption allegations by Alexander Lukashenko, the current president of Belarus. He has since tirelessly campaigned for democratic reforms as head of the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly party.
After a warm introduction by Heritage Senior Research Fellow Ariel Cohen, Shushkevich spoke passionately about the sorry state of his country. He remarked that in Belarus the constitution is ignored, while the legislature and the judiciary hold no power. It is a “phone call autocracy” where authority rests in solely the hands of Lukashenko.
Belarusian authorities even denied the former head of state freedom of travel without warning on this trip to the U.S. in direct violation of Article 30 of the Belarusian constitution, and he had to travel through Lithuania to reach the U.S.
In Shushkevich’s opinion, the biggest problem is that large parts of the Belarusian and Russian populations support the autocracies of Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin. This is because they are denied a free flow of information and are unable to understand their predicaments. The goal of these regimes is to create a people that believe they need the overwhelmingly strong government to provide for their needs.
He described Belarus as a miniature Soviet Union, the major difference being that the Belarusian government doesn’t even pander to the love of the people.
Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe, and it survives on Russia’s geopolitical whim. Shushkevich described Moscow’s—and particularly Putin’s—plan for a Eurasian Union as the rebuilding of an empire: “back to the USSR.” The Kremlin is bent on regional domination, and sustaining the Lukashenko regime is in Russia’s interest.
The Obama Administration has chosen the “reset” policy for its relationship with Moscow. “Reset” is a substitute word for appeasement, and Putin’s return to the Russian presidency will make it difficult for the Administration to even pretend that it is dealing with a regime that would return its goodwill.
In a June 2011 Issue Brief on the Obama reset policy, Cohen wrote,
In order to reaffirm America’s interests, when dealing with Russia, the U.S. should concentrate on the values of freedom and justice. The Administration needs to stop its policy of “pleasing Moscow” and instead add pressure on Russia to start a “reset” of its own policies that currently disregard human rights, democracy, and good governance.
In his concluding remarks, Shushkevich thanked The Heritage Foundation “for noticing our existence beyond the Iron Curtain.”