Honorable Senators, Dear Friends,
I would like to express my deep gratitude to the organizers of this event, dedicated to the European future of Belarus.
Blessed with an excellent geopolitical situation, at the crossroads of Europe, Belarus has not had a chance as yet to benefit from this advantage. On the contrary, it has made our country one of the most coveted, and thus vulnerable places in Europe. Innumerable wars have been fought by strangers on our land, our people have been decimated over and over again. And for a long time, we had no friends to defend our cause. We were the best kept secret in Europe.
The Soviet system has left our long suffering, Chernobyl stricken people, with one single concern – their physical survival. The instinct of survival has evolved in Belarus to a degree unknown to many nations. Thanks to their survival skills, the Belarusian people continue to exist, but are hesitant to assert themselves in the face of the challenges they endure in daily life, and the dangers they face under a government that violently discourages freedom of speech. This may be why the development of democratic values in Belarus, though present, seems at times stalled.
However, our young generations admire Western values and long to become part of this so much admired European family of nations. And Belarusian intelligentsia, who has always looked to the West, is ready to defend their European heritage. Historically, Belarus is much connected to Prague itself. I would like to mention Dr. Francisak Skaryna, who printed the first Belarusian Bible in Prague, and returned to your lovely land to spend here the last years of his life. More recently, the Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic has been active for 23 years in this hospitable city. And I would like to add our highly revered Vasil Bykau, with whom I spent our National Day one year ago here in Prague.
Dear Friends, it is on behalf of our youth and of our freedom fighters that I have come to ask – again – for your help. Every young Belarusian should have the possibility to study without being brainwashed, and without being forced to become a member of Lukashenka’s youth organization.
Freedom and democracy are concepts that are learned, nurtured and fostered. As such, they require exposure, free thinking, and the subsequent conviction to generate change. Every Belarusian should learn firsthand about the concept of freedom. Our young people need opportunities to study abroad, our decision makers need Western experience in the fields of economy, education, health and ecology, our freedom fighters need help to inform our people about such basic things as human rights…
The Lukashenka-driven and cultivated isolation of Belarus threatens to extinguish the hope for a different future. The members of the European Union will, perhaps unknowingly, contribute to this isolation by closing the borders between Belarus and the European Union.
The future of Belarus is not to be half way between Europe and Russia as some misled politicians think. It is not a no-mans land nor a consolation price in political negotiation. Belarus is a nation whose geography, history and identity define its place – and whose potential as a contributor to the future of Europe rests in the political decisions of our time.
If I were allowed to make one single request today – it would be to ask you to become participants in the defense of an old European nation by ensuring that Europe remains open to Belarus.
Ottawa, March 15, 2004
The President of the Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic