Reflecting on his time with Global Ties KC Belarusian visitors, homestay host AJ Hoyt said he gained a “sense of their real pride in their country’s heritage and distinctiveness, uniqueness from Russia and surrounding countries. I’m still using the gift mug which has an angry looking bison on it. And yet, with that aggressive pride is a real friendliness and concern for others”. While the cockroach has been the totem of the recent Belarusian protests, perhaps a resilient bison would be the ideal image for this time. Despite the increasingly volatile situation, the people of Belarus are passionate individuals who are willing to stand strong for the sake of others and their country. As a second Belarus protester dies and the UN sounds alarm following the claimed electoral victory of their long-term President, the health and well-being of our friends in Belarus weighs heavily on the hearts of many Global Ties KC community members.
In 2018, Global Ties KC welcomed 10 Belarusian visitors to Kansas City through the Community Connections Program, sponsored by USAID. During their three weeks, they gained insight into entrepreneurial training and the civil society, in order to increase transparency and innovation in their communities. Belarus remains a top priority for USAID, with the Community Connections Program serving as a key tool for democracy. This can be attributed to the enthusiasm from the people of Belarus to enact grassroots-level change, which creates lasting results when paired with the power of international exchange. That same passion can be seen today by the continued demonstrations in the streets.
The History of Belarusian Independence
Belarus received independence on 25 December 1991, just a day before the Soviet Union ceased to exist. However, the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Republic of Belarus of 1978, was retained after independence.
Their first years as an independent nation, under the direction of Stanislav Shushkevich, started moving the country towards the West. This opening was short lived, as Alexander Lukashenko became President in 1994, just three years after they declared independence. In short order, Lukashenko began to re-instate Soviet-era functions and reintroduce the symbols from Soviet Belarus. If the name Lukashenko rings a bell it is because he has still held on to his role as leader of Belarus, 26 years later. He has sat through elections, including the ones that took place on August 9, 2020, but the legitimacy and transparency are highly questionable.
What’s Happening Today
In response to the claimed Presidential victory of Alexander Lukashenko, the people of Belarus are making their frustration known through protests in the streets. The government is hoping to stop the protests swiftly, with reports of turning off internet and forceful arrests.
The US Department of State summed up the elections in the following press release, shared via the Embassy on August 10th: “The United States is deeply concerned about the conduct of the August 9 presidential election in Belarus, which was not free and fair. Severe restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation tactics employed against opposition candidates, and the detentions of peaceful protesters and journalists marred the process. We regret that OSCE/ODIHR observers did not receive a timely invitation to monitor the vote. Free and fair elections, genuinely contested, are the basis for the authority and legitimacy of all governments.”
We have heard that visitors who were in Kansas City have participated in peaceful protests in Minsk, so we send our best wishes and thoughts to them. We hope everyone will continue pushing for transparent and free elections everywhere. We encourage you to keep your eye on the news in the days to come, and we will bring you updates from our international visitors as they are received!