One by two meters. concrete floor. A window hole with bars. The sky cannot be seen. A wooden plank bed to lie on, a table, a washbasin, a hole in the floor for defecating. No mattress, no blanket, no heating. No books, no letters, no visits. Complete isolation from the outside world. Sleeping is not possible in winter. It’s freezing cold. You keep waking up shaking and needing to move. Food rations are the only change.
Otherwise nothing, except your own emaciated body feeling, the grueling thoughts. It’s inhumane. It’s torture. Many self-injure to spend a day in the infirmary. Some try to kill themselves. Too many have already died from these circumstances.
This is the brutal everyday life in Belarusian prisons today. Solitary confinement is the price that many democrats have been paying in Belarus since the summer of 2020 because they wanted to end Lukashenko’s dictatorship through free elections.
Dictator Lukashenka would literally stop at nothing to stay in power
Three years ago, on August 9, 2020, the fake presidential elections took place in Belarus. An iconic and brutal summer. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets in protest in white-red-white. They rallied behind the brave female trio of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Maria Kalesnikava and Veronika Zepkala. It was a mood of hope. The will for freedom and democratic openness could be felt everywhere in the country.
But dictator Lukashenko would literally stop at nothing to keep himself in power. His henchmen beat the opposition bloody, too many paid with their lives. Thousands were convicted in show trials, others forced into exile. Clubs were forcibly dissolved, independent media closed, messenger services blocked. The right to freedom of expression does not exist. To this day, the number of political prisoners is increasing almost daily, and the prisoners are still being tortured.
One of them is Ihar Losik. 31 years old, journalist, father of a small daughter. Ihar Losik was arrested in June 2020 for campaigning for free elections. His wife Daria was arrested in front of her daughter in October 2022 because she campaigned tirelessly for Ihar’s release. Both pay a cruel price for their commitment to democracy: separation from their daughter.
Russia shows how unstable autocratic regimes are
As a member of parliament, I have taken on the sponsorship of Ihar and Daria Losik. Together with my colleagues, I am campaigning for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus. We write letters, tell their stories. We make the more than 1,450 innocently imprisoned visible while they are behind bars. We won’t forget any of them until the last of them is free again.
Personally, politically and historically, I feel it is my duty to support the democracy movements in Europe. Supporting them is also in our own interest. Why? The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine once again made it brutally clear that autocratic regimes are not supposed guarantors of stability, but are prepared to wage war and destroy the peace order in Europe. Under dictator Lukashenko, Belarus has become a deployment area for Russian troops. Unscrupulous Wagner mercenaries are now supposed to train the Belarusian army.
We therefore have a vested interest not only in protecting NATO’s eastern flank militarily from the Kremlin’s imperialist dreams, but also in strengthening the democratic forces in our neighborhood. Because only with them can a lasting peace be made in Europe.
Germany should now also support democrats in Belarus
The summer of 2020 changed something in Belarus. The regime’s brutality caused collective trauma. Every family, every circle of friends is affected. Everyone knows someone who has been arrested, tortured, abducted or murdered. However, an impressive resilience has grown out of this collective trauma. In the underground. In exile.
Dictatorships don’t go away overnight. We all need staying power. We must therefore support democratic exile structures in the long term. Former political prisoners, members of the opposition, journalists, lawyers, doctors, students, scientists, artists, IT experts – many were and are forced to leave their country because they had the courage to protest. You have my unbroken solidarity.
Vilnius and Warsaw have become havens for the Belarusian democracy movement. In Berlin, too, we should do more and give more support to the courageous democrats from Belarus. I call out to you: We see you and your courage, your strength, your resilience. We stand firmly by your side. We will support you.