(Washington, DC--April 7, 2005) "People must overpower the fear of repression in their own souls," said Igor and Pavel Marynich, the sons of an imprisoned political prisoner in Belarus, when they spoke to RFE/RL audience recently concerning the prospects of political transformation in their country.
Igor and Pavel used the story of their father, Mikhail Marynich, a well known public leader imprisoned for speaking out against the injustices of the Lukashenka government, to illustrate the grim state of affairs in Belarus whose government they described as a dictatorship.
Mikhail Marynich, a former Belarusian diplomat and a presidential candidate against Alyaksandr Lukashenka, headed a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) providing information to assist entrepreneurs and small business at the time of his arrest last year by Belarusian security forces. He was not a member of a specific political party, but "participated in the joint work of the opposition," said Igor Marynich. As a result, Marynich found himself under constant government surveillance and on December 30, 2004 he was convicted and sentenced to 8.5 years in prison for purportedly "stealing" the computers used at his NGO despite testimony at the trial by the U.S. Embassy that it had voluntarily provided the computers to Marynich, and in no way considered them stolen property.
Although recently reduced to five years, Igor Marynich views his father's harsh sentence as a "warning" to the opposition; "Lukashenka wanted to show with this trial, that a person could be honest, but if they're a threat to the regime, anything can be done to them." Pavel Marynich added that, "the regime is scared to hear the truth about itself." Igor also believes that "the transformation in Ukraine has strained the Lukashenka regime and that is why our father's sentence was so severe."
The regime has been strengthening through harsher tactics, according to the brothers. Their father is "one of many political prisoners;" those found disseminating the independent press are being arrested, detained for 15 days and fined upwards of $1,500. Pavel Marynich noted that "during this tragic struggle for democracy all the leaders of our nation have been eliminated, businessmen persecuted and eliminated, and journalists, too." It is reported that Lukashenka publicly said in December that "he will not permit any revolutions: pink, orange, or blue," referring to recent events in Ukraine.
Neither brother expressed discouragement, however, during their presentation. In addition to working for their father's release, they have helped found a new civic organization in Belarus to unite the opposition, regardless of political affiliation. Noting that there were anti-vote fraud demonstrations in Belarus after parliamentary elections in September 2004, Igor said, "There are people in Belarus fighting for their freedom," and "it is very important that the U.S. government, President Bush and Secretary Rice reiterate their support. We know we are not alone in this struggle."
Igor said any event could "trigger" a transformation in Belarus because "all strata of society have shown themselves to be unhappy with the current conditions." While younger people represent the "main force" of the opposition, he said, "even the elderly are participating in street demonstrations" but, "civil society has to mature and ripen." Pavel added that, "if political opposition could unite and rally behind a leader, it would give the [current] leader a ticket to jail."
To hear archived audio for this and other RFE/RL briefings and events, please visit our website at www.regionalanalysis.org