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Statement by senator John McCain on President Lukashenka’s decision to bar senators from Belarus

RFE/RL Tuesday, Aug 10, 2004. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) issued the following statement on President Lukashenka’s decision to bar U.S. Senators from Belarus:

“I am disappointed - but frankly not surprised - by the latest anti-democratic action by President Alexander Lukashenka of Belarus. This month I planned to lead a delegation of four U.S. Senators to Belarus, where we hoped to have several meetings, including one with the President. Because he feared that we might criticize his totalitarian rule, Mr. Lukashenka refused us visas, rejected our visit, and denied us entry into the country. While it is no great revelation to find a dictator so insecure that he views as a threat mere visits by elected officials, Mr. Lukashenka’s refusal marks yet one more sad day for the people of Belarus. The Belarusian people should, however, take solace in the knowledge that such tyranny cannot forever endure.

“Friends of Belarus around the world, among whom I count myself, note with sorrow that this act is just the latest incident in a string of provocations against proponents of democracy. While barring us entry is vivid testimony to President Lukashenka’s aversion to dialogue with freely elected officials, it pales in comparison with recent events on the ground in Belarus. Under Mr. Lukashenka’s leadership, the government has routinely harassed, arrested, and attacked democracy advocates. These democrats are often guilty of nothing more than speaking and demonstrating against the dictatorship into which their government has descended.

“Mr. Lukashenka has kept up his attacks on any semblance of opposition to his one-man rule. General Valery Frolov, one of the most vocal leaders of the democracy movement, was attacked by masked men outside of his home and severely beaten. Mikhail Marinich, a leader affiliated with the broadest democratic grouping in Belarus, the Five Plus coalition, was imprisoned on April 26 and is still being held without charge. The Belarusian Party of Labor, a founding member of the "Five Plus", was recently liquidated by the Belarusian Supreme Court.

“Western public opinion polls indicate an erosion of support for Mr. Lukashenka and his Soviet era policies. Mr. Lukashenka has responded with further crackdowns on free speech, including the expulsion of several Russian reporters for giving an accurate count of protesters at an opposition rally. During this same rally, numerous peaceful activists were arrested and beaten by squads of state militia.

“Now we add to this growing litany of abuses the barring of elected officials from the United States. President Lukashenka fears even dialogue with advocates of democracy, and for this, as for so much else occurring today in that great but troubled land, friends of Belarus must mourn. The government and the people should know that our attention to events there will not be diverted, and our hopes for a free and democratic Belarus will endure.”