Time to defend democracy

International issues The show trial against the leadership of the Belarusian Human Rights Center Viasna was recently completed. The court clearly did as the regime ordered and sentenced the Center's chairman and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski to ten years in prison.

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Two other members of the leadership were sentenced to nine and seven years respectively. These judgments are no exception. In December 2022, the leadership of LO's sister organisation the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, BKDP, was sentenced to several years in prison. In addition, as recently as March 6, the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was sentenced in-absentia to 15 years in prison.

Belarus’ dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko is terrified of his own citizens, especially as they organise themselves. According to the world trade union confederation ITUC, Belarus is today one of the world's ten worst countries for trade unionists. Since Lukashenko cheated his way to victory in the 2020 presidential election, the repression has intensified. It is not allowed to have meetings in workplaces, and employees who talk loudly about politics are fired. Trade unions and other popular movements have been banned. Journalists are being persecuted and imprisoned. Newspapers and news sites are being closed. Prisons are filled with prisoners whose only "crime" was to have been active in trade unions or criticised the regime.

LO and LO affiliates have for years supported our trade union comrades in Belarus in their fight for trade union rights. Now, as the repression continues to intensify, there is only one reasonable response from the outside world: international solidarity with the democratic forces in Belarus must be enhanced.

A significant part of this solidarity is the aid that goes to building democracy and freedom. Against this background, the Swedish government's new aid policy is ominous. It goes in the exact opposite direction. The one percent target is removed and funding of civil society aid work is reduced. The cuts in the funds available for civil society organisations to apply for, in terms of information and communication activities, are particularly extensive. Over the years, this funding has been used to spread knowledge about what is happening in Belarus and other countries where democracy is set aside. Therefore, considering that the government claims to prioritise Sweden's immediate vicinity, the new political direction is immediately counterproductive.

LO’s call on the Swedish government is clear: change it and do it right! Providing aid for the defence of democracy and human rights is needed more than ever. The level of assistance to the people, who risk daily their freedom in their fight for democracy in Belarus and other countries with a far-reaching lack of freedom, must increase, not decrease.

Oscar Ernerot

Head of International Department
Swedish Trade Union Confederation