Anförande på Kalinowski forum, Lithauens parlament

First of all, I would like to thank you for the invitation to this conference and for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the future of democracy in Belarus.

I have listened with great interest to the previous speakers and it is evident that Belarus’s fate and future is engaging. It gives hope for the future that many wants to be involved and contribute to the democratization of Belarus.

The Swedish government condemns the Belarussian authorities’ use of force, illegal deprivation of liberty and harassment, the existence of torture and abuse of detainees and that no one responsible has been held accountable for these crimes.

Sweden calls on the Belarusian government to immediately and unconditionally release all illegal detained persons and political prisoners. Only a peaceful and democratic process supported by a strong civil society and guarded by independent and free media will provide lasting solutions to the current situation in Belarus.

As a member of the OSCE, Belarus has committed itself to respecting the principles of human rights and democracy. The OSCE can therefore play an important role in helping to resolve the crisis in Belarus. As presently being the chair of the OSCE, Sweden has offered to assist Belarus in facilitating a genuine dialogue to find a way out of the current crisis. As far as I know, no official response has up until today been given to that offer.

For many years, Sweden has supported the strive for democratic development in Belarus through its assistance. Guidance for Sweden’s support for Belarus is that it will benefit the Belarusian people.

I myself participate in that work hands on and have visited Belarus on several occasions. I have repeatedly had contacts with the opposition and during visits to Belarus I have also vistited individuals in the opposition while serving their sentences.

Sweden has previously found that, in addition to support for civil society, a certain amount of cooperation with state actors in Belarus has been justified in order to promote reforms and in the long term influence the country in a democratic direction. When we have seen a regime that further increases repression since the election, some actors who have previously been judged to be actors for change are unfortunately no longer so. Some projects are thus no longer appropriate and have been closed down.

In light of the very serious development since the presidential election in Belarus, Sweden has chosen to freeze certain projects in which state actors have played an active role. At the same time, we have intensified support for civil society and are constantly reviewing how we can further intensify support. Sweden is among the countries that provide the most support to civil society in Belarus. Our intention is to continue to be so, but the increasingly repressive methods of the Belarusian regime are making it harder and harder. Sweden must therefore find new ways and methods to support the opposition. And we will.

Democracy is not built solely on freedom of speech and free elections. Knowledge is also needed to be able to create a public administration based on democracy and respect for human rights. To gain knowledge, educational opportunities are needed.

That is why it is important that the Swedish development agency – SIDA – supports, together with Lithuania and the EU, the European Humanities University (EHU) in Vilnius. EHU is a Belarusian university in exile in Vilnius since 2004. EHU is an important contribution to a pluralistic civil society in Belarus, supported by the fact that a large proportion of students return to Belarus after completing their studies.

Sweden’s development cooperation in Belarus through SIDA in the year 2020 amounted to the equivalent of 10 million EUR. The co-operation focuses on three sectors: democracy and human rights, market economy development and the environment and climate.

The majority goes to civil society (the rest goes mainly to projects in the environment and water treatment). The Swedish Institute – SI – has also conducted operations in Belarus, which has now been suspended due to the increased repression.

Belarus’s future must be decided by free and fair elections, and this has not happened in Belarus. The Belarussian people, like all other peoples, have the right to elect their political leaders through democratic elections.

Thank you for your attention!

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