The head of ICCI “Our House”, politician and social activist Olga Karach, was one of the first who raised the subject of occupation at the Forum of Democratic Forces on May 16-17 in Warsaw. According to Olga Karach, the fact of occupation is unambiguous, and all Belarusians must be united on this issue.
Report of Olga Karach on the question of the occupation of Belarus by the Russian Federation at the Forum of Democratic Forces on May 17, 2022.
*You can watch the speeches of Olga Karach on the subject of occupation and of a representative of Our House (Poland) by following the link
The first and most important thing we see today is the imposition of false guilt and false responsibility for Lukashenko’s actions. We are all well aware that all of the aggressive actions against our neighbour Ukraine from the territory of Belarus are solely the fault of Lukashenko. I refuse to take responsibility for his actions and his decisions. And if Belarus is considered a co-aggressor, then, of course, we will have to share the responsibility for Lukashenko’s actions. We must distance ourselves as much as possible from what the occupation regime of Alexander Lukashenko is doing today.
The second thing that has begun right now is the devaluation of heroic deeds, suffering and sacrifice of our people. Let’s say that since August 9, 2020, the regime has not stopped fighting against our people, and its terror has been unrelenting.
Near 50,000 people have been tortured, and more than 200,000 (according to some reports, almost a million!) forced to flee. We do not fully know the number of people killed and raped in prisons who took part in the protests. I think it will be scary when all the victims speak up. So today, we should all say very clearly that Putin’s attack on Ukraine was only possible when our protest was just drowning in blood because it was Lukashenko who spilt the blood of peaceful people. And our people held back both Putin and Lukashenko for a year and a half, without weapons, because people came out and sacrificed themselves.
Therefore, we do not forget and, most importantly, we do not devalue everything that was happening in Belarus in those years. People did a lot – heroic deeds and deeds.
There is another significant question. Our people have to decide – who are we: a co-aggressor or a victim of occupation?
Because if today Belarus is not recognised as an occupied territory, then it is a co-aggressor state according to all UN resolutions. So, today recognition of Belarus as an occupied country is a significant political issue. It also regards the issue of reparation in the future – who pays what to whom and for what. Either Russia pays Ukraine for war, for occupation, and respectively pays Belarus for occupation. Or Russia and Belarus pay Ukraine for the war and occupation.
The campaign to recognise Belarus as an occupied territory will impact our identity – who are we? Who are we with? Do we stay in the “Russian world” as co-aggressors, or do we go to the West as victims of occupation? The question is principal and very important.
It is a fundamentally different space of possibilities for our people: there is a fight between political opponents, and then, everything is within the political struggle, or Belarus is occupied, and this is a struggle for Belarusian independence. As an occupied country, we, as Belarusians, have the right to demand protection and quite a different level of support from the USA and Europe. Recognition of Belarus as an occupied country impacts decisions about asylum, visas and social benefits for refugees. It is one thing if we are citizens of a co-aggressor country – it means certain political decisions for us in the European Union and other countries. Not very pleasant. Or, as citizens of an occupied territory, we have the right not just to wait but to demand and ask for completely different assistance to support the fight against the occupation.
What do we need today to conduct this campaign? The campaign aims to identify the Republic of Belarus as a permanently occupied territory of the Russian Federation from February 20, 2022.
But we can talk a lot about when the occupation began. In 1994 or did it start in 1996 with a referendum? Maybe it had started in 1999 when the Union Treaty with Russia was signed? But it was formed on February 20, 2022, when Russian troops did not leave the territory of the Republic of Belarus after joint exercises. It was only after that that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began when they had already closed the issue with Belarus.
Who are the target groups for the campaign to perceive Belarus as occupied?
Our target groups are the international community – the European Union and the European Parliament – these are the structures that should recognise the occupation of Belarus. The European Union – PACE, OSCE, UN, national parliaments of the European Union. Of course, we need working groups, for example, a legal one, because in any case, we are talking about hybrid war, we are talking about hybrid occupation, so there will be attempts to silence us from the legal point of view. We also need to prepare several documents, petitions to various European international structures to recognise the Republic of Belarus as an occupied territory.
We need an information component – people in Belarus, around Belarus and the international community, need to explain why we consider Belarus occupied. It will influence the attitude of citizens toward Belarus and Belarusians who are now in exile in the territory of the European Union. It will also influence political decision-making – to understand whether Belarus is occupied or not. Today there are enough arguments to return our country back on the international political agenda to achieve the recognition of Belarus as an occupied territory.
And the third group that we need, the international group will work directly with political structures – with the EU Parliament, with the UN, with PACE, with the UN and so on. PACE passed a resolution that they are ceasing all cooperation with Lukashenko’s regime and that they are going to cooperate with civil society. They have “thrown the ball into our hands”, and now the question is who these people or structures with whom PACE is or will be cooperating. I talked to various deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – they are waiting for proposals and ideas from Belarusians on what they should do and how to cooperate.
This work must be systematic. Today, no organization has sufficient capacity to raise this campaign to a high enough level as required by our people. We need a coalition of different initiatives and organizations that will work together on this issue – with parliaments, politicians, the European Union, PACE, OSCE and the UN.
Without this campaign for perceiving Belarus as an occupied territory, we will not be able to move forward, we will constantly stumble. And Belarus will be more and more withdrawn from the international political agenda. Belarus will be more and more dragged by the influence of Russia.
I think, in this situation, it’s significant for us to learn to work together to achieve specific goals that will influence Belarus today and what will happen in Belarus in the next 20-30 years. I am sure that we will be able to see, thanks to the recognition of our country of occupation, how the attitude to Belarusians will change and how it will influence all strategies and political decisions.