March 24, 2021

Chairman Menendez Marks Belarus’s Freedom Day, Delivers Keynote Remarks at Kalinowski Forum

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement ahead of Freedom Day in Belarus, March 25, which marks the 103rd anniversary of the Belarusian National Republic’s proclamation of independence:

“Ahead of Belarus’s Freedom Day, I stand with the Belarusian people as they continue the struggle for freedom and democracy that the Rada of the Belarusian National Republic began when it declared Belarus independent of Czarist rule in 1918. The democratic opposition to Lukashenka’s brutal rule has adopted the flag of the 1918 Belarusian National Republic as its symbol because the ideals of the Belarusian National Republic continue to unite all democracy-loving Belarusians. Their courage in the face of Lukashenka’s authoritarianism is an inspiration, and I hope that their advocacy and activism this Freedom Day will help bring the people of Belarus the democratic change they have long sought to achieve.”

Earlier this week, Chairman Menendez delivered the keynote remarks at the Kalinowski Forum, hosted by the Chair of the Lithuanian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. First established in August of 2020, the forum includes leaders and experts on the future of Belarus.

“With courage, dignity, and persistence, the people of Belarus have bravely stood against Mr. Lukashenka’s brutal tactics throughout the six months since he tried to steal the presidential election,” Chairman Menendez said at the forum. “I hope that through the efforts of so many Belarusians, we will soon see the end of violent repression and the dawn of a democratic future in Belarus.”

 

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s keynote remarks below.

“On behalf of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I want to thank you for this invitation to speak at the Kalinowski Forum. I want to thank the organizers of this forum and the Chairman of the Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Committee for his leadership in supporting democratic rights in the region and around the world.

I am pleased to briefly share thoughts on the struggle for democracy and freedom in Belarus and around the world.

Upon taking the Chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee after last year’s elections, the first policy hearing I held was on the state of democracy around the world.

In every region of the world today, authoritarian governments are seizing more and more power, dismantling core democratic institutions, and closing in on civil society and freedom of expression.

So with that in mind as leaders around the world publicly and privately question whether the United States can still talk about democratic promotion, I say we must. It is simply in our interest. And I remind those who I have talked to around the world that have challenged that ability that the reality is that our institutions withstood the challenges that were presented to it, from its judiciary to the Congress, to a free press in all of its vibrancy. All of these elements may have been tested, but they withstood the test.

Turning to Belarus. I understand that the memory of Mr. Kalinowski is an inspiration to so many in the region, especially those in Belarus who continue to struggle for a democratic country. With courage, dignity, and persistence, the people of Belarus have bravely stood against Mr. Lukashenka’s brutal tactics throughout the six months since he tried to steal the presidential election.

I am in awe of the courage of so many who consistently turn out to peacefully demonstrate for their rights.

This is their country. 

This is their struggle. 

Only they can bring democratic change to a sovereign Belarus.

But their friends around the world should not make the work more difficult by conferring any shred of legitimacy on the Lukashenka dictatorship. 

The Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act, which became U.S. law in January, sent a strong message to Minsk and the world – a message that Lukashenka is illegitimate.

A message that Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya is the ultimate legitimate president of Belarus. 

A message that the people of Belarus deserve to be heard.

A message that when we say that we support our values abroad, it should mean something.

I hope that through the efforts of so many Belarusians, we will soon see the end of violent repression and the dawn of a democratic future in Belarus.

If I may close with some thoughts on countries closer to the borders of the United States, let me just say that entrenched authoritarians have clung to power in Havana, Caracas, and Managua. After six decades, Cuba remains firmly in the grasp of a dictatorship.

And nowhere in our hemisphere has democratic deterioration produced greater human suffering than in Venezuela. Maduro’s brutal criminal regime has unleashed a humanitarian crisis and has perpetrated crimes against humanity in order to silence dissent.

Let me say that I welcome the recent European Union sanctions on Venezuelan officials. And I am grateful for the Lithuanian parliament’s firm position on Cuba. It is important to see solidarity from many in Europe who see these dictatorships for what they are and are willing to hold them accountable.  And I hope that more in Europe will join under that umbrella.

I welcome the early messages from the Biden administration with respect to the U.S. role in championing democracy and human rights around the globe. Our investments into democracy are our best hope for bolstering the stability and prosperity of our neighbors and far off countries alike, and for preventing conflict. We do this because it is right, and because it is in our interest. With renewed attention to these issues from the United States in partnership with our friends and allies, I hope that we will see significant progress in countering authoritarianism in the years to come.

Thank you for the invitation and I wish you a very successful forum.”

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