United with Belarus

I come originally from the South-East part of Poland. I was 10 when the Berlin Wall collapsed and I must admit that I didn’t grasp the importance of these historical events, for my native country as well as the whole of Europe. I discovered its significance later on.

In the last couple of weeks, I was reflecting on the journey of each one of the countries behind the “Iron Curtain”. Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic – they all did well and it is clear that a massive democratic transformation served them and their residents well.

However, there is one country, also a former Soviet Union republic, which has been struggling since 1990’s and which brought international attention for all the wrong reasons. Plane hijacked, which simply equals an act of terrorism, imprisonment of opposition leaders or ordinary members of the public, often as young as 14-15 year olds, lack of free speech, economical progress and recovery or inability to peaceful demonstrations; the list goes on. While completing my Master’s Degree in History, I had an opportunity to meet many people from Belarus, who were studying in my home town, Lublin. I often wonder in these situations whether there is anything I should be doing to help. But what, and more importantly how could I do that?

I am aware that “moving mountains” is not always possible, however I strongly feel that every, even the smallest act of solidarity is important and it can make a tangible difference. Every opportunity to show that we care about others gives us a real platform to grow, become better informed human beings and learn something new. Often, awareness of the huge difficulties of our fellow European citizens is equally significant.

Sometimes, the most spontaneous ideas can make a real impact. This week, a few people gathered in Welwyn Garden City Town Centre. Due to the COVID restrictions, the event itself wasn’t widely advertised. It wasn’t a political demonstration but an opportunity to come together to remember people, who are desperate to build a county, which is free from oppression, fear of unjust imprisonment or inability to be part of the fair participative process.

So what next for Belarus? More social and political unrest? Sanctions? Massive exodus of political leaders? Will the misery of Belarusian residents ever end?

This most recent series of painful events is also an important reminder. We all must be grateful for what we have. Let’s continue appreciating our democracies; local and national. Let’s continue to build political dialogue, seek opportunities to serve our communities, always try to be part of the process and put the needs of our residents and neighbourhoods at the heart of our social actions.

And for Belarus; we stand together, united.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and former councillor

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.
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