Education International firmly condemns attacks on free trade unions by the authorities of Belarus as part of the long campaign to destroy democratic forces. On 18 July, the Supreme Court liquidated and dissolved the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) along with its four member organisations, three of which are members of IndustriALL Global Union. In addition, fifteen leaders and union activists are in prison.
Ten of them, including the historic leader of independent unions in the country, Aliaksandr Yarashuk, were arrested on 19 April 2022. Two have been detained since 17 August 2020. The list of prisoners with their union membership follows:
- Aliaksandr Yarashuk – Chairperson of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic trade unions, BKDP.
- Siarhei Antusevich – Vice-Chairperson of BKDP.
- Hennadz Fiadynich – Vice-chairperson of the Radio and Electronic workers’ union, REP.
- Vatslau Areshka – activist of REP.
- Mikhail Hromau - Member and Secretary of SPM Council.
- Iryna But-Husaim - BKDP media team officer, book-keeper of BKDP.
- Miraslau Sabchuk – Activist of SPM.
- Yanina Malash - Deputy Chairperson of SPM, officer for organizing.
- Vitali Chychmarou - Member of SPM Council, labour inspector.
- Vasil Berasneu - Acting Chairperson of REP.
- Zinaida Mikhniuk - Deputy chairperson of REP.
- Aliaksandr Mishuk – Vice-Chairperson of BITU, Chairperson of BITU at JSC Belaruskali.
- Ihar Povarau – activist of BITU at Belarusian Metallurgical Plant, BMZ.
- Yauhen Hovar – activist of BITU at Belarusian Metallurgical Plant, BMZ.
- Artsiom Zhernak – Chairperson of SPM at Minsk Automobile plant.
Global Unions’ call for the release of arrested trade unionists
In May of 2022, Education International joined other Global Unions in a call for the release of the 20 independent trade unionists arrested on 19 April (a few were freed shortly after the arrests). Global unions are also supporting an ongoing LabourStart campaign for their release.
Although Belarus President Lukashenko has steadily eroded democratic freedoms since his first election to that office in 1994, repression escalated after the most recent election on 9 August 2020. The results were widely considered to be fraudulent and were not transparent. The announcement of the official figures brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets and generated strikes in large, state-run enterprises. The response of the authorities was brutal and violent repression against all dissent, the independent press, the media, and trade unions that were not under government control. There were mass arrests, widespread torture and even a state-sponsored hijacking to capture an independent journalist.
Among the measures taken against journalists was the dissolution of their 1300 member trade union, the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It was disbanded by the Supreme Court on the initiative of the Ministry of Justice in August of 2021, one year after the election.
Belarus, a staging area for the deployment of Russian troops
In order to cling to power despite over-whelming public opposition, President Lukashenko obtained the strong support of Russian President Putin and paid the price in the sovereignty of the country. Russian influence further increased with the invasion of Ukraine, with Belarus becoming a staging area for the deployment of Russian troops. In addition to troops, Russia has indicated that it intends to transfer Iskander-M missiles to Belarus. They can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.
Shortly after the Russian invasion, the independent union confederation of Belarus, the BKDP, issued a statement saying:
"No nation in the world wants war. The Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples are no exception. Few peoples in the world have suffered such terrible losses and sacrificed the lives of tens of millions of their citizens in their history as our three peoples did, peoples who are so close to each other. And the fact that the Russian government has started a war against Ukraine today cannot be understood, justified or forgiven. The fact that the aggressor invaded Ukraine from the territory of Belarus with the consent of the Belarusian authorities cannot be justified or forgiven.”
Educators plant the seeds of democracy in young people
Education International’s General Secretary David Edwards, in reaffirming the support of Education International for the independent trade unions of Belarus and their allies in the fight for democracy, said:
“The struggle of free trade unionists in Belarus for democracy despite the dissolution of their unions and the imprisonment of their leaders deserves the respect and support not only of the global trade union movement, but from all who cherish democratic values and institutions. Their courage is an inspiration, but it also shows how difficult it is to extinguish the aspiration for liberty and solidarity.
Trade unions can only fully and freely function in democracies. Democracies cannot be complete without trade unions. Education International joins with independent trade unions in all sectors in that common fight for trade unionism and democracy.
As educators, we will continue to contribute to that struggle by planting the seeds of democracy in young people so that they can and will resist authoritarians wherever they are found. As American educator and philosopher said, ‘Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.’”