Last days of East European tyranny

  • 2004-02-12
  • By John McCain
"The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom," wrote the great German philosopher Hegel, when kings ruled Europe and empire-building ordered the world.

In our time, freedom's consciousness defeated fascism and destroyed a global empire of tyranny. In today's world, democratic government is the norm, and dictators are a dying breed. Saddam Hussein is the latest example of how a strong and malevolent dictator terrorized his countrymen for decades, only to be revealed in a hole in the ground as a weak and pathetic figure commanding neither loyalty nor power, and who will be remembered by his people and by history as a coward.
So it has been with so many tyrants - it is their fundamental weakness and insecurity that drive them to deny their people's most basic rights, and relegate them to live in a state of fear. So it will be with Alexander Lukashenko, whose tyranny over Belarus cannot last forever, and whose legacy will be political and economic devastation that will take years for you, Belarus' future leaders, to overcome, as you give your people back their country and put a free Belarus on the path to Europe.
I commend you [members of the Five-Plus coalition unifying the democratic opposition] for the outstanding progress you have made in bringing together Belarus leading democratic forces to give voice to the Belarusian people, and I encourage you to continue your efforts to broaden your coalition for change. History has shown that defeating authoritarian rule requires a broad-based opposition that is organized to challenge unjust state power, an I wish you well in continuing the important progress you have made in demonstrating to the Belarusian people that they have a voice in you.
We in the West have moral obligation to support your campaign to end Lukashenko's dictatorship. Governments and civic organizations in Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, the United States and elsewhere are playing critical role. I believe the Atlantic democracies must provide sustained support and encouragement to the Belarusian opposition to prepare you for the task of governing after Lukashenko. With our European allies, including many who remember what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, we should pursue concerted efforts to help build the institutions of a free Belarus: civic organizations, independent media, strong political parties and other pillars of democratic society - to create political space not under the regime's control. We should not seek and accommodation with the tyrant. The maturity of civil society, the democratic legitimacy enjoyed by opposition parties and the success of the Five-Plus coalition make Belarus ripe for change.
The international community should further isolate Belarus and encourage a new approach to Minsk in Moscow, where President Putin's creeping coup against democratic opposition and media freedom is all the more reason for the West to encourage democratic change in Belarus, so that Lukashenko's automatic rule does not tempt Russia along the same dangerous path.
Given the scale of Alexander Lukashenko's tyranny, our Belarusian friends face a greater challenge. The leaders of the Belarusian opposition who are participating in this conference stand as proof that their people value liberty no less than others. Your campaign to end tyranny of fear that rules your nation inspires all of us whose values are not tested every day, as yours are, and who pay no great price for our beliefs, as you do. You are patriots whose love of your country will change history. We stand with you.
Lukashenko's petty tyranny, his frail mastery in a dictatorship of fear, is no match for our commitment to freedom, to your nation's right to choose its destiny freely through its people's will. Alexander Lukashenko is the last man standing on the deck of a ship of soviet ideas that has been sinking in the ocean of history since brave men and women empowered by external pressure brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lukashenko's rule is an offense to the values whose victory was secured almost everywhere else in Europe with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
As we did with the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe's democracies must ally ourselves with you, the dictatorship's democratic opposition, and provide moral leadership backed by political will to liberate the Belarusian people from the rule of Europe's last tyrant. The United States and Europe should make clear to Moscow that support for autocracy next door will exclude Russia from company of Western democracies and make supporting democratic change in Belarus a condition for better relations between Russia and the West. Europe's last dictatorship cannot long survive the democratic revolution that swept the world over the last 15 years, and whose waves of change are already lapping at the shores of tyranny's redoubt in Minsk. The history of the consciousness of freedom should give all of us great hope for the coming democratic transformation of Belarus and Ukraine, and with it the hopes and dreams of millions of your citizens for a new day.

John McCain is a United States senator. These are fragments of his speech to the Conference on Democracy in Northeast Europe in Riga on Feb. 6.