One of the crucial stages of the newest history of Eastern Europe is connected with the name of your city [Riga].
We remember the courageous struggle of all the Baltic people for their freedom and independence in the early 1990s. That fight was an example for Belarusian patriots. Precise-ly the tragic events of January 1991 in Riga and Vilnius urged me, at that time lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Army, for the first time to declare publicly my position and to quit the Communist Party as a sign of protest.
You showed us the way to freedom. You went through that way in spite of difficulties and deprivations. Unfortunately, the Belarus-ian society that had entrusted its hope for democracy 13 years ago did not get through the test of that turning point. The change of economic formations led to a crisis, a breakdown of common lifestyle and a decline of living standards. That time could be compared to a cold and a stormy river that one should cross over in order to get to the bank of freedom. We went into the river together with you, but our people did not have strong faith and hope in the future. The people got scared and preferred to retreat. Regrettably, in the 20th century Belarusians did not have the historic memory that could make them stronger and hold up their hopes for the better future.
Those 13 years have passed. You crossed the river. Now you are a part of the united Europe. You look to the future with confidence. An attempt by Belarus to get back to the past did not bring happiness. However, Belarusian society has changed during those years. The people understood that they were led to a cul-de-sac. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians went to see other countries. They got familiar with other conditions of life. Thousands of them tried to start up their own business, but they suffered failure. They clashed with the machine of total state control that strangles any private initiative.
From that time, a new generation has grown up. They do not want to live in the past. Today Belarusian society is ready for changes again and is looking forward to them.
Those years were not painless for Belarus' democratic forces. Daily slander appeared in the official electronic and printed media; tortures, arrests and political disappearances took place. But we have managed to defend our ideals, protect our democratic structures and regenerate them. Besides, over the past years we have had a colossal experience in the task under complicated circumstances. Today history gives us one more chance.
Currently a discussion is taking place among Belarusian democratic forces about our optimal strategic actions. This has been a hard discussion. It is understandable because the future of Belarus depends on our right decisions and actions. A positive platform attractive for the majority and associated with democratic forces should be the basis of a joint strategy. The platform should be based on a bright, simple, clear and persuasive idea that would be connected with prosperity for each person.
European Coalition Free Belarus believes that the basis of the platform of the democratic forces of Belarus should be the integration of our country in the European Union. We should get back to Europe from where we were cut off forcibly 200 years ago.
The European choice for us is not a choice of the orientation of foreign policy. It is a choice of lifestyle. It is a choice of freedom. Today two-thirds of Belarusians are ready to vote for Euro-integration. We hear from the Europeans that "you cannot aspire to become a member of European Union while there is a dictator in power in your country." This is absolutely correct but does not help Belarusian democracy. If the Belarusian people heard from leaders of the European Union, "you could be a part of Europe only if your country became a democratic one," then it would give a hope for sooner democratization of our country.
Integration of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus into the European Union and the trans-Atlantic community will prevent any attempts of revival of the great Russian empire that brought enormous tragedy to the people of those countries who were integrated forcibly, as well as to Russians themselves.
In conclusion I would like to recall Harold Mackinder, one of the "fathers" of geopolitics, who said: "One who has control over Eastern Europe predominates in Eurasia, and one who predominates in Eurasia predominates in the whole world." Today the words of the great Briton could be rephrased: "If democracy wins in Eastern Europe, it wins in Eurasia. If it wins in Eurasia, it triumphs all over the world."
We believe that our victory would become a sign for other oppressed nations. The Belarusian democratic forces will do everything possible in order to make the wave of freedom move forward after our victory.
These are fragments
of a speech by Nikolai Statkevich, coordinator of the European Coalition Free Belarus and chairman
of Belarusian Social-Democratic Party, at a recent conference
in Riga on democracy
in Northeastern Europe.