EHU Lecturer in Political Science Tatsiana Chulitskaya and Maryia Sliaptsova, a second-year international law student, addressed a variety of audiences in the United States in December about their recent experiences while monitoring parliamentary elections in Belarus.
A discussion called “Four Elections and a Post-Soviet World: Analyzing and Witnessing Elections in Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania” was hosted by Columbia University's Harriman Institute and took place on December 5 in New York City. The two-part program, which attracted an overflow audience, was co-sponsored by Columbia University's Ukrainian Studies Program, East Central European Center, and Harriman Institute.
Participating speakers, including Columbia University Professor Lincoln Mitchell and Harriman Institute Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Fredrik Sjoberg, noted that, unlike Georgia, Lithuania, and Ukraine, where election results more or less reflect the will of the electorate and are competitive and relatively unpredictable, elections in Belarus are so tightly controlled by the regime that competition is effectively impossible. Ambassador Valery Kuchinsky, a former permanent representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, noted that election violations reported in Ukraine were meant primarily to secure victory for the ruling party—the Party of Regions.
These presentations were followed by eyewitness accounts of elections in Belarus and Ukraine. Chulitskaya, who is academic coordinator of Election Observation: Theory and Practice (EOTP), a joint project of EHU, Belarus Watch, and Belarusian Human Rights House, was detained by police after reporting on election violations in Belarus in September. She discussed why opposition parties boycotted the election and explained how officials manipulate elections in Belarus.
“The last Belarusian parliamentary elections had a turnout of less than 50%,” said Chulitskaya, noting that this should have rendered them legally invalid. The government, however, reported a much higher turnout, which Chulitskaya and her team of observers say was based on falsified results. In many cases, participation levels reported by election committees were far higher than the results observed by election monitors. Sliaptsova, who was also detained after elections in Belarus, noted that election officials targeted her for intimidation by pointedly taking her photograph and preventing her and others from properly monitoring the counting of the votes.
While in New York, the EHU delegation, which included Vice-Rector for Development and Communications Darius Udrys and Department of Development and Communications Coordinator and alumna Olga Romanenko, also met with nearly a dozen representatives of the Belarusian-American community at the Belarusian Civic Hall in Brooklyn. Strengthening Belarusian identity among young people at EHU and in Belarus as well as the work of the Belarusian diaspora in the United States were the focus of the meeting. Community members presented the delegation with a collection of Belarusian books for EHU's library.
The EHU delegation then traveled to Washington, DC for a public discussion about Belarus and EHU at the American Councils for International Education and a special briefing on Capitol Hill about Belarus organized by Freedom House. The briefing was organized to mark Human Rights Day and the second anniversary of the 2010 Belarusian presidential election, which gave rise to mass protests that were violently suppressed by the Belarusian government.
EHU’s delegation discussed human rights, including academic freedom, and the state of civil society in Belarus with Congressman Chris Smith, chair of the Helsinki Commission of the US Congress and author of the Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act, David Kramer, president of Freedom House, Mark Milosch, the Helsinki Commission’s chief of staff, Natalia Pinchuk, wife of imprisoned human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, Tatsiana Reviaka, president of Belarusian Human Rights House, and Zhanna Litvina, chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. EHU representatives also met with Senator Richard Durbin's and Speaker of the House John Boehner's staff.
EHU wishes to thank its many friends and supporters in the United States for their hospitality and special assistance with the visit, program, and meetings, particularly: Friends of EHU President Robert Nurick; Friends Board Member Judith Shapiro; Columbia University Institute of East Central Europe Director Alan Timberlake; Freedom House President David Kramer; Orsa Romano Foundation President Alla Romano; Queen’s College Professor Evan Zimroth; EHU Governing Board Acting Chair and President of American Councils for International Education Dan Davidson; and the many American Councils staff members who provided assistance. Special thanks is also due to Columbia University’s Harriman Institute for sponsoring student and faculty travel and accommodations.