Saturday, 11 December 2010

Democracy Doesn't Come Cheap!

I was lucky to have the chance to attend a meeting this week with Vytautas Landsbergis, the former president of Lithuania, and now a Member of the European Parliament. Landsbergis is widely considered to be one of the key figures in the fall of communism in Europe. He won my admiration when the Parliament debated an EU-wide ban on Nazi regalia, and he insisted that the ban be extended to the Hammer & Sickle - "The Communist dictatorships no less than the Nazi ones are responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people" he said at the time. The Russians were not amused, nor were the multitude of "former" communists in the Parliament!

Lithuania was the first country to declare independence from the Soviet Union, and Landsbergis was lucky to escape with his life when things turned nasty.

I remember one British MEP declaring that the Baltic states - which entered the EU in 2004 - "know little about democracy". He himself apparently knew little about history - but then the oik in question never did finish his education!

Also present at the meeting was a delightful young gentleman whose name I will not reveal. A member of the Belorussian Popular Front, he has been imprisoned more than once after his "administrative arrest" for  opposing the government of Lukashenko. Such arrest means no charges, no trial, just 5 - 20 days in a filthy prison cell. As Belarus prepares for another general election he expects further harrassment. He is a very brave young man.

I took part in a peaceful picket outside a police station in Minsk myself, back in the days when my politics were a wee bit more confrontational. The level of intimidation was quite overwhelming, although I am pleased to say there was no violence. I look forward to the day - which I am convinced will come very soon - when Belarus enjoys the same freedoms that we all take for granted. Its a truly beautiful country, it deserves better.

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