Ever since losing the Belarusian presidential elections in August 2020 to opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, dictator Alexander Lukashenko has greatly increased his oppression against democracy activists. Forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, imprisonment of activists, and kidnappings – including forcing an international airliner to land in Belarus to kidnap a democracy activist – have led to uproar in Europe and resulted in the imposition of sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime. In response, Lukashenko unleashed a campaign of subversion targeting Lithuania and Poland, including the weaponization of migrants brought into Belarus with the express aim of destabilizing those two NATO countries.
In Russia, the increasingly desperate and oppressive Putin regime targeted opposition leaders – most infamously by poisoning Alexander Navalny – free media, and civil society as the Russian parliamentary elections approached in September 2021. The result of this unfair and unfree “election” was the near-total domination of Russia’s parliament by regime allies. New restrictions on media freedom and civil society promise to further suffocate the democracy movement in Russia.
But not all is lost. Brave activists, journalists, and political leaders are fighting back against oppression and for democracy and freedom, both in Russia and Belarus. How can Canada, the US, and our European allies support these brave men and women in their fight for a free and democratic country? In this panel, we brought together prominent democracy and human rights activists as well as policy-makers to discuss this question.