Berlin: Picket for the release of imprisoned Belarusian workers

On April 19, the one-year anniversary of the arrests of trade union leaders, a campaign was held demanding their release. The International Socialist League (ISL) was an active part of these demands.

Last year, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) made a public call to stop the war against Ukraine and the withdrawal of the Russian army from the territory of Belarus. On the basis of these just demands, Lukashenko deepened the attack on the organized working and popular movement, falsely accusing them of “terrorists”. In this regard, the KGB included the Union of Workers of the Belarusian Radio-Electronic Industry in the list of “extremist” formations.

Imprisonment and terror

Then, on April 19, 2022, the arrests began and lasted more than a month. 20 activists, leaders and workers of four trade unions of the BKDP, its chairman Aliaksandr Yarashuk, deputy Siarhei Antusevich and accountant Iryna But-Husaim were arrested. Human rights organizations included more than 30 trade unionists in a long list of political prisoners containing the names of more than 1,498 people. In the last two years the regime liquidated more than 700 organizations, among them the Independent Trade Union of Belarus (BNP) in what constitutes an action with marked Stalinist features.

An anniversary of protest

On the one-year anniversary of the arrests, various actions were carried out, called by “Salidarnast”, an association founded by Belarusian trade union activists exiled in Bremen. At Pariser Platz, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a picket was held to demand the release of the arrested and prosecuted workers. The members of the BNP do not give up, they continue to demand just causes and freedom for the imprisoned comrades, even in difficult conditions. This was expressed in the interview with Raman Yerashenia held after the picket.  

Speakers, dissemination and support

Pavel Sakalouski, member of the executive committee of the BKDP; Eduard Balanchuk, representative of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHK) and Ruben Tzanoff, of the International Socialist League (ISL) spoke at the event. Finally, Sviatlana Ushchapovskaya, head of the BPN women’s department, spoke. Banners were unfurled and information leaflets were distributed in English, German and Belarusian languages as part of the support for the LabourStart campaign being launched. The action was supported by Bundestag deputies Helge Limburg and Beata Müller-Gemmeke (Alliance 90/Greens), who are symbolic godparents of political prisoners Andrei Paheryla and Hanna Ablab. Also workers from Washington, Argentina, Brazil, Lithuania and other countries.

Together with the demands of the working people

Lukashenko heads Putin’s puppet government, servile to Russian imperialist interests and to the capitalist oligarchy of the country. It is based on a dictatorial regime whose repression is executed by the KGB. For these reasons, it is necessary to support the demands for the freedom of political prisoners, the end of repression, the cancellation of sentences, respect for social, trade union, human and democratic rights. Raising the need to build trade union and political organizations of the workers and the left, independent of the oligarchic powers.

Internationalist solidarity has no borders

The ISL has always supported these protests, strikes and mobilizations such as those of 2020. And on this occasion, it carried out an international campaign of pronouncements, actions, a video that included the greeting of the different organizations that integrate it in countries of the five continents and participated in the picket in Berlin with a solidarity greeting. The signs of comradeship and the gratitude of the workers make us proud and strengthen us in the conviction to continue supporting them, as will happen on May 1st, International Workers’ Day. Both in Belarus and in exile, the ISL will continue to support the demands and mobilization. Out with Lukashenko and the dictatorial regime!

It is necessary to promote solidarity and the united struggle of all workers

After the picket at Pariser Platz, we talked to Raman Yerashenia, member of the association called Salidarnast.

Why was it important to picket in Berlin on April 19?

Because exactly one year has passed since the beginning of the arrests and the issue of repressions in Belarus has been relegated to the background in the context of the war in Ukraine. This is the beginning of an information campaign that we have combined with LabourStart.

What’s the condition of imprisoned leaders and activists and their families?

Only now the prisoners have been transferred to camps to serve their sentences. Conditions are harsh and special treatment is given to political prisoners. Some activists have health issues. Their families have lost their house support and face financial difficulties. We support the prisoners and their families.

How do you assess these first steps?

We are just beginning the work in exile. Considering this reality, the steps we have taken are modest and will improve with the passage of time and with the activities to come. 

What is the next action?

It will be the participation in the May 1st protest in Bremen, with the German trade union DGB. There the Belarusian issue will be raised.

Why did the picket line and the campaign highlight women workers?

We have always had a women’s leadership in the trade unions. I would like to draw the attention of feminist organizations towards the problem of political repression in Belarus.

What message do you want to convey to those who supported the campaign?

The message is simple: it is necessary to promote solidarity and the united struggle of all workers against injustice.

ISL greetings at the picket in Berlin

“Comrades: From the International Socialist League and all the countries where our comrades develop their militant activity in defense of the present and historical interests of the workers, we send you a greeting of solidarity on this special day, where it is one year since the last great repression by the dictatorial regime of Lukashenko. We unconditionally support the demands for the freedom of imprisoned workers, the end of persecutions and terror in Belarus. The arrests and criminal cases for “terrorism” of workers’ leaders and activists are Stalinist falsehoods of a capitalist government that in order to maintain the privileges of the oligarchy it represents wants to liquidate the Independent Trade Unions and anyone who rises up against it. Besides being a dictator, Lukashenko is a puppet of Putin. That is why he supports the Russian imperialist invasion of Ukrainian people and allows the use of Belarus as the invader’s war platform. Despite almost 30 years of tyranny, the regime has not achieved the submission of the workers and the people. That is why it has faced strikes and large mobilizations, such as those of 2020 and now the demands for freedom, also from exile. This April 19, the organizations that make up the International Socialist League in the five continents are with you promoting statements, acts and mobilizations to the embassies of Belarus. Comrades, your struggle is our struggle! Trade unionism is not “terrorism”! Freedom for political prisoners and cancellation of criminal cases! Enough repression and terror in Belarus! Long live international solidarity among workers and peoples!”

Rubén Tzanoff of the ISL at the Belin picket.