Belarusian community organizations in Canada say they are “thrilled” by the federal government’s decision to allocate $2.25 million to fund pro-democracy and civil society groups in Belarus as they continue to fight the iron-fisted rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The new funding for Belarus’s embattled pro-democracy groups comes on the heels of another $600,000 allocated by Ottawa to boost the role of women in Belarusian civil society and support independent media.
Canada has not recognized the results of the 2020 presidential election that gave Lukashenko his sixth term in office since coming to power in 1994.
- Canada imposes sanctions on Belarusian officials
- Champagne meets Belarus’s exiled opposition leader in Lithuania
“Canada has been actively engaged since the start of the crisis in supporting the democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and a peaceful resolution to the current political situation,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneu said in a statement on Sunday. “We will continue to advocate for a genuine and inclusive national dialogue to ensure that the future of Belarus reflects the will of its citizens.”
Andrey Dashkov, director and chair of the board of the Vancouver chapter of iHelpBelarus.org, a pro-democracy non-profit, said his organization is looking forward to working with the federal government to make sure that the funding is “used for a maximum positive effect.”
“We applaud Canada’s decision to continue supporting the people of Belarus and their lawful and peaceful protests,” Dashkov said.
Global Affairs Canada says Belarusian authorities have conducted a systematic campaign of repression and state-sponsored violence against public protests and the activities of opposition groups.
“As our friends and family back home are marching in peaceful protests every single day for over half a year now, we, the active members of Belarusian diaspora in Canada do everything we can to help,” said Alexandra Nestertchouk, an activist in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“That is why we are thrilled that Canada is showing support once again with this newly introduced funding package to assist the people of Belarus in their transition toward a free and democratic society. There is of course a lot that needs to be done, but together we will save Belarus from falling into a military dictatorship.”
Iryna Sazanovich, director at iHelpBelarus.org Calgary chapter, said the funding comes at a critical time for the pro-democracy movement in Belarus and the worldwide Belarusian Diaspora.
“After rigged elections in Belarus in August 2020 when the incumbent president falsified the results and directed unimaginable violence by police and special forces towards peaceful protesters, Belarusians of Canada donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support victims of the violence and prosecution by the Lukashenko regime,” Sazanovich said.
The Belarusian community in Canada organized numerous fundraisers to support the democratic movement in Belarus, she said. But due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers have noticed a significant drop in donations, Sazanovich said.
In addition to funding Belarusian pro-democracy groups, Canada has imposed three rounds of targeted sanctions under the Special Economic Measures Act against 55 Belarusian officials implicated in the ongoing large-scale and systematic human rights violations occurring in Belarus, according to Global Affairs Canada.
Canada, along with 16 other member-states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), have invoked the Moscow Mechanism to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Belarus.
Officials at the Belarusian embassy in Ottawa could not be reached for comment.