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EDYN Network Helps Young Belarusians Fight for their Rights

This summer, scores of Belarusians risked their lives to protest the August 9 election, in which President Alexander Lukashenko rigged the vote to claim a landslide victory over new pro-democracy contenders. In the lead up to the election, Belarus saw unprecedented levels of popular protests, and despite the violent crackdowns by the state, demonstrations and strikes persist showing no signs of abating.

As those on the frontlines face imprisonment and harassment, we – the members of the European Democracy Youth Network (EDYN), proudly co-sponsored by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) – are moved by their unwavering commitment to securing political freedoms in Belarus, and are committed to supporting Belarusian youth in their struggle to bring democracy to their country.  

Belarusian EDYN members have united around calls for change after 26 years of authoritarianism, a worsening economy and President Lukashenko’s mismanagement of COVID-19. The members of EDYN – a coalition of 230 youth political and civic activists from Central and Eastern Europe – are proud to stand with our Belarusian peers. By building a network in which all members support each other and enhancing youth civic and political participation, we are effecting change across Europe. In moments like these, cross-border solidarity is needed more than ever, and EDYN serves as a platform to amplify the voices of our fellow activists.

To that end, we reached out to our Belarusian EDYN members, so we could share their perspectives of the country’s civic awakening and the message they hope to convey to the international community:

"Acts of solidarity will not bring about a change inside our country, but we need it for several reasons. Firstly, Belarusians are under great pressure and many are afraid of the consequences. We need to know we are not alone and other countries will lend us a helping hand when needed. Secondly, by showing solidarity and speaking about the situation in Belarus, you help us to be heard. You are our voice. Thirdly, Belarusian public media spread Russian propaganda, which aims at undermining people's faith in change and their strength. The acts of solidarity prove the opposite - they are a testimony of how united and strong people can be when they are together, and motivate the Belarusian people to keep going and not give up." – Viktoryia Andrukovich, volunteer for the Belarusian human rights organization Human Constanta, Tell the Truth movement and the Society of Belarusian Culture.

"My city of six thousand inhabitants had only two oppositionists who were considered abnormal despite the fact that they were speaking about democratic values and citizen rights. Today people talk about it everywhere. We have bonded, we have started appreciating one another. It's always difficult to start alone, but when we are together, we are stronger." – Yahor Levachou, member of the Republican Research and Education Public Association’s Tell the Truth political movement.

"It is very important that events in Belarus remain at the forefront of the international agenda and that the world understands what is at stake for us. Belarusians took to the streets to show the magnitude of dissatisfaction and exhaustion. Our main goal is repeated and fair elections. This year I was an election observer for the third time and I can confirm the election was rigged. We continue to stand up for our rights, and we thank our friends around the world for their support." – Iryna Ponedelnik, a founder and coordinator of the Youth for Sustainable Development in Belarus initiative.

Today, the members of EDYN stand united with our friends in Belarus and continue to support their efforts for a new election and peaceful transfer of power. We believe that in times of instability and widespread populism and propaganda, cross-border unity is vital to the fight for democracy.