February 1, 2005 by  
Filed under News


The President of the Republic of Bulgaria
The Prime-Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria
The Minister of Justice of the Republic of Bulgaria
The Minister of European Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria
The Parliamentary Groups in the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria
The Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Bulgaria
The National Union of the Bulgarian Prosecutors
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
The Foundation of Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On 28 January 2005 the Sofia District Court heard law suite No 748/2004 about the resident status in the Republic of Bulgaria of the Belarus citizen Michail Vashkevic.

Mr Vashkevic is a prominent public figure and dissident opposing the repressive regime of the Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Since 1996 the authoritarian regime of Lukashenko has been persecuting and subjecting to repressions and physical abuse leaders of the democratic opposition. Mr Vashkevic was forced to leave Belarus following repeated death threats to his family and himself. He sought political asylum in a free and democratic Bulgaria, as he views our country.

It came to the knowledge of the Bulgarian public and to us, the citizens, signatories to this open letter, that for years on end Mr. Vashkevic had been having difficulties in maintaining his status as a political immigrant. Between December 2003 and January 2004 following visa and administrative problems with the Bulgarian authorities, he was detained in the Sofia prison for foreigners. The conditions of detention were damaging to the prestige of our country.

He remained in the prison for 37 days, the reason being “unlawful residence in Bulgaria”. He was arrested because the Bulgarian Government refused to grant him political asylum on the grounds that “Belarus now is a democratic country”. At the same time the Belarus Chief Prosecutor Sheiman, (recently he was appointed a personal advisor to the dictator Lukashenko), was received with honours in the spring of 2004 by the Bulgarian Government and the Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Filchev.

If, at that time, this act of the authorities could be deemed as a bureaucratic blackmail against a foreigner seeking with good reason political asylum, after the visit of Sheiman, the representative of the Belarus regime, the treatment of Mr. Vashkevic is to be described as suspicious and politically motivated. We find it hard to detect political logic in the visit of Mr. Sheiman having in mind the forthcoming admission of Bulgaria in the European Union. We are deeply worried about the visit of an emissary of an oppresive regime in this country and by the treatment of distinguished dissident and public figure like Mr. Vashkevic by the Bulgarian Government, the court and the prosecutor’s office. We find it difficult to understand how Belarus could be considered “a democratic country already”, which is the reason to deny political asylum for Mr. Vashkevic, if the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice specifically referred in her inaugural speech to this very country as “an outpost of tyranny”!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Belarus is not a democratic state! Probably you have missed the following facts about Belarus:

In November of 1996 Lukashenko organized illegal and unconstitutional referendum, which allowed him to introduce a new Constitution and to disband the democratically elected Parliament – XIII Belarus Supreme Council. The parliament was replaced with a helpless National Assembly, personally answering to the dictator. This body extended his presidential mandate to 2001 and thus enabled him to impose the dictatorial rule.

In May of 1999, The Belarus Democratic Forces (BDF) organized alternative presidential election. The response was merciless repression , mass and lengthy detentions. The opposition leaders Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yury Zaharenko and the journalist Dmitry Zavadsky vanished and were not to be seen again. There is no freedom of speech – the media criticizing the regime were shut down, the journalists persecuted and arrested. The Orthodox, The Protestant and the Catholic churches and denominations are also harassed and victimized.

The US Government, European Union, NATO Parliamentary Assembly and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly do not recognize the unelected Belarus Parliament and the referendums of 1996 and 2004, which “legitimized” the dictator Lukashenko.

The presidential election of 9th September 2001 was described as undemocratic and not conforming to the OSCE standards for democratic vote as stipulated in the 1990 Copenhagen criteria. The EU defines the Lukashenko regime as undemocratic due to the following reasons: persecution and detention of opposition leaders, denying media access to the opposition, persecution of independent NGOs (confiscation of their property), foul play in counting the vote and smear campaign in the state media against the international observers.

The referendum of 17th of October 2004 for constitutional amendments enabled the dictator to run for a third time for president! There is no such analogue in the modern democratic societies! Less than a year ago, Lukashenko declared before the media his admiration for Hitler, Lenin and Stalin! He pronounced himself to be a true disciple of them. Lukashenko established friendly relations with pariah states, supporting terrorism, as well as with the Castro, Milosevic and Saddam regimes. Following the 2004 referendum, the repression soared to new heights – peaceful protesters were severely beaten, opposition politicians were imprisoned and kidnapped.

On 22 October 2004 was murdered Veronika Cherkazova, a prominent investigative journalist and organizer of demonstrations against the illegal referendum. Unknown assassins slashed her throat. Ms Cherkazova was an editor of the Solidarity newspaper, published by the independent trade union of the same name. The symbolic link, relating to Poland of the 80s is clear. Since the illegal referendum, many news people were persecuted and arrested. According to the Western media, between 50 and 100 journalists have been missing for more than three months now. The opposition leaders Anatoly Lebedko and Nikolay Statkevich have been beaten and denied medical help. They are now unlawfully detained. The Minsk Humanities University (financed by the EU in 1992) is now closed, professors and students have been brutally assaulted, detained and tortured in the wake of the peaceful protest vigil on 22 October 2004.

US President George Bush signed in October 2004 The Law for Assistance of the Democratic Process in Belarus. The President, US Senate and American public figures condemned the manipulative and rigged referendum of 17 October 2004, the beatings , the illegal detentions and persecution of opposition activists. The EU described the referendum as a farce and supported the US sanctions against Belarus. On 25 October 2004 The Council of Europe published List of Missing Politicians during the Lukashenko rule. The Council formed a special committee to investigate the events in Belarus.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is the country declared as “already democratic” by the Bulgarian Government! With this open letter we would like to protest against the scandalous and unjustified treatment of Mr. Mikhail Vashkevic by the Bulgarian authorities. We lived through the tragic Communist past of our country, 1944 – 1989. That is why we think it is an honour for Bulgaria to be chosen as safe haven by a political dissident and civil rights leader like Mr. Mikhail Vashkevic. To grant political asylum to him, would be a symbolic gesture to the countries that protected and gave sanctuary to thousands of Bulgarian dissidents during the Communist era.

This is a case, where the Bulgarian authorities contradict the official position of the OSCE, chaired until recently by Bulgaria. In this issue, the Bulgarian Government directly confronts the EU, which our country will soon join! To neglect the opinion of the civilized world about the Belarus dictatorship is a proof of political short sightedness. It is also disrespectful and inhuman treatment of an old and ailing man. We appeal to you to help Mr. Vashkevic and to stop the physical and psychological abuse, he is subjected to. He has done enough in his life not to face insecurity and deportation. We appeal to you to assist in granting of political refugee status to Mikhail Yosifovich Vashkevic, as his residence status in Bulgaria is considered in view of his social and civic integration in the Bulgarian society.

We respectfully send this open letter to the following institutions:

Commissioner for Human Rights, Strasbourg
Council of the European Union, Strasbourg
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Strasbourg
European Commission for Enlargement, Brussels
European Commission for Human Rights, Strasbourg
European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg
European Union, Brussels
European Union Office Amnesty International, Brussels
Human Rights Watch, London
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Helsinki
U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C.