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"Belarusian Elections Will Be Illegitimate"

Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Kazulin, 16Sep2008

Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Kazulin, 16Sep2008

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) One month after being released from prison, prominent Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Kazulin gave an interview to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Belarusian Service from RFE/RL's Washington, D.C. studios.

"I want to underscore that the [parliamentary] elections taking place in our country next week cannot be recognized as democratic, legitimate, honest, or transparent," said Kazulin, who was in the U.S. to meet senior American officials ahead of the September 28 vote. "Nevertheless, I am in favor of participating in the elections to the maximum extent possible and of collecting evidence of falsifications and violations that can be reported to the international community." The live interview was broadcast on Saturday, September 20.

In March 2006, one month after unsuccessfully challenging Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in presidential elections, Kazulin was arrested during an opposition protest rally, charged with hooliganism and disorderly conduct. He was subsequently sentenced to five and a half years in prison. In his jail cell, Kazulin says he listened frequently to RFE/RL's Belarusian broadcasts, calling them his "air of freedom." Last month, Kazulin was released from prison, along with other political prisoners, as a basic condition of the U.S. and European Union for entering negotiations with Belarus aimed at lifting sanctions against two Belarusian state-run companies.

During the interview, Kazulin said the goal of his meetings in Washington was to make sure Americans know what is really going on in Belarus. He said that, despite recent dialogue between Lukashenka's regime and the European Union, "it is important not to get carried away with horse-trading, but rather, to focus on the main things the West stands for – human rights, freedom, democracy and the rule of law."

"I see that the United States is taking a serious interest in solving the problems taking place in Belarus," he said.

In the interview, Kazulin ruled out creating a new political party of his own, but said he will work to unify the existing democratic opposition in Belarus. He also said he believes Belarus should remain an ally of Russia, but that the country "should be a golden bridge between Russia and the West."

RFE/RL's Belarus Service was established in 1954 as part of Radio Liberty's broadcasts to the former Soviet Union. With much of the independent media in Belarus silenced, the service remains one of the few media outlets accessible to Belarusians in their own language, providing timely, objective, and balanced information to residents of "Europe's last dictatorship."