- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2012

The State Department sent a strong message this week to Belarus‘ tyrannical leader, Alexander Lukashenko, an autocrat so threatened by democracy that he was intimidated by teddy bears pinned with messages about freedom and dropped by parachutes over the capital of Minsk in July.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton selected an imprisoned Belarusian dissident, Ales Byalyatski, to receive the annual Human Rights Defenders Award.

Mr. Byalyatski is a “political prisoner serving a 41/2-year sentence for his efforts to defend human rights and promote democracy,” the State Department said in announcing the award.

U.S. Ambassador Lee A. Feinstein in neighboring Poland presented the award to Mr. Byalyatski’s wife, Natalya Pinchuk, at the ambassador’s residence in Warsaw.

Mr. Feinstein said the award shows Mr. Lukashenko that Washington is watching him.

“It helps the regime to know that we are paying attention,” he said.

Mr. Byalyatski, who heads a human rights group called Vyasna, was arrested in August 2011 on accusations of tax evasion.

The award ceremony was held in Poland because the U.S. has no ambassador in Belarus.

Four years ago, Mr. Lukashenko, angered by Washington’s continued criticism of his regime, kicked out 30 American diplomats, leaving only five to run the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. President Bush called Mr. Lukashenko the “last dictator” in Europe.

The State Department this week also dismissed Belarus‘ Sept. 23 parliamentary elections as neither free nor fair, after candidates from pro-regime parties won all 109 seats on the ballots.

Mr. Lukashenko’s anger was on full display after a small plane flown by three Swedish activists illegally entered Belarusian airspace and dropped 800 teddy bears over Minsk. They drifted over the capital on little parachutes, and each stuffed animal was pinned with a message promoting democracy and denouncing Mr. Lukashenko’s police state.

Patience and wisdom

The U.S. ambassador to South Sudan warned the citizens of the world’s newest country that the democracy they won through decades of civil war could be destroyed by tribal disputes and impatience with a fledgling government.

“Democracy is hard earned but easily lost,” Ambassador Susan D. Page wrote in a newspaper article in South Sudan. “It is easy to become impatient with the pace of change and imperfect democratic process and want to force that change along by undemocratic means.”

She warned South Sudan’s leaders that they risk losing U.S. aid if they allow their democracy to fall into a dictatorship. The United States has budgeted $1 billion in assistance from 2011 through 2013.

Since gaining independence from Sudan in July 2011, South Sudan has descended into armed conflict with rebels inside the country and border disputes with Sudan.

Critics accuse President Salva Kiir’s government of corruption and incompetence.

Mrs. Page urged the South Sudanese to work to save their republic.

“Straying from the path of democracy will dash the hopes and dreams of a people who have sacrificed far beyond the comprehension of those who have never personally experienced war or been marginalized in their homeland,” she said.

“The road traveled by those seeking emancipation can span decades, leaving the soles of countless feet and shoes cracked and worn. Yet, with bloodied feet and unbroken pride, believers march on because they know their sacrifices will not be in vain.”

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email [email protected] The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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