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From Belarus, a cry for help

The nation, once part of Russia, still lives under Big Brother's shadow. Fred Hiatt writes.

world Updated: Apr 07, 2012 23:33 IST
Fred Hiatt

Stanislav Shushkevich, the leader of Belarus as it emerged from the Soviet Union 20 years ago, doesn't look like a dangerous man. At 77, he appears more like the rumpled physicist he used to be than a dangerous dissident.

Nonetheless, he was able to visit the United States last week and dropped by The Post only after some James Bond-like maneuvers. His country's longtime dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, has barred Shushkevich from travelling. So Shushkevich used his tapped cell phone to tell all his friends that he was travelling to Russia by train. Then he drove across an unpoliced border crossing into Russia and travelled from there to Latvia, Lithuania and, eventually, Washington.

The message he had to deliver: Belarus is stifling, politically and economically, under its "telephone dictatorship" meaning everything happens based on phone calls from Lukashenko, up to and including the disappearance of politicians who get in the way and the execution of innocent Belarusans.

And, Shushkevich said, the Obama administration could do more to help his country's beleaguered democrats stand up to their tyranny.

Lukashenko holds onto his position thanks to financial and political backing from Russia's strongman, Vladimir Putin.

"Nothing can be done except through Moscow," Shushkevich said.

(In Exclusive Partnership with The Washington Post)