Czech government approves special fund to help victims of pro-democracy protests in Belarus

Photo: ČTK/AP

The Czech government has approved the creation of a special fund to help independent Belarusian media and people persecuted or injured in the ongoing mass protests against the Lukashenko regime. Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček said 10 million crowns will be set aside to support Belarussian civil society in its time of need.

The Czech government is watching the situation in Belarus with grave concern and has joined international calls for the Lukashenko regime to exercise restraint in the face of massive public protests. While Prague says the country must determine its own future, the scenes from the country’s capital Minsk have drawn parallels with the Czechs’ own pro-democracy protests in 1989. Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček said at a press conference on Monday that his ministry would provide 10 million crowns from its budget to help victims of the brutal police crackdown against demonstrators and support independent media in Belarus.

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: Archive of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic

“Our priority right now is to help the country’s independent media, to offer legal assistance to people who have lost their jobs because they reported on how the presidential elections were rigged, to help journalists who are persecuted by the regime and provide psychotherapeutic assistance to people who were arrested and, by all accounts, subjected to torture”.

The funds are to be distributed in cooperation with local civic organizations via the Czech embassy in Belarus. The Czech foreign minister earlier stressed the importance of providing aid directly to those in need, to civic initiatives and humanitarian organizations, so that it would not be snapped up by local authorities. In an interview for Czech Radio Minister Petříček said the EU should withhold funds going to the Lukashenko regime for the time being.

“I am convinced that we should now restrict direct EU support going to the Lukashenko regime. There are various projects that the EU is funding in Belarus via its Eastern Partnership Program. The government should not be the recipient of EU funds at the present time. The money should go directly to the people of Belarus, to the civil society.”

Photo: ČTK/AP/Dmitri Lovetsky

The Czech foreign minister said the Czech Republic would also try to help those who suffered severe injuries in police crackdowns on demonstrators and failed to receive adequate medical treatment by offering them treatment here in the Czech Republic. He told Czech Radio that, in view of its own history, the Czech Republic should do everything in its power to help start a political dialogue in Belarus that would lead to free and fair elections.

“The Czech Republic has consistently supported independent media and civil society in Belarus. And it is no coincidence that many people persecuted by the authorities there have found asylum in this country. There are several thousand Belarussian nationals living in the Czech Republic today and they badly want their homeland to be a free and democratic country where the people will be able to decide their future without oppression.”