Published: 13/09/2003

At the September 10 executive meeting of the IUF-affiliated Agro-Industrial Workers Union, union president Aleksander Yaroshuk, known as a principled opponent of Lukashenko’s policies, was removed from office and replaced by the candidate of the Minister for Agriculture and Food Industry: deputy minister Vladimir Samosyuk.

Using threats and blackmail, the state authorities manipulated the election in direct violation of the union’s statutes and the expressed will of the union congress which elected Yaroshuk in 2000. The outcome was a foregone conclusion, as Yaroshuk was deprived from the beginning of his right to preside the meeting. There was no registration procedure for delegates. Voting cards were distributed straight from the presidium to anyone who asked. A journalist was able to vote, but the elected president received his voting card only at the end of the farcical proceedings. The one and only candidate for president (who according to the union statutes is elected by Congress) was proposed by the Minister for Agriculture and Food Industry, who assured delegates that his deputy would restore the union’s previously healthy relationship with the government (i.e. roll back the democratization process and the union’s transformation into an organization representing its members).

With this takeover of the largest union in Belarus, Lukashenko brings to completion the process of integrating the unions into his police regime. For the moment, the workers of Belarus have been deprived of their right to independent trade unions, which can only ensure the country’s further descent into isolation, poverty and oppression.

The IUF has always refused all recognition of unions whose leadership has been constituted through government intervention. We will be starting the measures required for disaffiliating the Agro-Industrial Workers Union of Belarus since it no longer meets the criteria for membership in the IUF, and have ceased all communication with the new leadership (i.e. the government of Belarus). Lukashenko’s unions must be denied all international recognition.

We are fully confident that no force can permanently repress the aspirations of workers and of democratic civil society. The IUF will continue to actively work with and support independent trade union organizations in Belarus representing Belarussian workers, as opposed to the government and the police. We urge affiliates to inform their national centers and their governments of the intensification of Lukashenko’s dictatorship, and give their solidarity and support to labour activists and all those working to establish democracy in Belarus.