Real Hope for Belarus
The country of Belarus sometimes feels like a perennial source of bad news. Since the 1990s, the former Soviet state has been under the iron-fisted regime of ex-Communist functionary Alexander Lukashenko. Relics of the Soviet period—such as collective farming and a secret police that still calls itself the kgb—abound. When Belarus does make the Western news, it’s usually to do with a prominent journalist being thrown into prison, or threats to join Russia’s war in Ukraine, or some other disruption.
But every once in a while, a beam of sunshine pierces through Belarus’s gloomy news. Such a beam shone on Friday, October 7, to Ales Bialiatski, the founder and chairman of Viasna, one of Belarus’s oldest and largest human rights groups. What happened on October 7? Let Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, tell you from her speech that day:
The giving of the Nobel Peace Prize, arguably the most prestigious award in peacemaking, certainly gives the team at Viasna hope. And they need hope. Belarus is one of the most difficult countries in Europe to do human rights work in. Viasna was founded by Bialiatski and his colleagues in April of 1996 after mass arrests following protests against the Lukashenko regime. Viasna’s work involves giving Belarussian victims of human rights abuses legal aid, as well as publishing their stories to inform the public at-large. This puts them on the radar of Lukashenko’s security apparatus. Bialiatski has currently been in prison for over a year. He is not the only member of Viasna currently behind bars for human rights work.
What is the quality of life in Belarussian prisons? Natallia Satsunkevich sits on Viasna’s governing board. Here is what she told the Trumpet on October 18:
Ales [is] in a so-called pretrial detention center because there was no court trial [for] almost 14 months. And it’s a very old building in the center of Minsk, the capital city. It’s very old, and you can imagine that condition[s] there are really poor. The humidity is too high. There is no sunlight there. But also the conditions are poor because of the system. There is no humanism there. For example, a person could take a shower only once a week for 15 minutes. You have only one hour of walking a day, and it happens [in a similar] stone cage [as your cell], but only with some sky. And cells there are overcrowded; it could be up to 20 people. And you live day by day, month by month, year by year with these 20 people. And also the quality of food is poor, and the big problem is the lack of qualified medical assistance there. … Eye diseases are [common] there because of the lack of sunlight. You can’t meet with your family. Letters and postcards are very limited by censorship. And also you can’t meet with your lawyer confidentially. We know exactly that all meetings and all words are recorded.
Human rights groups are not the only targets of Lukashenko’s regime. Lukashenko rules in Minsk only after rigging Belarus’s presidential elections in 2020. Everybody knows Lukashenko is illegitimate. Everybody is tired of him. Lukashenko only has two things he can do to preserve his rule. The first is to create a climate of terror so people lose the courage to challenge him. “People are very scared,” said Satsunkevich, “because the regime keeps this atmosphere of fear and repression in Belarus.”
The second of Lukashenko’s means of staying in power is by far the more important. This is to rely on his next-door neighbor: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Through military support, fossil fuel subsidies and other means, Putin has kept Lukashenko’s regime afloat. Lukashenko is heavily indebted to Putin and has surrendered the sovereignty of his country to Russia in all but name. Belarus and Russia are already incredibly integrated with each other politically, and Putin was able to use Belarus as a launch pad for his military against Ukraine in the current war. If anything, the Lukashenko regime could be called the Putin puppet regime.
When asked if she thought the human rights situation in Belarus could improve, Satsunkevich pointed to the Ukraine war as a cause for hope. This is because Lukashenko’s survival depends on Putin. If anything happens to cause instability in Moscow, it could have reverberations in Minsk.
Some may hope that the Ukraine war help spread democracy in Eastern Europe. But in the short term, the war has given Lukashenko excuse to double down on people. According to Satsunkevich:
When a person takes a picture of Russian military equipment that goes through Belarussian territory to Ukraine and passes this photo to independent media, that’s a criminal case. Real people are arrested and get real prison terms because of doing that for four or five years. And after the beginning of the war, authorities started to be more brutal during arrests. Some people were shot, not killed but shot, in Belarus. And also authorities use this term of “terrorism” for people who try to protest in different forms. They name people as terrorists. Of course, it’s not the truth.
This is why awards like the Nobel Peace Prize are so meaningful. Little changes regarding the human rights situation in Belarus. The international community sees this and slows their support—out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes, the international community pressures Lukashenko to release certain political prisoners in exchange for sanctions relief. But the systemic change that groups like Viasna look for never comes.
The peace prize shows that people notice. The prize shows that, despite their seemingly fruitless efforts, the work of Viasna and people like Ales Bialiatski is leading somewhere. Satsunkevich hopes that the publicity of the award will bring foreign pressure on Lukashenko’s regime. But if nothing else, the Nobel Peace Prize shows that, despite the continuous suffering of the people of Belarus, somebody somewhere hasn’t forgotten. And they’re doing all they can to help.
It remains to be seen how the peace prize will affect the situation in Belarus. How the Ukraine war will conclude is still a mystery. But the prize demonstrates a truth that most may not realize: There is someone out there who sees the people’s suffering—sees oppression—sees tyranny—sees injustice. For the people of Belarus—and elsewhere—when it seems like the world has forgotten their plight, there is someone out there who hasn’t. And He is going to do all He can to fix their problems. This may not be immediate, but this “Strong Hand from someplace” has a lot more to offer than just a gold medal or good publicity.
Thousands of years ago, in Egypt, there existed a people called the Israelites. These Israelites, fast out-populating the lands native inhabitants, became enslaved by the ancient Egyptians. “The Egyptians made slaves of the Israelites harshly; they made life bitter for them with hard service” (Exodus 1:13-14; Moffatt translation). Day in and day out, year after year, the Israelites were forced to construct cities, intensive labor projects that consumed their strength. At one point, one particular pharaoh even demanded the Israelites murder their own children in an ancient act of genocide. The lot for the Israelites seemed to continually worsening, with the only end in sight being the grave.
Somebody had not forgotten, however. God had made a covenant with Israel’s ancestors to make them a great nation. He wasn’t going to let the Egyptians blot them out of existence. “The people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant” (Exodus 2:23-24; Revised Standard Version).
The same God who heard the groaning of those Israelites hears the groaning of every single Belarussian rotting in a Minsk prison. God hasn’t forgotten about them. And He has bound Himself with different promises to give them—and the whole world—real freedom and real peace.
The Trumpet often uses a prophecy in Ezekiel 38 to analyze current events in Eastern Europe. This prophecy, dated to our time today (as referred to in verse 38 under the name “the latter years”), discusses, as the New King James Version renders verse 2, a “prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.” These three groups are the ancestral peoples of modern Russia. (For more information, please read our editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia’.) Mr. Flurry identifies this “prince of Rosh” as Vladimir Putin.
Based on this, Mr. Flurry made some predictions on what direction Putin would take Russia: “The use of all three names”—Rosh, Meshech and Tubal—“shows that this is an individual ruler of all the peoples of Russia, from the west to the east. … This giant swath of land indicates the prince will probably conquer more nations of the former Soviet Union.” Events like those in Belarus and Ukraine have proved Mr. Flurry right.
This may seem to be bad news for countries like Belarus. Other prophecies show that circumstances will get worse before they get better. But notice what God says to the Prince of Rosh in Ezekiel 38: “Behold, I am against thee … and I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth” (verses 3-4). God, through the Prophet Ezekiel, says that when nobody else is able to stop the Russian juggernaut, He will. The Russian bear is no match for Almighty God.
The rest of the prophecy details a time when this same Russian war machine tries to resurge a second time—and God stops it a second time. God is not going to let small nations like Belarus be terrorized by this system any more.
And what happens when men like Putin and Lukashenko are removed? What happens when there is a change of government for Belarus? Micah 4:3-4 states that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken it.” This is just one of many prophecies detailing the utopian government God promises to Belarussians and the world.
People can see that Belarus’s problems are because of Vladimir Putin and his puppet regime in Minsk. People can see that, for peace and freedom to come to places like Belarus, something has to change in Moscow. Many also see that Putin isn’t going away any time soon, which means Belarus’s problems aren’t going away any time soon. The Bible prophesies that Putin’s power is only going to grow more and more. But the same Bible says God will come to stop him—and real freedom will follow.
In this sense, as discouraged as events in Belarus and Ukraine may make one feel, this is all a sign of good things. God, through His Word, gives the solution to Belarus’s problems.
Mr. Flurry writes: “Vladimir Putin is a sign, literally a sign, that Jesus Christ is about to return! This is one of the most inspiring messages in the Bible. What we are seeing in Russia ultimately leads to the transition from man ruling man to God ruling man! And it is almost here! It is just a few short years away.”
Another quote: “Mr. Putin’s warfare is going to lead directly into the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus Christ knows precisely how to deal with all of the leaders like the prophesied prince of Russia!”
The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize shows that, even amid a seemingly hopeless situation, there is hope. There are those who see the injustices of this world and are determined to do something about it. Any benefit the Nobel Peace Prize gives to the people of Belarus will be very temporary. But the Bible promises a hope the Nobel Prize can’t give. It’s a lasting hope as sure as tomorrow’s sunrise.