Budapest: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Thursday for solidarity with pro-democracy activists in Belarus as the wave of protest that has spread through the Arab world extends to Europe`s last autocratic stronghold.
On the first leg of a trip taking her to two European nations that democratised in the world`s last great series of liberal upheavals, when the Iron Curtain came down in 1989, Hillary spoke emphatically for democracies to stand together and do what they can to expand their club.
She said emerging democracies from Europe to Latin America to Asia can help Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries in transition. And all should "show solidarity with those in the streets of Belarus, in Libya and around the world," she added.
The secretary spoke at the inauguration of a human rights institute in Budapest honoring the late Congressman Tom Lantos of California. Hillary`s predecessor as America`s top diplomat, Condoleezza Rice, also attended the ceremony for the Lantos Institute, named after the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who died in 2008.
In a wide-ranging speech, Hillary expressed veiled concerns about China, expressly rejecting the creed of those countries "trumpeting national economic growth over freedom and human rights”. But she avoided chastising the host Hungarian government over a new media law or the independence of its judiciary, which have been criticised in Europe.
Hillary is expected to elaborate on the same themes when she arrives later on Thursday for the two-day "Community of Democracies" gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania. She will also visit Spain before returning to Washington on Saturday.
"As we struggle to help new democracies emerge, we cannot let any democracy anywhere backslide," Hillary said. "The stakes are too high."
Senior administration officials traveling with Hillary highlighted Belarus as a nation of growing concern. They noted that repression has increased in the country, and said the US and European governments were adopting a two-pronged approach to try to spur change. Travel bans, asset freezes and other sanctions are being directed at officials culpable in human rights abuses, while funds are being directed to promote economic development and travel opportunities for private Belarusian citizens and civil society members.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Hillary’s trip to Vilnius, near Lithuania`s border with Belarus. Life inside President Alexander Lukashenko`s country will probably be a major topic of discussion there.
On Wednesday, Belarusian police violently dispersed the latest peaceful rally by thousands of people protesting Lukashenko`s regime and the country`s worst financial crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago.
The Vesna rights advocacy group said police arrested more than 100 and beat many with truncheons. It is the latest crackdown from the government of Lukashenko, who has ruled the nation of 10 million people with an iron hand for nearly 17 years, earning the nickname of "Europe`s last dictator”.
In Budapest, where the focus was on Lantos` legacy, officials and family members from Hungary and the United States offered their tributes.
Hillary noted how the Democrat founded Congress` human rights caucus in 1983, while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Lantos represented the love of freedom shared by the US and his country. Orban, however, also used the event to also warn about the far-reaching effects of economic turmoil.
"Indebtedness, whether that of households or entire countries, clearly limits freedoms," Orban said. He borrowed the words of President John Adams, who said there are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation — by the sword and by debt.