This was the motto of a welcoming event for activists of the Belarusian independent trade unions organized by the Bremen branch of the DGB on 27 January in the Bremen Trade Union House.
The event gathered fifty trade union and civil activists, human rights activists and representatives of the executive power of the Free City of Bremen. It was attended by activists of the Association “Salidarnast”, Rabochy Ruch initiative, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Bremen Association of Belarusians “Razam”, German trade unions and the Senate of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen.
Ernesto Harder, leader of the Bremen-Elbe-Weser DGB, opened the meeting as the host. In his speech he told about the situation in Belarus and the reasons why trade union activists left Belarus and came to Bremen.
It should be noted that thanks to Ernesto a list of administrative issues was solved, such as finding housing, finding schools and kindergartens for the new arrivals. The unions in Bremen provided the necessary support.
The Senate of the City of Bremen was also involved when the issue of receiving a whole group of Belarusian trade unionists had to be resolved.
- We had one clear goal - to get people who were in danger out of Belarus. We managed to get seven activists out of eight, as well as to get visas for them and legally transport them to Germany, said the Bremen trade union leader. - The Belarusian colleagues had a lot of domestic and administrative issues when they came here. Our trade union colleagues and the people of Bremen helped them with that. We are very grateful to them for that.
It was noted in the speech that in order to continue the activity of the Belarusan trade unions, IG BAU provided an office to work, and the activists, in turn, founded and registered their own Association “Salidarnast”. With the help of this organization they want to achieve justice for those colleagues who are under repressive pressure in Belarus today and make Belarus a democratic country.
- Every year on May 1, our organization declares the slogan of the year. This year our slogan is Unbroken Solidarity. After a year of war, we believe that solidarity remains our core value that we cannot abandon. And I think this slogan suits you, dear colleagues from Belarus, very well. Because you are those unbroken people of solidarity. There are representatives of various trade unions and civil organizations in this hall today, and thank you very much for that.
Dr. Andreas Bovenschulte, President of the Senate and Bürgermeister of the Free City of Bremen, noted that international solidarity has always been and remains the most important value of the labour movement. He thanked Ernesto Harder, the trade unions of Bremen and the citizens for their commitment, energy and time.
- The people whose pictures you see here now are behind bars, just for standing up for workers' rights. And here and now in this place, I would like to say that this should not be the case! People should have the right to unite and defend their interests in the workplace.
Andreas Bovenschulte expressed his deepest respect not only for the Belarusians who are here, but for those who are still working in Belarus under the greatest pressure: “We must remember them and we must know what they do”.
The mayor recalled a historical parallel, when representatives of the Polish “Solidarność” in 1981, were also helped to come here because they were under persecution by the Polish Stalinist regime.
- What’s important now is to apply political pressure on Lukashenko and his regime by international organizations, - said Andreas Bovenschulte. - We hope that in June this year, the ILO will adopt a decision, which will bind the Lukashenko regime with further sanctions and help us release our colleagues, who are now in prison. We need everyone’s efforts. We need consolidation and I am sure it will happen.
A representative of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, Maksim Pazniakou, who was forced to leave Belarus, supported the mayor of Bremen in his speech. Thanking everyone for their help and support, he spoke about the protests and persecution of the labour movement by the regime. About what is possible today, and what is not, under the conditions of terror.
- The most important thing now is to get our brothers and sisters released from prison. That’s what the Solidarity Association was founded for, - said the representative of the BKDP.
On behalf of “Salidarnast” its leader Lizaveta Merliak spoke and noted that Bremen has a long tradition of receiving trade union refugees: “We hope that this tradition will continue and the city of Bremen will be able to help more people in difficult times”.
Lizaveta mentioned by name all the Belarusian trade union activists who are now in prison. She noted that among them were women, internationally known trade union leaders, her friends and acquaintances. Those who have received huge sentences and those who have already served their sentences or are restricted in their freedom. “Salidarnast” and the international representation of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions were created precisely for that.
The leader of the association stressed that the problems in Belarus did not begin in August 2020:
- For 30 years, human rights, workers’ rights and trade union rights have been violated in the country. The government of Belarus is simply the champion of the world in this field. So the authorities have to answer to the international community for this. And “Salidarnast” works through international structures to ensure that this responsibility comes as soon as possible. We are not free as long as someone remains behind bars!
She called for solidarity, to spread the word, so that international solidarity can fight back against the united dictators who have unleashed the war in Ukraine. Keeping their society behind bars and threatening the very existence of the World.
In addition to trade union representatives, Belarusian human rights activists, who are forced to stay in Germany and Lithuania, also took part in the event.
Anastasiya Vasilchuk, representative of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, acknowledged the importance of mutual support and cooperation between human rights, public and trade union organizations. She spoke about the human rights situation in Belarus, where people are detained daily for political reasons.
- 3,800 people are criminally prosecuted, 1,500 hostages are kept in prisons. These are only the cases we know about. Like trade unions, human rights activists were forced to leave the country, and those who stayed are in prisons. Among them is the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski. We ourselves, active Belarusians, need to look for ways to cooperate and support each other, for our common cause, - said the human rights activist.
At the end of the event, the performance of the Belarusian group “Dzieciuki”, which is also in exile and is recognized as extremist in Belarus, was warmly welcomed. Ales Dzianisau’s acoustic performance cheerfully concluded the welcoming evening of unbroken solidarity.