Valiantsin Stefanovich: Belarusian society still far from understanding tolerance
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" has joined the European Action Week Against Racism, a series of events taking place from 12 to 21 March to highlight the problems faced by vulnerable social groups.
Viasna activists have selected those groups which are most affected by discrimination and negative attitudes in Belarus.
“The idea of our photo action in support of the Week Against Racism focused on the Belarusian reality, the problems associated with our society. We would like to stress that we are all different, that the world is diverse and that is why it is interesting. That we need to fight negative stereotypes and people should never be judged only by their nationality, religion or sexual orientation,” says Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich.
Tolerance is often labeled as the “national feature” of Belarusians. However, the human rights activist does not agree with this opinion.
“Our organization has long been engaged in studying the issue, we used to do some research, prepared thematic publications and we can conclude that the Belarusian society is not tolerant. One should read comments on sensitive publications in the media. For example, the way people commented on the latest incident in Baranavičy, where a woman was put in jail immediately after surgery and childbirth, they said it was OK, as “she is a Roma”, and so on. The negative image of the Roma minority is constantly present in the official reports of the Interior Ministry, this is the only nationality of offenders, which is often indicated in the media. We are faced with it in the state newspapers and on television. Popular antisemitism is also present in our society. I'm not talking about homophobia, which is a serious problem, and we have seen a few cases where people were beaten and killed because of their sexual orientation. So I think that we simply cannot talk about a tolerant society in Belarus.”
Valiantsin Stefanovich draws attention to another characteristic problem – lack of understanding of the essence of tolerance.
“Even some respected philosophers (I will not mention any names) use this concept in a strange context. For example, in the case of crimes or other negative social manifestations, they say, people tolerate this, as they are “tolerant”. But what does tolerance have to do with that? Tolerance is the active engagement of people of different cultures and nationalities, not patience. Tolerance and patience are totally different things.”
Recalling the definition of tolerance, the human rights defender refers to a United Nations document – the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, adopted by UNESCO in 1995. We cannot but quote the definition of Article 1: “Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.” It is further explained: “Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one's own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one's views are not to be imposed on others.”