Belarusians of New York City Call to Ban Hockey Championship in Belarus

Apr 30, 2013, 13:39 ET from Belarusians in Exile

NEW YORK, April 30, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Last week, Belarusian organizations picketed Volkswagen's New York City offices demanding that the German company not sponsor the Ice Hockey World Championship that Belarus is scheduled to host in 2014.

SKODA, an automaker within the Volkswagen Group, is the general sponsor of the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship that is to take place in Belarus. Lukashenko's regime, often called "Europe's last dictatorship," which systematically abuses human rights, is planning to use the high-profile sports event to ensure a de facto recognition of the Lukashenko regime's legitimacy by European nations and the US.

Belarusian organizations in the US have called on the Volkswagen Global Headquarters to stop its sponsorship of the Hockey World Championship in Belarus until all political prisoners are released, their names completely cleared, and until the Lukashenko regime returns free elections and the basic human right of free speech to the country's citizens. Sponsoring the event in Belarus essentially signifies support for a tacit agreement with the political repressions perpetrated by Lukashenko's regime.

More than 70,000 people originally from Belarus live in New York City; many of them left that country fleeing political persecution against themselves or their family members. Over 40 people, including prominent Belarusian politician Zenon Poznyak, came to the VW's offices. They chanted "Don't play with the dictator! Don't trade with the dictator!"

In addition to the protest against the Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus, the organizations are also called on the US authorities to tighten economic sanctions against Lukashenko's regime: "Belarus is getting more than 50% of its GDP from overseas from selling oil, potash and chemicals. The people of the United States are effectively supporting the regime, and Lukashenko himself personally controls the export proceeds. We have asked the US government to step up the sanctions and hope that the people of the US, who hate oppression and dictatorship, will support our initiative," Dima Shehigelsky, one of the Belarusian leaders, said.

The initiative to take the right to host the Ice Hockey World Championship from Belarus has broad worldwide support. The International Ice Hockey Federation will meet in Stockholm in May 2013 to discuss the transfer of the Championship from Belarus to another country. The petition against holding the Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus has garnered signatures of 10 international organizations and nearly 80,000 people.

Dima Shehigelsky  
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SOURCE Belarusians in Exile