Meet Ambassador Julie D. Fisher, US Special Envoy to Belarus
Julie Fisher “accidentally” joined the Foreign Service. As the daughter of a US military pilot who was active during the Cold War, she became fascinated with the situation in Russia as she watched the collapse of the USSR. While she intended to be a business major, one of her professors urged her to take the Foreign Service exam, and she began a career that has taken her to Tbilisi, Georgia, Kyiv, Ukraine, Moscow, Russia and more. Among her priorities are security and human rights.
In December 2020 she was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as our first Ambassador to Belarus since 2008, when Belarus recalled its delegation from Washington, and the US delegation was expelled over sanctions for President Lukashenko’s accelerating corruption and human rights abuses. In 2019, after the release of political prisoners, and evidence of growing cooperation with the West, President Lukashenko reached out to the U.S. and agreed to reinstate diplomatic relations with an exchange of Ambassadors.
The August 2020 presidential election in Belarus, was deemed “neither free, nor fair” by many countries, including the European Union and the United States. Widespread protests among the Belarus citizens for the state’s extreme “violence, repression, and election fraud” resulted in even more, violence, repression, and control by Lukashenko. Economic sanctions were imposed by several countries, including the United States and the European Union. In retaliation for the sanctions, Lukashenko refused to grant Ambassador Fisher’s visa and limited the entire U.S. Delegation to Belarus to a total 5 Foreign Service personnel. Diplomats from other countries such as neighboring Lithuania, Poland, Great Britain and more.
According to Ambassador and Special Envoy Fisher, Lukashenko has “a real intolerance for differing viewpoints and a tendency to get rid of any critics. When asked about the role of social media in the 2020 protests, Ambassador Fisher said: “He exerts as much control as he possibly can. He has a tight grip on State-controlled media, and an opposition candidate who used a youtube.com channel to reach his audience has now been jailed.” It is also illegal to repost any messages from social media to “stifle independent thought and keep it from spreading.” She also said that Lukashenko’s “political survival is more important than his relationship with the West.”
As part of the EU’s Eastern partnership, the people of Belarus have been able to travel freely to other EU countries and they experience the difference in opportunities available elsewhere compared to Belarus.
And although she is not permitted to enter Belarus, Ambassador is still actively supporting the U.S. mission of “working toward a sovereign and independent Belarus, able to make its own decisions.” In collaboration with other countries that have been forced out of Belarus, she acknowledges that “we may not walk away with human rights improvements, but we will continue to support democracy and have a commitment to the people and their aspirations.”
When asked about the COVID-19 situation in Belarus, Ambassador Fisher said that President Lukashenko has failed the people. He has denied that Covid-19 is a problem, and that his recommended treatment is “tractors, vodka, and sports.” He later stood up at a rally, unmasked, to declare that he had contracted the disease.
When asked about the U.S. commitment to Belarus, she explained that as the “geographic center of Europe”, Belarus is a strategic, major security area. “When Europe is at peace, it is a great partner. When Europe is not at peace, security issues and relationships are strained.”
To the question, “are we making progress in Belarus,” she answered, “It is not a question of ‘we’–but are the people of Belarus making progress. Making progress will be slow.”
Our thanks to Ambassador and Special Envoy to Belarus Fisher for her candor and insights into the United States’ relationship with Belarus. We also wish her success in continuing collaborations to restore sovereignty and independence to the people of Belarus.
Article by Patricia Houston, CDA Vice President