Belarus Review by iSANS – August 31, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – August 31, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

Slava Taukachou / Unsplash
10.09.2021 iSANS
  1. THE CRISIS IS GETTING WORSE: THE MILITARY REGIME ACQUIRES PARA-FASCIST FEATURES
  2. REPRESSIONS ARE IMPOSED TO ELIMINATE THE NATIONAL IDENTITY
  3. THE GOALS OF REPRESSIONS
  4. RESISTANCE AND UNDERGROUND MOVEMENT

THE CRISIS IS GETTING WORSE: THE MILITARY REGIME ACQUIRES PARA-FASCIST FEATURES

This is an update on the ongoing political crisis in the Republic of Belarus prepared for you by the International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS).

The political crisis in Belarus evolves for nearly 13 months now. The latest dynamics of political repressions and hostile acts of Lukashenka against NATO and EU member states (foremost – Lithuania and Poland who officially acknowledged the weaponization of migrants as hybrid war against the EU) show that acting regime in Minsk treats the use of force as its only instrument of both internal public administration and its foreign policy.

An effort to initiate migration crisis in Poland and Lithuania is gaining certain success. Lukashenka will inevitably expand the use of hybrid operations (relying on the Kremlin’s backup) to further humiliate the West, but also to expand own «revenge» to Poles and Lithuanians for their efforts to support democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people.

The humanitarian situation in Belarus itself is worsening at a fast pace. In order to sustain his political (and physical) survival, Aliaksandr Lukashenka has established a personalistic military regime (in other words, a personalistic military junta), and puppetized all public property and state institutions. The executives of the regime aim to establish unlimited control over all fields of public and private life in order to set up a politically-based segregation system.

Recorded political endorsement of Lukashenka becomes the precondition for receiving certain social benefits (foremost, but not limited to, the rights to employment, promotion, and physical security). Personal loyalty to Lukashenka also protects from legal responsibility in case of minor offenses (for civil administrators and bureaucracy) and even major international crimes (mostly conducted by security officials).

In case of verbal authorization to political violence, the use of lethal weaponry against civilians, torture and / or rape of protesters are now de-facto decriminalized for members of state security units – despite clear legal restrictions on such activity in written laws. We may safely say there are now two separate layers of legal practices, legislative norms, procedures, and standards systemically applied to «political» and «non-political» law enforcement procedures, investigations, court hearings, and detention cases.

Systemic politically-motivated refusal of basic legal protection to the country’s civilians, dismissal of Lukashenka’s critics from public jobs, «state-owned» companies, and public education facilities are striking examples of politics-based segregation system that is being introduced across the country.

On a level of general public and mainstream media, current situation in Belarus is widely compared to the Nazi occupation of Belarus in 1939-1944. Public management practices used by the acting civil and military administration are widely referred to as «fascis and «internal occupation».

Nevertheless, the most precise academic definition of the scope of features that the political system established in today’s Belarus shares, is not fascism – but rather para-fascism. This term was firstly used in relation to the current regime by EHU Professor and Senior Researcher Tatiana Shchyttsova in early 2021 to define changes in the nature of political system that grounds its power on massive day-to-day political terror operations against civilians.

Shchyttsova reasonably argues that Aliaksandr Lukashenka is using fascist methodology of state terror, but lacks any clearly stated ideology. Unlike classical fascist regimes, Lukashenka offers no vision or narratives of a «new great human» which is essential for «pure» fascist regimes in academic terms. The idea of a «new great human» is substituted by merely populist orders to support Lukashenka’s unlimited and uncontrolled rule – with no ideological grounding whatsoever.

Nearly 400 days after public collapse of his internal and international legitimacy, Lukashenka and his team are widely acknowledged as a full-blown rogue regime and rogue state by major international media and think tanks. In the light of Lukashenka’s aspirations for the management and research of nuclear waste, and recent «nuclear blackmailing» of Lithuania and Poland, the West has to clearly realize that the weaker the pressure on Lukashenka would be, the further he will push the limits of his «nuclear state» aspirations that the West will «choke on» (this term was recently coined in relations to sanctions).

For as long as Lukashenka and his close circle enjoy impunity, the further they would push: to force the West into shameful defeat of its principles in the face of the first para-fascist regime in post-Soviet Europe. Lukashenka has clearly become a threat to international security, and it is only a matter of time before (mostly) internal political violence will spill over into neighboring member states of the EU and NATO when Lukashenka’s security wing will begin the earlier-announced abductions of diaspora members in neighboring Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine. International action against Lukashenka thus has to be very straightforward, harsh, fast, and principles-based.

It should not result into illogical decisions – such as US $1 billion-worth SDR bonanza by IMF to Lukashenka’s regime that is not recognized internationally, is potentially facing international charges for crimes against humanity, threatens at least three EU and NATO member states (Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia), and plans to create a new industry for the management of nuclear waste, including their recycling that may potentially lead him into the acquirement of dual-purpose nuclear materials.

For these reasons, Lukashenka should be clearly acknowledged as a threat to the international peace and stability, and should be dealt with by the standards applied in the aftermath of such decisions.

REPRESSIONS ARE IMPOSED TO ELIMINATE THE NATIONAL IDENTITY

As of August 31, there are at least 653 acknowledged political prisoners (the complete list is available here). Nearly 200 civilians were added to this list over the last three months. In some particularly outrageous cases (such as the case of entrepreneur, gallerist and independent media publisher Aliaksandr Vasilevich who remains in detention for over a year now), no legit and / or proven charges were provided until today to justify the presence of civilians in detention for a year or longer.

As of August 2021, human rights lawyers were able to identify at least 1,450 civilians who are currently incarcerated on political grounds or experience other major limitations of their physical freedom due to politically motivated persecution.

Since June 2021, the regime is destroying all facets of a nation-based Belarusian society – only to turn it into a repackaged version of Stalinism where civilians had no actual political, civil, and cultural rights and organizations beyond those provided by the Communist Party of the USSR.

Regime-led policy of elimination of all non-governmental national institutions and politically-motivated segregation of civilians must be studied from the standpoint of international law and responsibility for such actions. Notably, certain Belarus-based institutions (such as those that helped Lukashenka establish the image of «the donor of stability» in 2014-2020) still float safely on the surface, and lobby for the West to reach peace with Lukashenka and refrain from punishing him with new restrictive measures only because he is the kind of a guy who does not abide by the rules and hints there will be an«amnesty» of innocent political prisoners in September 2021.

The West has to be clear about it. All people detained on political grounds are hostages, hence they must be released on unconditional basis immediately. There can be no hostage trade with Lukashenka.

THE GOALS OF REPRESSIONS

Upon Lukashenka’s order, nearly 190 NGOs have been shut down over the summer 2021. By destroying civil society institutions, Lukashenka, Makei, and other executives of the regime seek to destroy the civil society itself. Whether the civil society will sustain and survive current terror campaign is, probably, one of the greatest long-term challenges right now.

Systematic political repressions led by Lukashenka have two grounds.

Firstly, state security is executing an order that was publicly announced by the self-declared minister of foreign affairs and Lukashenka’s closest ally Uladzimir Makei in April 2020. Then, Makei promised that – verbatim – «any further tightening of sanctions will lead to where the civil will cease to exist». In response to recent EU and US sanctions, state security bodies and civil administration institutes that were completely puppetized by Lukashenka, began to systematically wipe out each and every non-governmental institution that was created after 1988.

Some of them (including, but not limited to the largest «old diaspora» umbrella organization «Batskauščyna / Fatherland» and the Belarusian Language Society) played key role in independence movement in late 1980s, and by eliminating them Lukashenka and his team are de-facto destroying all basic institutes of Belarusian independent nation-building processes. Similarly, Lukashenka ordered to make the Belarusian Association of Journalists (the oldest independent union of media workers with 1,300 active members) the outlaws and shut down their office’s operations.

Certain careers and industries, such as independent journalism and jurisprudence are being completely wiped off the public realm (if people in question do not publicly express their personal loyalty) and 30 years-long tradition of certain crafts and sciences is being completely destroyed in the largest wave of repressions since the times of Joseph Stalin.

The second consideration of the regime is that the crusade against the «opposition» is equal to a fight against each and every organization or institution that has ever supported national aspirations of Belarusians or promoted national culture in a way that did not match the «official line» of Lukashenka’s administration (almost entirely based on pro-Soviet and/or pro-Russian political mythology and propagandistic narratives).

RESISTANCE AND UNDERGROUND MOVEMENT

All forms of peaceful and public political expression in Belarus are de-facto banned and criminalized since November 2020. Despite that, people inside the country continue to participate in the so-called «partisan marches» (secretly organized illegal flashmobs) on an almost daily basis and widely practice the forms of resistance that can be compared to WW2 Polish practices known as «minor sabotage». These are relatively minor and non-violent forms of defiance that are however extremely disruptive for both state security and civil administration due to their demoralizing nature. These include the creation of large-size protest graffitis in public places, the installation of obstacles on railroads, public installation of national flags, protest-related posters, damage of large-format propaganda materials (since recently, propaganda billboards are being destroyed with bottles of red paint), and so on.

However, one of the most effective elements of resistance and demoralization of Lukashenka’s subordinates is a high-tech hacking operation known as Žara («Heat»). It is run by an anonymous group of hackers naming themselves «Cyberpartisans» (circa 15 high-tech talents). They operate in partnership with a few underground groups including the «alternative ministry of interior», BYPOL. This organization is made of former and acting Belarusian law enforcement and intelligence officers who refuse to cooperate with Lukashenka and coordinate major sabotage operations and dump leaks of sensitive information that proves the relation of specific individuals to specific crimes conducted in 2020-21.

So far, Žara seems to be one of the most successful hacking operations against state security in recent global history. The Cyberpartisans were able to dump entire databases of Belarusian state security (foremost – the Ministry of Interior) that contain classified information and extremely sensitive materials related to the crimes of Belarusian regime and personal data of all officers involved in crimes against civilians.

Over the summer 2021, the Cyberpartisans announced successful cyberoperations against most state security institutions – with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) being the primary target due to their key role in terror against civil population. The Cyberpartisans are widely acclaimed by leading IT professionals, academics, and high-tech journalists for their unprecedented results. So far, the Cyberpartisans have managed to hack and dump complete MOI databases that include sensitive data (including all personal details, passport information and document photos) of all police members, SWAT-level groups (OMON, Almaz, and KGB spetsnaz unit Alpha), intelligence officers, spies working for Lukashenka regime, as well as complete infrastructure data of their facilities and unofficial lodging.

To prove successful hacks, Cyberpartisans publish sensitive data of various top-level officials, including the most trusted people and family members of Lukashenka. Some of the most valuable hacks made by now include the national ID system (a.k.a. AIS Passport) with data concerning each and every individual within the territory of Belarus, the database of MOI HR headquarters, and MOI phone records archive unit that contained the records of sensitive phone calls of officials directly responsible for crimes following and preceding August 9, 2020 elections. The MOI recorded and collected numerous phone calls of high-rank bureaucrats, and state security workers to collect compromising materials against them.

Some of the most valuable records published so far are the audio records of calls between the people identified as Natallia Eismant (Lukashenka’s press secretary), Dzmitry Balaba (the commander of Minsk OMON), and Dzmitry Shakuta (Muay Thai super middleweight kickboxer fighter who trained MOI units that were particularly violent in the use of torture against civilians). The records provide evidence that people identified as Eismant and Balaba were personally arranging «night manhunt» operations against civil population in residential areas of Minsk. One of such arrangements led to a planned unjustified murder of protester Raman Bandarenka who was killed during a foal play attack conducted jointly by a group of Lukashenka’s close allies and MOI special operations unit.

The records, selected dumps, and news about the latest hacks of the Cyberpartisans are available in public domain (on Telegram) here.

Best regards,
iSANS team

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