Belarus Review by iSANS – February 15, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – February 15, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

ont.by
15.02.2021 iSANS
  1. BELARUS OLIGARCH STAGES A SHOW TO IMITATE PUBLIC SUPPORT
  2. FUNNY SOCIOLOGY
  3. PURPOSES OF LUKASHENKA'S SHOW
  4. NO POLITICAL REFORMS WILL EVER HAPPEN UNDER LUKASHENKA
  5. LUKASHENKA ATTACKS BUSINESS
  6. OTHER SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

BELARUS OLIGARCH STAGES A SHOW TO IMITATE PUBLIC SUPPORT

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).

On February 11-12, Belarusian oligarch and former president Aliaksandr Lukashenka staged a gathering of his followers in Minsk. A political show labelled an «All-Belarusian People’s Assembly» was organized to support Lukashenka’s claim for presidential status after he led an armed seizure of power in Belarus on 9-13 August, 2020 following rigged elections.

However, the branding of the event should not mislead foreign policymakers, researchers, diplomats and politicians. This congregation must be treated as what it actually was – a stand up festival promoting an illegitimate political figure responsible for crimes against humanity in the Republic of Belarus. Most of the two-days long show consisted of Lukashenka’s own pontification with the rest being eulogies raised in his favor by his subordinates.

Under the Constitution of Belarus, this «Assembly» has no legal status whatsoever, and such body (or any similar forms of governance) is never mentioned in any Constitutional law of Belarus. The composition of the event – as well as any objective criteria for participation – were never made known to public.

In relation to propagandistic «Assembly», the U.S. Embassy in Minsk (as well as U.S. Mission to the OSCEissued a statement saying that the gathering of Lukashenka’s followers is «neither genuine nor inclusive of Belarusian views and therefore does not address the ongoing use of unprecedented politically-motivated violence against civilians».

The «assembly» gathered circa 2,700 viewers, mostly state bureaucrats, who remained silent and passive most of the time (unless clapping to cheer the speaker or laughing at jokes about LGBT people or alcohol as great coronavirus treatment). The audience – that was supposed to imitate nationwide brainstorm – was hand-picked from among loyal fans and subordinates of Lukashenka by his administration and state security. The viewers have been delivered to Minsk by state-operated transportation. Many of these people are tied to him after the bloodshed conducted by his direct orders since 9 August, 2020.

The majority of attendees are so-called local and regional «deputies» (see below), members of Lukashenka-controlled state agencies and institutions, state-owned corporations, state security, etc. Despite absolutely illegitimate status of his «Assembly», Lukashenka urges to provide Constitutional powers to this collective of his own fans.

It has to be understood that Belarus administrative system is run on appointed «deputies» who make up the «vertical» of power in regions as a result of rigged elections. These people are, in fact, appointed by presidential administration to sustain the existence of current regime and control provincial areas. During the latest local «deputies elections» held in 2018, only one out of 18,110 “deputies” (0,0055% from total) representing democratic opposition made it through rigged elections. This number gives a clear understanding of how burnt down the political field in Belarus was even prior to August 2020 events.

Staged «Assembly» was highlighted by completely unanimous voting of 2,700 attendees on any subject on the agenda (including major political decisions to be taken in the next 12 months – amid severe political crisis that lasts since August 2020).

It is important to highlight that the so-called «All-Belarusian People’s Assembly» has no legal status under national laws, and has no right to make binding decisions related to state policy whatsoever. No major political powers opposing Lukashenka (such as president-elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya or the Coordination Council) or members of  general public with critical opinions were provided access to the event or given full information on the agenda before the gathering actually took place and was broadcasted on TV.

The «Assembly» was organized in a secretive fashion similar to underground inauguration of Lukashenka last year. It was similarly packed with militaristic language, conspiracy theories, search for enemies, intentional lies and claims against democratic activists and the West (such as planned «blitzkrieg» invasion from Poland and Lithuania in August 2020).

While peaceful democratic protest were labelled a West-led «mutiny», Lukashenka played his game of showing Belarus as the last resort of Russia’s security along the Western borders of Russia – all in an effort to gain extra points amid difficulties in relations with the Kremlin that requires more pieces of Belarus’ sovereignty within «deep integration» in exchange to support of Lukashenka’s claim to presidency.

During the event, Lukashenka confirmed that the elections were rigged by his subordinates to show off their loyalty to him:

«Frankly, our governors have a habit of competing with each other. And it is possible that some of them have added half a percent to two percent». It was not the first time when Lukashenka acknowledged the elections were rigged to keep him in power. None of 2,700 people found it weird (just like no one in the room expressed disagreement when Lukashenka, who is the leader of a democratic state by the Constitution of Belarus, stated that democracy is only useful to «make people fools»).

FUNNY SOCIOLOGY

Prior to the event, Lukashenka announced a «large social study» that was supposed to give an extra twist of unlimited support. The «study» was conducted by notorious EcooM, Lukashenka’s long-lasting pocket team of subordinate consultants who are usually used once in a while to claim his evergreen ratings prior to elections.

The results of this «study» have nothing to do with sociology and were presented with purely manipulative goals in mind. At least two researches (MotolkoHelp and Chatham House) conducted at the same time with different methodology hint that EcooM may have either manipulated the results, or never conducted a «large scale» sociological research in given dates (12 January to 2 February 2021), or simply faced an unusual social anomaly within the Belarusian audience during their research. According to Chatham House, Lukashenka is distrusted by at least 59.9% of the population, while EcooM claims public trust to Lukashenka close to 2/3 of the nation.

Chatham House found out that over 65% of Belarusians believe that the «Assembly» is not a good representative for all Belarusians, and over 61% agreed that the «Assembly» is a puppet organization created to further the interests of Lukashenka. In some cases, EcooM provides data that varies from other sources by a multiplication close to 3X (compared to Chatham House results with their full bulk of data provided online).

PURPOSES OF LUKASHENKA'S SHOW

The «Assembly» was run for the following four reasons:

1) To imitate skyrocketing public support of the self-declared «leader» and to persuade the participants of 2020-21 illegal seizure of power that they completely beheaded the «mutiny» led by the West, and stopped a «blitzkrieg» military invasion from Poland and Lithuania. The «Assembly» was, generally speaking, used to imitate and claim the [non-existent] monolith of Lukashenka’s clan and the general public.

2) To demotivate the competitors and persuade civilians that all alternative voices are small in numbers, fully controlled by state security’s violence, and all dissidents must surrender their efforts to change the political situation. Mass arrests on the eve of the event, political violence by Lukashenka’s mercenaries, new absurd administrative and criminal charges to ground politically-motivated repressions (even excursions on Holocaust remembrance are now being prosecuted), as well as low temperatures,  heavy snow and lack of clear plans for February marches helped the regime prevent mass protests in downtown Minsk during the event.

3) To mock the West and force Western politicians towards «Helsinki-2» format of communication with Belarus seen (at least by Lukashenka) as Europe’s «donor of stability». Lukashenka and his supporters (such as Uladzimir Makei) expect running «business as usual» after mass use of torture and political killings of civilians inmates August 2020.

4) To take over media agenda and avoid new sanctions from the West by threatening the EU into «turning the page» by announcing deeper integration of Belarus and Russia.

Uladzimir Makei, for instance, stated that current Belarus-EU relations are just a «temporary difficulty». The EU has to give a clear message to Belarus MFA that crimes against humanity conducted by Lukashenka and his subordinates have no limitation period and thus there can be no normalization whatsoever until all perpetrators face justice (such as OMON, GUBOPIK, militsiya, and Belarus army units engaged in crimes on August 9-13, 2020).

The role of Uladzimir Makei in sugarcoating the crimes of Lukashenka regime internationally must be accessed in a separate statement by the EU and the USA. There has to be a clear message from the West that current situation is not a «temporary difficulty», but a principal position, and there can be no relations with the regime engaged in gross human rights violations.

Makei urged to remove neutral status of Belarus from the updated Constitution and claimed Russian market shall make up at least 50% of Belarus exports instead of 33% (as was planned in the last 5 years). Makei, however, announced the things that have been a given fact for decades. Lukashenka engages Belarus into CSTO illegally in violation of its Constitutional status as a neutral state. Further, Belarus so far has never been able to send 66% of its exports to places other than Russia (as was planned soon after Russian occupied territories in Ukraine), and this goal is completely impossible from being completed in current circumstances.

It has to be clearly understood, that verbal threats of Belarus bureaucrats are used for the same manipulate purposes as they were used in the last 5 years by bringing the West into propagandistic dichotomy «Lukashenka – or Russian tanks in Belarus». Lukashenka is the main threat to Belarus sovereignty. The West has to clearly realize that – and act accordingly, without getting trapped into another «political prisoners for normalization» deal (as has successfully been played by Lukashenka in the last 15 years).

NO POLITICAL REFORMS WILL EVER HAPPEN UNDER LUKASHENKA

Despite Lukashenka’s claims that the situation is under control, daily political rallies and protest gatherings now continue for 190+ days after the elections. Only on Sunday (February 14), at least 106 people were reported arrested on political grounds across Belarus. People are being arrested for riding skis, visiting music shows, walks in public places and other peaceful activity.

During the «Assembly», Lukashenka again raised the topic of upcoming political reforms to be conducted in the next five years. The West has to learn the lessons of being fooled in the previous 26 years, and understand that fundamental disregard of critical majority’s demands and ongoing political violence leave not a single doubt there will one no positive political reforms under Lukashenka.

Current Constitution of Belarus is not working anymore since the regime has established a de-facto «legal apartheid» for its followers and opponents. After national legislature, law enforcement, judiciary, and executive authorities were engaged in armed seizure of power in 2020, all state-run institutions were transformed in repression units protecting exclusively the interests and political survival of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The government of Belarus that follows the orders of Lukashenka does not perform its functions in public good, rather in private interest of a particular oligarch who controls all «state-owned» property and arbitrary application of laws.

There can be no doubt that changes to the Constitution and subsequent referendum on that matter (that Lukashenka plans to organize in 2022) will violate all basic principles of fairness and will be used to establish an even more severe system of repressions and political terror. Since 1994, Lukashenka used constitutional referendums a few times only to enforce his personal status, and still refers to referendums from mid-1990s to justify his decisions in 2021 despite tectonic changes in public opinions. In the last 25 years, not a single election campaign or referendum in Belarus has been recognized by the West, and there are no signs that Lukashenka will refrain from frauds again.

Lukashenka threatened the public he will not resign for as long as the protests continue. He also requests guarantees «that not a single hair of the current president’s supporters should fall off». For that reason, he urges to assign constitutional powers to the «assembly» of his followers. Considering political context in Belarus and Lukashenka’s behavior in the last 26 years, these statements are purely manipulative, and are being used to reinforce his unlimited powers.

LUKASHENKA ATTACKS BUSINESS

During an assembly of February 11-12, Lukashenka threatened his people will «cut off» private businesses with «hot iron» and implied entrepreneurs and owners of private businesses are his main enemy now. Owners of private companies are expecting a campaign of nationalization of medium and large enterprises following the detention of Henadz Kireykau, the owner of RAPA group of companies (owners of major supermarket retail chain Green and Skala business center in Minsk). Lukashenka confirmed the repressions against owners and teams of at least 200 private businesses that joined solidarity campaigns in 2020 are of purely political nature.

Sham political show must not sugarcoat severe international crimes conducted by Lukashenka and numerous attendees of the «Assembly» in the last six months. Belarusian civil population is hit by a shockwave of political violence unseen in the last 40 years of Europe’s history.

Considering the above-mentioned, we recommend all foreign governments to ignore the «Assembly» and its results. We assume that all foreign governments must continue building up the pressure on the regime in Minsk. This should include new targeted sanctions, new criminal cases under universal jurisdiction, refusing any cooperation with Lukashenka regime (most importantly, in trade, supplies, services, etc.), applying zero-tolerance policy to ongoing atrocities and political violence conducted by the regime since August 9, 2020, and continuing to reinforce relations with civil society, entrepreneurs, and legal and legitimate representatives of the Republic of Belarus abroad – first and foremost, with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Lukashenka has crossed all possible red lines after he ordered to establish the first concentration camp for «political» inmates and urged to use torture against civilians (which still happens till now). Along with his subordinates, he must be held accountable for crimes against humanity, and the position of the West towards this individual has to be straightforward and invariably tough. Further principled steps from the West will empower democratic activists inside Belarus who are now experiencing unprecedented acts of repression.

OTHER SIGNIFICANT EVENTS

On February 9, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya published a «victory strategy» announcing the upcoming plans of protest activity and steps to be taken by Belarus civilians to sabotage the regime and its state security. The strategy combines the actions of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s team as well as the Coordination Council, the National Anti-Crisis Management, the office of Viktar Babaryka, and the office of Valer Tsapkala. Joint front of democratic forces expects the USA, the EU, and Russia will force the regime to start negotiations on the matter of political transfer in May 2021. Although democratic forces are ready to engage in dialogue after all political prisoners are released, Lukashenka claims there no political prisoners (despite his own clear messages that his opponents are in jail only because of his will despite any such mandate)

TV journalists Darya Chultsova and Katsiaryna Andreyeva (Bakhvalava) are facing criminal charges as «riot organizers» for broadcasting a live stream of peaceful gathering to commemorate Raman Bandarenka who was kidnapped and killed by people from Lukashenka’s close circle in November 2020.

As of 15 February 2021, at least 11 journalists remain in jail on political grounds and are acknowledged political prisoners. In total, 246 people are acknowledged political prisoners. Many of them remain subject to torture and inhuman treatment.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding to suspend the launch of the nuclear power plant in Astravets. The resolution notes that the station poses a possible threat to the EU, and was called «an insufficiently transparent geopolitical project of Belarus and Russia».

Best regards,

iSANS team

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