Belarus Review by iSANS – March 1, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – March 1, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

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01.03.2021 iSANS
  1. TSIKHANOUSKAYA URGES RETURNING TO LARGE MARCHES AS THE WINTER IS OVER
  2. BELARUS IS A TEST FOR THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY IN EUROPE
  3. UN: «HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS OF UNPRECEDENTED DIMENSION»
  4. INCREASING ECONOMIC PRESSURE ON STATE-OWNED VIOLATORS OF HUMAN RIGHTS
  5. KREMLIN PROTECTS ITS INTERESTS IN BELARUS, LUKASHENKA IMITATES «REFORMS»

TSIKHANOUSKAYA URGES RETURNING TO LARGE MARCHES AS THE WINTER IS OVER

After taking a break during freezing winter, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya calls for new mass protests to restart on or after March 25. The date is chosen in connection to this day commonly known as «Freedom Day» (Dzien Voli). Under Lukashenka regime, this day was used for underground celebrations and protest marches to celebrate the anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic that was established on March 25 in 1918, and was later occupied by Russia’s Red Army.

After a visit to Finland, on March 4-7, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya will fly to Portugal, which holds the EU Council’s presidency as of January 2021. Ms. Tsikhanouskaya will have meetings with the Portuguese Prime Minister António da Costa, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, and José Manuel Barroso, former the President of the European Commission. On March 7-10, the leader of democratic Belarus will visit Switzerland to meet the UN and the Swiss parliament representatives.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya initiated the creation of a Situational Analytical Center on the basis of BYPOL (independent union of police workers). The organization will strengthen the security of activists in Belarus. It will monitor street activity to neutralize security threats as forces loyal to Lukashenka continue to terrorize urban areas: now, any civilian can be stopped in a street and get detained for just being subscribed to independent Telegram-channels, without any legal grounds as such.

Due to continuous attacks against against civilians by the military and militsiya (police), Golos (Voice) online platform conducts a survey to learn new suitable non-violent forms of protest. In August 2020, Golos was used to prove the officially announced results of presidential elections were completely fraudulent.

BELARUS IS A TEST FOR THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY IN EUROPE

An iSANS expert and researcher at the Boris Nemtsov Academic Center for Russian Studies at Charles University (Prague, CZ) Alexander Morozov states that current situation in Belarus is actually a test for the democratic future of «New Europe». Morozov compares current role of Belarus with Visegrad countries and the Baltics in 1970-80s:

The price of Europe’s attitude to what is happening in Belarus is very high. The uprising in Belarus, on the one hand, symbolizes the end of the entire narrative of the «post-Soviet transition». Belarusian society is breaking the longest personal dictatorship in Eurasia.

And at the same time, the Kremlin, for its part, has also completed a transition, however in the other direction. It has taken shape as a political system moving towards a «neo-Eurasian anti-liberal corporate state». Putin completed it with his amendments to the Constitution. And now the Kremlin – whatever rhetoric it may use – is manufacturing the rust of this isolationist and extremely cynical worldview for the whole of Eurasia and Belarus.

The Kremlin is pushing Minsk towards integration as a union state. If it were not for the radiation emitted by Moscow, post—Soviet nations around it would have completed their post-Soviet transition after the USSR demise ten years ago by building their national democratic institutions.

We all remember with what acuteness and pain Czeslaw Milosz, Vaclav Havel, and Tomas Venclova described the situation in their countries 30-40 years ago. In those days it was their people who were abandoned in «Eastern Europe».

As Milosz wrote, it was not a question of geography and not only a question of the post-war division of the world. We remember Milan Kundera’s 1984 essay in which he asks why Central Europe was abandoned by the West. The pathos of this text, written after Hungary 1956 and Prague 1968 and even before the beginning of perestroika, cannot be forgotten. In this essay, Kundera recalls the words of the 19th century Czech enlightener Frantisek Palacky regarding «Europe of small lands».

In «Eastern Europe», behind the «Iron Curtain», these great intellectuals did not expect «paternalism» from Europe. On the contrary, they feared that the «Iron Curtain», which arose only as a result of a compromise with Stalin, would turn into a «Roman wall» separating civilization from the barbarians.

The human experience of Czech, Polish, Lithuanian intellectuals of the 70s and 80s testifies to the same thing that Sergey Zhadan, Marianna Kiyanovskaya, Svetlana Alexievich, Dmitry Strotsev are talking about today. This is not a request for help. This is a question about the future of Europe itself. These peoples do not need any «Westernization». They do not need to build any separate historical narrative to etch themselves into the West. The common cultural and historical space of Belarus, the Baltic countries, and Poland is one of the most important foundations of the self-awareness of Belarusians as a nation. But it is not the historical heritage itself that establishes the modern «Europeanness» of these lands. Contemporary identity is created by the «national effort» of society and individual groups, and even sometimes individuals with social influence. And it is this effort that we see today in Belarus.

We are shocked by how the enormous world of Belarusian solidarity was so quickly revealed and how quickly institutions of mutual assistance and self-organization and support funds appeared.

In my opinion, this generation of East Europeans is not just «waiting for help from Europe». On the contrary, it is raising the question of Europe itself and its identity. It is, in fact, a direct manifestation of the concept of «Europe of new generations».

Awareness of this valuable phenomenon – today’s Belarusian citizens as an important component of «new Europe» – should determine Europe’s attitude to what is happening in this country much more than geopolitical considerations, security issues, and similar matters.

Belarusians do not want to be either a political outpost of the West in this region, or an outpost of the Kremlin’s anti-Westernism. They want only to defend their right to national self-organization.

The latest research by the Centre for East European and International Studies (ZOiS) shows that around 1/3 of Belarusians remains uncertain about a political model for the future while just below 42% agree that democracy is the best form of government. Lukashenka still tries to embrace those who remain uncertain, however the supporters of his authoritarian rule are clearly outnumbered when compared to now pro-democratic Belarusian population that clearly wants Lukashenka out. The West should be a lot more proactive in enabling human-to-human contacts between Belarusians and Europeans to help sustain a stable democracy in Belarus after Lukashenka is removed.

Similarly, Warsaw-based Center for Eastern Studies (OSW) found out that Belarusians turned resilient to state propaganda. The results of a recently-obtained poll showed a rather strong immunity of most Belarusians to the unambiguously negative messages of the regime’s propaganda towards the West.

UN: «HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS OF UNPRECEDENTED DIMENSION»

204 days after an armed seizure of power by Aliaksandr Lukashenka and a group of high-rank officials on August 9, 2020, civil resistance continues to oppose illegal self-declared government of Aliaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk. For people on the ground, it is extremely important to see factual steps of the West (foremost – the United States and the EU) in supporting peaceful transit in Belarus.

Since December 2020, democratic activists in Belarus filed at least 363 individual applications to arrange peaceful meetings and gatherings – none of them was satisfied across the country as civilians are completely denied all rights to express their dissident political views without becoming a subject to fines, jail (or prison) terms, and / or ungrounded heavy violence against them.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 4,644 complaints were filed on the use of police violence (with 1,000+ reports of torture reported earlier) since August 2020. In all cases, the acting self-declared “government” in Minsk ignores such applications and no perpetrators of gross international crimes (including torture of civil population and political prisoners) have been brought to justice in Belarus. Last week, human rights groups acknowledged 9 more people as political prisoners – as total number of political prisoners grew to 258.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who is a top UN human rights official, named the ongoing events in Belarus a «human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension in the country». Recent OHCHR report covers «serious violations» and «systematic crackdown» of rights between 1 May and 20 December 2020. Since August, well over 33,000 people have been detained on political grounds, and the numbers keep growing daily. Over the last weekend at least 34 people were detained on political grounds in Minsk and Salihorsk, and were subjected to torture and inhuman treatment. Last week, civilians were being arrested for reading books in Belarusian language on public transportation, in a new wave of political repressions targeting the users of Belarusian language.

Last week, a number of new absurd hearings took place across Belarus. In the most notorious case, a witness of an execution of protester Henadz Shutau by Belarus army officials, was sentenced to 10 years term in prison for witnessing a military crime conducted by Belarus special ops unit officers. Raman Haurylau, who admitted he is the murderer of Shutau (and is a military officer of special operations unit 89147 based in Maryina Gorka), was acknowledged «a victim» by the court. Both Haurylau and his teammate, warrant officer Arseny Golitsyn, acknowledged the army used lethal weapons against the civilians upon an order of Belarus top military commandment.

Lukashenka’s government has de-facto banned national white-red-white flag of Belarus upon a request of pro-Russian radicals who have traces to ultraconservative paramilitary group Kazachi Spas («Казачий спас»). In exchange, almost 900 Belarusian historians joined an appeal in defense of white-red-white national flag of Belarus as over 100,000 people signed an open petition against the ban of a flag that has been used by pro-democratic groups of Belarusians both inside Belarus and abroad since 1918.

In mid-1990s, national white-red-white flag of Belarus was illegally substituted by Lukashenka’s team with a Soviet-style red-and-green flag, and was de-facto banned from public use. Now the regime is considering measures to legally acknowledge the national flag an “extremist material” while in the last six months, people are being arrested and / or fined for basically any combination of red and white colors in public space.

In its latest briefing, Amnesty International acknowledged that current regime is “methodically destroying Belarus’s spirited cultural life and its most creative members, in an effort to suppress all vestiges of free expression and dissent”.

INCREASING ECONOMIC PRESSURE ON STATE-OWNED VIOLATORS OF HUMAN RIGHTS

The scale of repressions in Belarus today is barely comparable to post-WW2 tyrannies in Europe – such as 1969 «black colonels» coup in Greece (2 thousand political prisoners), or repressions against Solidarity in Poland in the first ten days after the introduction of the martial law in December 1981 (3 thousand activists interned). Lukashenka’s repressions are already more extensive than Salazar’s. After the war, Franco suppressed underground Basque and leftist groups, but even when a nationwide strike broke out in 1962, there was no such repression as Lukashenka’s in 2020-21. Doing business with Lukashenka’s regime has become toxic by default, and this has to be used by the West.

Last Thursday, the EU prolonged sanctions targeting 88 Belarus officials and 7 entities. According to Russia’s state-founded Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Belarus is already on top-6 global list of sanctioned states – with only Iran, PRC,  Russia, Venezuela, and Syria ahead. Belarus is now followed by places like the North Korea, Cuba, and Nikaragua. However, Belarus may well go up this list as the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs adopts a resolution on further targeted sanctions and the EU announces plans to further expand current measures in the next few weeks.

Last week, honorary consul of Belarus in Italy resigned protesting against ill-treatment of civilians that now continues for over 200 days. Over 50,000 people signed a petition to urge Norway’s Yara to cease their contract with state-owned potash producer Belaruskali that continues to violate the rights of workers and imposes repressions on team members who openly disagree with Lukashenka’s armed seizure of power. Meanwhile, Russia-based tycoon Dmitri Mazepin has reportedly launched a new media, Busel. Online, to promote pro-Russian narratives. All Russia-based partners of Lukashenka and his partners must be treated by the West accordingly.

Scarce resources make Lukashenka use steps that in his opinion stabilize the situation, but work otherwise. On February 24, Lukashenka ordered to freeze prices of 62 basic social products (such as bread, dairy, sugar, toilet paper, diapers, etc.) and 50 medical supplies. Economists expect that administratively frozen prices may cause the deficit of supply of imported goods (including medical supplies), as well as increase of prices on other goods. Numerous retailers already redistributed prices to avoid losses on stored goods from the ‘price-freeze’ list.

In January 2021, inflation quickened to 7.7% in annual terms (2.7% above planned) while in 2020 net loss of unprofitable industrial enterprises doubled (compared to 2019 results) to roughly $1 billion. Although the self-declared government in Minsk aims to win the inflation battle by freezing prices on basic goods, independent economists assume this measure per se increases inflation and devaluation expectations, possible mass withdrawal of bank deposits, and subsequent painful impact on currency exchange rates.

KREMLIN PROTECTS ITS INTERESTS IN BELARUS, LUKASHENKA IMITATES «REFORMS»

In an effort of imitative «changes», Lukashenka stepped down from a position of the head of the Belarusian Olympic Committee which he chaired since 1997 – against a ban for acting politicians to hold such position. The decision went into force after International Olympic Committee (IOC) acknowledged in December 2020 that the leadership of the Belarusian Olympic Committee had «not appropriately protected the Belarusian athletes from political discrimination.» Both father and son were banned from all IOC events. Instead of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, Viktar Lukashenka stepped in after a staged and nervous ceremony with major sport functionaries. Viktar is the oldest son of the self-declared «president» of Belarus and has been an Assistant for National Security at his father’s office.

With no internal and international legitimacy, Lukashenka only relies on the use of force, increase of repressive measures (both politically and economically), and Vladimir Putin’s support. Last week, Lukashenka flew to Sochi in Russia to meet Putin and reportedly discuss a $3 billion loan to sustain his rule in Belarus and avoid an economic catastrophe in Q2 2021. So far, there are no reports of Putin’s positive decision on that matter. The Kremlin demands Russia-controlled [authoritarian] transformation to sustain Kremlin’s commercial and military (intelligence) interests in Eastern Europe with a perspective of annexation of Belarus, while Lukashenka aims to freeze the situation as it is in order for him to remain an exclusive ruler with guarantees of personal safety. Both Putin and Lukashenka assume the people of Belarus are not a political subject, but an object.

Until 2014, one could look at the «integration» of Belarus with Russia simply as a form of neighboring cooperation between the two countries. But following the annexation of Crimea, of course, this is no longer the case. This is no longer a partnership. Belarusians will be «married to the mafia» if the Kremlin succeeds. But they clearly do not want this.
  
Best regards,
iSANS team

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