Belarus Review by iSANS – March 23, 2021

Belarus Review by iSANS – March 23, 2021

Your insight into Belarus crisis

Alexander Zankovich
23.03.2021 iSANS
  1. TSIKHANOUSKAYA INITIATES A VOTE ON TALKS WITH THE REGIME
  2. REPRESSIONS CONTINUE AHEAD OF NEW WAVE OF STREET PROTESTS
  3. STATE PROPAGANDA AND THREATS OF A GENOCIDE
  4. BUSINESSES REJECT TO COOPERATE WITH SELF-DECLARED «LEADER» IN MINSK

TSIKHANOUSKAYA INITIATES A VOTE ON TALKS WITH THE REGIME

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 March 18, president-elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has announced a start of nationwide voting to initiate crisis negotiations with representatives of Lukashenka’s regime. She said that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations are ready to mediate any form of negotiations on new elections in Belarus (with participation of Tsikhanouskaya on one side and representatives of the self-declared «government» of Lukashenka on the other).

The voting has become the fastest growing online petition in Belarus history and second most popular (following Golos collection of photos of voting ballots in August 2020 that proved unprecedented frauds conducted by Lukashenka’s subordinates in at least 30% of electoral commissions across the country).

Tsikhanouskaya plans to start negotiations with the self-declared government of Lukashenka in May 2021 if voters will give her such mandate. The idea of Tsikhanouskaya was publicly supported by the USA, OSCE, EU, Germany, France, Poland, and Lithuania. In the first 24 hours of the poll, circa 500,000 citizens took part in an online poll on that matter (close to 5% of the population). For instance, similar proportion of voters turnover in the US or the EU would’ve made 16-17 million and 22-23 million of citizens, respectively.

On March 21, Pavel Latushka had the first online meeting with acting state officials who had signed an open letter calling for Lukashenka’s resignation and supported the people’s demands. This is a part of campaign to engage current officials in the process of peaceful transformation. The project was started in February 2021. On March 24, a preliminary list of organizations who supported Lukashenka’s resignation, will be published online.

On March 22, during Kalinouski Forum in Vilnius, the participants discussed the creation of international tribunal on international crimes conducted in Belarus as well as international support package (“Marshall Plan for Belarus”) to ensure sustainability of Belarus immediately after Lukashenka’s removal.

That same day, Vladimir Putin (President of Russia) and Charles Michel (President of the European Council) discussed the situation in Belarus (among other issues) during a phone call. The EU is expected to announce its renewed policy towards Russia this week. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss the situation in Belarus during his visit to Brussels on March 22–25 when he plans to meet EU leaders. The repressions in Belarus gained momentum after the Kremlin provided technical support and advisory. Russia remains the only support of Lukashenka’s regime – despite related loss of trust to Russia among the general public in Belarus.

On Monday, March 22, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe considered a draft report on human rights violations and urged to start an international investigation of atrocities in Belarus. The Committee supported the initiative of the European Parliament on the matter of creation of Accountability Platform that will collect and save information on atrocities that are taking place in Belarus to ensure accountability for the perpetrators.

Due to diplomatic scandal following repressions against ethnic Poles, one of three Belarusian consulates located in Poland (in Bialystok) halt its work on visa-related cases.

REPRESSIONS CONTINUE AHEAD OF NEW WAVE OF STREET PROTESTS

On March 25, the people of Belarus celebrate the Freedom Day, an anniversary of the first national state established in 1918. A wave of spring protests is expected to start on that day as state officials and punitive units make efforts to decapitate any protest activity. Ahead of March 25, a video from Hrodna (a city in the West of Belarus) shows a large group of APCs passing through the streets of this major city as military runs large-scale nationwide drills ahead of new opposition rallies.

CNN publishes leaked video of Lukashenka’s OMON violently beating and shooting at a group of civilians who sit inside their car at earlier stage of protests. The civilians did not pose any immediate threat to OMON unit that was engaged in attack. At least one passenger is seen heavily bleeding and lying on the ground in blood after being shot at. In other videos shown by CNN, groups of protesters are seen in degrading poses and on the floor of police station where they face inhuman treatment. The videos were provided to CNN through BYPOL, a professional union of state security workers and policemen who rejected to accept Lukashenka and support democratic forces (see a complete story of BYPOL here).

The number of acknowledged political prisoners grew by three people over the last week. The list now makes a total of at least 288 people (including females, elderly, and minors). This is one of the largest numbers of political prisoners by country in the world, and it is already two times bigger than acknowledged count of political prisoners in Cuba.

Since early 2000s, Lukashenka has been capturing a group of political prisoners immediately after elections. There people were used as hostages to be «sold» (=released) in exchange to economic relations and de-facto recognition of Lukashenka and his government in the last two decades. The expectation of the regime in Minsk is the same now: the release of political prisoners is expected to be «sold» to the West in exchange to goods, services, economic relations, and lifting of sanctions. The question is whether the West – foremost, the United States – will agree to a deal with the International criminal who is directly responsible for orders to create a concentration camp for political prisoners, mass torture of civilians, and the use of military force against civil population in violation of international humanitarian law. The United States repeatedly demand immediate release of all political prisoners, however none of them made it out of prison yet.

The UN acknowledged that the repressions spilled over on media workers, lawyers, and human rights defenders – including at least two partners of the United Nations in Belarus who are detained now.

Now, the Prosecutor General’s Office in Minsk offers to impose greater responsibility for «extremist activities». In given circumstances and established practices, the legislative amendments proposed by the Prosecutor’s office will de-facto ban the civilians from any legal instruments of expressing protest by peaceful means – in violation of Constitution, and international obligations of the Republic of Belarus – but, foremost, intentionally forcing people into the dimension of violent resistance and armed civil conflict.

STATE PROPAGANDA AND THREATS OF A GENOCIDE

As we reported earlier, Belarus state television systematically urges its viewers to apply politically-motivated violence against civilians. Broadcast television that is fully monopolized by Lukashenka now dehumanizes both the leaders of protests and civilians who protest against rigged elections and mass repressions (as current wave of political repressions becomes the worst in the territory of Belarus since Stalin’s “Great Purge”).

For instance, in the evening news on Monday March 22, close to 90% of evening prime time news broadcast (~52 out 57 minutes) on CTV was devoted to promotion of Lukashenka, military, police, war, «Western threat», threats or incitement of hate against democratic activists and minorities within Belarus. The remaining 10% of the evening news were shared between news piece on agricultural crops, an update on traffic rules, and a concert in memory of the former head of Moscow Patriarchate branch in Belarus.

State TV channels incite hatred against democratic leaders as well as celebrities who didn’t support Lukashenka or criticized him after August 2020. These people are labelled «rats». To amplify the effect, the images of rats and faces of these public figures, including president-elect Tsikhanouskaya, are shown simultaneously on prime time state TV broadcasting. The same program features public figures along with an image of hangman’s noose next to them in every episode.

Other similar programs promote undemocratic concepts, such as the «dictatorship of common sense» attributed to Lukashenka. This pseudo-ideology is based on an eclectic mix of Soviet myths, ethnic hatred (first and foremost – to Americans, Lithuanians, Poles, and Ukrainians), and religious cult (despite ban on state religion, the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is promoted as a default religion of all «correct» citizens – especially in state television, military and state security).

Last Sunday, Lukashenka gave a public speech in yet another propagandistic event organized by his office to imitate «public support» and return into public realm. There, self-declared «head of state» made a public statement targeting democratic activists (further verbatim) when discussing WW2 crimes and connecting them to our days: «We will prove, and will show the world, what genocide is» (in Russian: «мы докажем и покажем всему миру, что такое геноцид»). His speech was broadcasted live by state television. Lukashenka additionally compared democratic activists, the West and democratic procedures (such as peaceful protests) to nazis and nazi crimes conducted during World War Two.

Lukashenka and state-controlled media target public servants, army, and militsiya with a message that the EU, USA and other Western countries now fight a war against Belarus that is an extension of World War Two. State propaganda also promotes a narrative that mass murders and executions during WW2 were conducted by people under historical white-red-white flag of Belarus (although no such facts or any proofs of that exist). Independent media publish factchecking materials (like this one) to prevent further effect of fake news against national symbols of Belarusians.

The connection to propagandistic events has become an indulgence for crimes of any kind. In newly-leaked video, one of the organizers of propagandistic rallies is seen heavily beating his neighbor on the elevator. Police refused to open a case on that matter. Such attitude to acts of violence by politically-exposed individuals who promote Lukashenka has become systematic by failed systems of law enforcement agencies and courts.

BUSINESSES REJECT TO COOPERATE WITH SELF-DECLARED «LEADER» IN MINSK

Allianz Global Investors (one of the largest investment groups in Germany) made a decision to get rid of all financial instruments related to Belarus state bonds. The company follows last week’s decision by four major investment funds from Denmark. Belarusian Eurobonds collapsed after the National Anti-Crisis Management (NAM, led by Pavel Latushka) launched an awareness campaign targeting international financial institutions.

Similarly, Israeli phone-hacking company Cellebrite stops all sales of its products to Belarus and Russia after its technology was used against minorities, pro-democracy activists and opposition.

Amid the crisis, economic boycott of Lukashenka and state-owned companies has become an effective source of increasing pressure on illegitimate regime in Minsk in addition to sanctions.
 
Best regards,
iSANS team

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