POLITICAL ACTIVITY AND ECONOMY
President-elect of Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya stated that Lukashenka must begin dialogue with the Coordination Council until November 5 since after this date he will have no legitimacy according to the national law (this is when his previous term is over – or at the moment of his illegal ‘inauguration’, according to the Constitution). President-elect Tsikhanouskaya said she will seek mediators from among the neighbouring countries, and urged the European Union to expand the list of Belarusian officials to be targeted by the EU sanctions.
August 11 was the birthday of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. People across Belarus gathered in the yards of residential homes and in their study/workplaces with food and non-alcohol beverages to celebrate her birthday, and record videos to support of Sviatlana and each other.
Although most members of the presidium of the Coordination Council on Power Transition have been deported or detained by now, the decision signed by the Council on September 6 allow its members to make decisions based on the votes outside the presidium. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urges her voters to join the Council and participate in its work more proactively.
The political crisis in Belarus is entering its sixth week. While protests and international pressure keep growing, the old regime yet does not show any signs of readiness for a dialogue with the society and its legitimate representatives. To a great extent, Lukashenka now only relies on state security and the nomenclature he has built over the last 26 years. On Saturday September 12, Lukashenka again gathered the security block in his residence to discuss the ongoing events – ahead of his own trip to Sochi to meet Vladimir Putin (on Monday) and the upcoming grand «Marches of Heroes» that the followers of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya are organizing this Sunday across Belarus.
On Saturday, up to 10,000 women marched through Minsk downtown requiring Lukashenka’s resignation – despite intimidation and brutal arbitrary arrests of female activists.
Member of the presidium of the Coordination Council on Power Transition Mr. Pavel Latushka had separate work meetings with Tomas Petricek (the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic), Ondrej Vesely (Chairman of the Foreign Relations Department of Czech Chamber of Deputies), Austrian Foreign Minister Schallenberg, and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Edi Rama to discuss current situation in Belarus. There is a general consensus that the only way to solve the political crisis in Belarus is through inclusive dialogue of old and newly-elected authorities. Mr. Latushka announced OSCE will play a more active role in solving the crisis via new instruments – however, he didn’t elaborate on the details just yet.
S&P Global Ratings revised its outlook on Belarus from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’. Now access to foreign loans will become severely restricted for Lukashenka’s regime. Belarus central bank’s foreign currency reserves dropped by $1.4 billion in August, and keep falling. The rating agency warns that worsening political crisis would affect the country’s medium-term growth prospects, access to foreign capital markets and, ultimately, its credit ratings. Belarus National Bank may further erode the banking system’s stability if it will ring-fence it’s funds for national government use.
Russia Today acknowledged having sent 32 employees to ‘consult’ Belarusian TV propagandists ‘just as we did in Tunisia, Venezuela, and Cuba’. Lukashenka previously claimed they came to work in collaboration with the Belarusian state-monopolized television. Russian ‘media advisers’ from RT were sent to Minsk upon Lukashenka’s request after numerous state TV workers quit their jobs or announced going on a strike after August 9-13 events. iSANS prepared an investigation on Russia Today’s presence in Minsk (in partnership with reform.by and Meduza).
A member of the European Parliament Sergey Lagodinsky (Group of the Greens / European Free Alliance / Germany) calls up on the EU to introduce sanctions on Russian ‘advisors’, including Russia Today team sent to Minsk in the aftermath of August 9-13 events who actively intervene in the internal affairs of Belarus.
Lately, the workers of state security and police cover their faces at all times. The protesters have chosen new tactics – they rip off the masks and balaclavas from state security workers who carry out illegal detentions or threaten the protesters, and publish their data online.
Telegram channel NEXTA announced publishing a leaked database with a few thousand names of police workers responsible for repressions in the next few days to increase the pressure on state security structures.
A hacker group calling themselves ‘The Cyber-Partizans of Belarus’ that previously hacked the websites of the president’s office and the website of the Ministry of Interior, published a new political statement. They call on Lukashenka’s regime to refrain from any new illegal detentions from 13 September onwards. According to ‘The Cyber-Partizans of Belarus’, if any new detentions will happen, hackers will paralyze national tax and banking systems until Lukashenka leaves the office. Additionally, the allegedly Belarusian hackers threaten to shut down national electricity supply infrastructure.
Bloomberg uncovers new facts about the involvement of the U.S.-based company Sandvine into post-election Internet blockade across Belarus. According to a recorded call shared with Bloomberg, Sandvine executives said they had been working with a government organization in Belarus for more than a year. Sandvine equipment played a central role in censoring social media, news and messaging platforms used by protesters. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin called on the Treasury Department to investigate Sandvine for potential violations of U.S. sanctions on Belarus.
Pro-Russian media in Ukraine promote the Kremlin’s narratives to discredit protest movement in Belarus. A few major TV channels and at least one media outlet associated with Viktar Medvedchuk, the main promoter of the Kremlin’s interests in Ukraine, run the campaign. iSANS expert Maryia Avdeyeva (European Expert Association) elaborates on the topic of Kremlin-led manipulations in the Ukrainian media in her new piece for iSANS.
A nationwide solidarity day is scheduled in Belarus on September 16 to support workers on a strike. People are urged to not attend work and studies on that day, while owners of businesses are asked to not operate their companies for one day.
671 miner joined the strike in Belaruskali works and mines in August. On August 10, a court in Minsk announced the strikes are ‘illegal’. Seven workers, including co-chair of the strike committee were fired since August. As of early September, around 20 people remain on a strike at Belaruskali, according to the strike committee.
International arts organizations join Belarus Free Theatre’s global artistic campaign in solidarity with Belarus. Iconic theatre buildings around the world light up in the white-red-white colors of the Belarusian flag to show solidarity with repressed artists & people of Belarus.
Local community chats on Telegram instant messenger are becoming a core power in grassroots changes and self-organization. People became even more mobilized after blogger and urban activist Anton Matolka created a database of community-based Telegram chats, and urged people to get to know their neighbours. The call was followed by discreditation campaign on state TV. But the propaganda worked the other way – more Belarusians join area-based chats to get connected with other people from their local communities. Now, people gather not only to protest, but also to know each othe and refurbish their areas. The most active areas are now organizing daily children events, acoustic music shows and performances.
A few areas in Minsk were symbolically renamed by the locals, with «Changes Square» becoming a new iconic spot and the symbol of peaceful resistance. There, a group of local activists made a mural on electricity booth in the yard that was repeatedly destroyed by the state officials. Now, unknown plain-clothed people and OMON arrive to the yard every day to prevent the locals from renovating the mural. Since the end of the week, a state security convoy stands next to the wall on a daily basis causing nothing, but humiliating comments on the role of the police under Lukashenka’s regime.
On August 11, Bishop Paul Richard Gallagher, GCIH, the Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See, met with Vladimir Makei (acting foreign minister of Belarus). That same day, OMON beat up and detained women and the elderly at the entrance of the Red Church in Minsk downtown about a mile away from where the meeting of Gallagher and Makei took place. It yet remains unknown how the visit of the high-rank Holy See official will affect the return of the leader of Belarusian catholics, Archbishop Tadeush Kandrusiewich. Although he is the national of Belarus, he is denied entry into his home country with no explanations whatsoever.
Almost 100 Belarusian top football players recorded a video against police brutality.
140 professors and lecturers at Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU) joined a public video address against police brutality. On September 1 and 2, OMON and unknown plain clothed people attacked the students of MSLU inside the university building and kidnapped them using minibuses with no registration plates (in violation of national laws). Later on, the press-secretary of the Ministry of Interior acknowledged it was the police.
Ukraine sent a note to Belarus MFA after the Ukrainian ambassador Ihor Kyzim was forced to open the trunk of his car for revision by the Belarusian Border Guards when crossing the border. Ukraine now reserves the right to act on the basis of reciprocity in connection with this incident. Belarusian side claims they conducted the ‘examination’, not the ‘inspection’.
On Friday, two men from Vitsebsk, Uladzislau Kuznechyk (also reported as Kuzmich) and his father Vitali tried to enter the Embassy of Sweden in Minsk to apply for a political asylum. They were rejected entry, and jumped onto the territory of the embassy over the fence. OMON surrounded the embassy on Friday afternoon. As of Thursday evening, both men remain in the territory of the embassy awaiting for the decision. According to iSANS sources in diplomatic community, the embassy is now having consultations with the Swedish MFA in Stockholm to make up a decision. Both men can be subject to criminal responsibility if they are given out to the Belarusian regime. Although EU countries may not provide political asylum in the territory of their embassies, Swedish diplomats are now in a somewhat tricky situation: they have to choose between human rights responsibility in this particular or potentially having more similar cases in the upcoming weeks if they will provide additional protection to Kuznechyk family.
Acting Defense Minister of Belarus Viktar Khrenin claims his team recorded the transfer of the 2nd tank battalion of the 69th US tank regiment to a training ground in Lithuania, 15 km from the border with Belarus. He also said the Defense Ministry notes ‘enhanced flights of NATO aircraft along our state border and conducting reconnaissance’. Viktar Khrenin is responsible for the use of the 38th Guards Air Assault Brigade in Brest against the protesters during August 9-13 events. Later, he repeatedly threatened to use the army against the civilians across the country, and keeps sending fully-geared soldiers with assault rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank grenade launchers to intimidate the protesters in Minsk around WW2 museum.
The Visegrád Group will initiate the launch of visa-free regime with Belarus in support of Belarusian people. Four countries agreed to present a new plan of economic cooperation with the people of Belarus. Both issues are to be discussed in Special European Council on 24-25 September.
Next week, the European Parliament will discuss the protests in Belarus following rigged presidential elections. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles is expected to join the debate.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on Lukashenka’s regime to refrain from the use of force against those engaging in peaceful assembly and to ensure that allegations of torture and other mistreatment of people in detention are fully investigated and addressed. He underlined that the crisis in Belarus can only be resolved through a broad-based dialogue, which should start immediately in the interest of stability.
International Labour Organization’s Director-General Guy Ryder sent a letter to Aliaksandr Lukashenka. ILO chief denounces the detention and arrest of six trade unionists who took part in peaceful strikes. He urged Lukashenka to release and drop charges against those detained, and ‘ensure full respect’ for workers’ rights.
Claudia Roth, the Vice-President of the German Bundestag demands access to protesters in detention for the UN and Red Cross representatives, as well as for lawyers and diplomats. She announced taking the guardianship of Maryia Kalesnikava’s case within the German Bundestag, and promises to exert pressure on acting officials in Belarus and on the leading politicians in Germany in order to release Kalesnikava.
Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nauseda said that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya should be regarded the winner of August 9 elections, and calls on the EU to discuss economic support to Belarus after Lukashenka’s removal.
The Ministry of Interior reported 32 detentions on Friday (September 11).
Human Rights Center «Viasna» reported at least 69 detentions of protesters on September 12 during the Women’s March in Minsk – including women with minors. Women reported that the workers of the ministry are very scared of being identified and hide their faces under masks and balaclavas.
The largest online media, tut.by received a leaked document that provides information about 1140 cases of injuries suffered by the protesters from police violence between August 9 and August 23. Horrible list of injuries includes shrapnel and gunshot wounds to the face, chest, abdomen and limbs, lacerations, scull fractures, and burns to the upper limbs and abdomen (the burns from flash grenades that the police intentionally threw directly onto peaceful protesters to cause multiple severe injuries). Tut.by was able to confirm these facts in at least 5 hospitals.
These materials further reinforce the testimonies of torture victims. The UN is already aware of at least 450 recorded cases of torture conducted by the Belarusian state officials after August 9 crackdown campaign. The last mass torture crimes in Europe took place in the early 1990s during the Yugoslav Wars. The use of torture by Belarusian police must be regarded by the international community as crimes against humanity. All state officials, including the leadership of Belarus, must face prosecution and be placed on the international wanted list. 35 days after the atrocities began, zero cases were started by the acting Belarus authorities on the matter of state-orchestrated torture. The victims now have no remedy within Belarus under Lukashenka’s rule.
Maryia Kalesnikava was moved to Zhodzina prison from a detention center in Valadarskaha street in Minsk. Her lawyers were not informed about the reasons of transfer. One of Kalesniakava’s lawyers, Ilya Salei, was taken into custody for two months under the court’s decision. Both him and Maryia are charged within a case of ‘calls for seizure of power’, and may face up to 5 years in prison.
In Homiel, a professor of local technical university Vadzim Bielski was detained for a solitary picket in support of a miner who handcuffed himself at a depth of 305 meters as a protest against police violence. After the professor was detained, around 30 students arranged their own meeting to support their lecturer. At least one student, Milana Yaureinava, was detained after that. Overall, up to 10 people were detained in Homiel prior to upcoming grand march planned for Sunday September 13.
Belarusian fund for sports solidarity SOSBY that unites acting sportspersons, reported that acting minister of sport Siarhei Kavalchuk ordered to fire all sportspeople who signed an open letter against police brutality.
Vitali Shklyarov, a political consultant and the US citizen, remains in a KGB detention center in Minsk. Shklyarov claims to have been infected with COVID19 in jail. His lawyer says that during their last meeting his client looked scared, had one of his fingers broken, and refused to talk about the details of how he was injured. Shklyarov previously claimed he was being tortured. It is likely that his latest trauma may have originated from the continuous use of torture against him.
The former head of the «presidential pool» (a privileged group of state propagandists who followed Lukashenka daily to promote his work) was detained on September 10. He was taken from home by a group of plain-clothed men. Later he was found guilty of participating in an ‘unauthorized event’ and was sentenced to 15 days in jail.
Three people were detained in Lahoisk after two of them gave an interview to Euronews TV channel, and one was spotted in the video during a peaceful protests.