POLITICAL ACTIVITY AND ECONOMY
President-elect of Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, published an extensive article in the Washington Post. There, she claims that although Lukashenka rigged the elections, the mathematic data from a few independent groups shows she is the winner of the elections, and Lukashenka must resign.
The post-election protests now continue for 37 days in a raw. On Sunday, September 13, over 100,000 protesters marched through Minsk downtown towards Lukashenka’s residency in Drazdy and the housing of the nomenclature. 774 people were detained across Belarus that day. Numerous marches took place in other big cities, with especially large rallies in Hrodna and Brest. The police used water cannon to disperse a crowd of people who were dancing in a crossroads during a march in Brest. A group of BTR-80s and soldiers were sent to the surroundings of the presidential palace on Sunday again. Numerous civil locations in Minsk were covered in barbed wire and controlled by soldiers. Mobile operators report that the acting state officials required to minimize the flow of 3G and 4G internet at the times of protests.
This past weekend, the protest rallies were again numerous in regional cities. In Navapolatsk, the protesters responded to police violence against peaceful protesters. In Zhodzina, a policeman punched a female protester who was filming him (filming the police is allowed if they act in official capacity). The Ministry of Interior claimed he was acting in self-defence. In Minsk, Brest and Hrodna the police and unknown people in olive uniforms with no identification marks (presumably – OMON or internal forces) appeared at the protests with shotguns. In at least two cases, unknown men wearing plain clothes made shots in the air from a shotgun and traumatic pistol in residential areas. The press service of the Ministry of Interior denied both cases until numerous videos were published online. It was only then when the MoI confirmed the shooters were affiliated with Belarusian MoI and used weapons to disperse the protesters.
A group of protesters was attacked by OMON and plain-clothed people who arrived in cars with no registration plates (in violation of national law) in Vesninka (so-called «Drazdy-2»). Reportedly, the police used pyrotechnics to disperse the crowd when about a hundred people marched through the suburb where most political functionaries of Lukashenka’s regime were granted high-value land in exchange to their loyalty On Monday, the Ministry of Interior confirmed their employee made at least one shot to disperse the protesters within this area (counted in the listed above).
Student protests continue on campuses while women continue to play the most significant role in protest activity. On Saturday, up to 10,000 women took part in Female March. Numerous female protesters were heavily beaten by unknown people in olive uniform with no identification marks. These people ride with OMON in so-called «avtozaki» (paddy wagons). Although no state institution claimed the affiliation of these people, it is very likely they belong to the Ministry of Interior.
The Ministry of Interior is getting very nervous about deanonimization of its employees involved in repressions against the civilians. The police opened numerous criminal cases against people who ripped of masks and balaclavas from unknown plain-clothed people who harassed the protesters or filmed them with no explanations. The suspects are charged under article 364 of the Criminal Code («Violence against an employee of the internal affairs office») and may face up to six years in jail. The Minister of Interior Yuri Karayeu filed a letter to the parliament requesting changes to the administrative law that will allow to keep MoI officials anonymous in courts. Although Karayeu explains this from the standpoint of security, in reality the employees of the MoI provide false testimonies in courts on a systematic basis. often without actually being in place of detention on having any relation to cases in question, recently they wear balaclavas during the hearings and do not provide legitimate personal data. The measures proposed by Krayeu may be used in the future to avoid criminal prosecution for lying in court if peaceful transition happens.
In the last 6 weeks, Belarusian police, as a rule, refrains from showing any IDs, or providing any data at the times of detention as required by laws. The procedures of detention are not being followed. When the civilians are attacked by plain-clothed people in balaclavas who provide no information on who they are and show no IDs, the citizens have the right to reasonable self-defence. However, it is considered attack on the police, however the civilians have no reasons whatsoever to consider these people law enforcement agents.
Because the concept of «police» is now completely devaluated in Belarus, the police is fast shifting the standards of its work to de-facto paramilitary squads that do not obey the law, and act on arbitrary non-legal foundations – which is on the contrary to the core principle of any law enforcement agency proper. Law enforcement abides by the laws. Further erosion of law enforcement bodies, and, specifically, the erosion of the legality of thet Ministry of Interior may result in complete dissolution of the police as the institution of protection into a punitive detachment operating in the interest of the MoI as a «private corporation» and Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The international community should give a very clear signal to Lukashenka that the violence has to stop, and he must resign.
The scale and number of detentions in Belarus is becoming unprecedented even compared to Stalinist ‘purges’ in BSSR. At the very peak of Stalinist repressions in the Soviet Belarus (between July 1937 and October 1938), Soviet NKVD detained some 54,845 people over 15 months. In August 2020 only, Belarusian Ministry of Interior, KGB and other state security organizations detained over 10,000 people on political grounds. It would’ve taken the Soviet NKVD around 3 months to arrest as many people as Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s regime did over the first 4 weeks of post-election repressions.
The West must have a very principled joint position on the future of Belarus. If Lukashenka remains in power, Belarus will not only face severe economic and humanitarian crisis, but may witness a whole new level of political ‘purges’ and escalation of violence within its borders. Potentially, continuous violence of state security and the Ministry of Interior may turn so bad that Belarus will face an internal civil conflict between the employees of state security and the rest of the country that would potentially turn Belarus into the largest ‘grey zone’ in Europe. iSANS prepared a list of policy recommendations (full text available here) to be considered as main principles for peaceful political transit in Belarus:
1. Non-recognition of Lukashenka as President and a special status for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya should be provided with the special status of a legitimate representative of Belarus nation that would allow her to be part of all negotiations regarding the future of Belarus. No binding negotiations on that matter should take place without legitimate representatives of Belarus people. Lukashenka is now neither legitimate, nor legal head of state since all elections after his rise to power were rigged.
2. Immediate package of restrictive measures. Lukashenka either after inauguration or after November 9 (the end of his current term) should be unanimously designated as a power usurper and not as a legitimate president of Belarus. Introduce an immediate package of targeted restrictive measures on Lukashenka and his immediate circle, including individuals and companies providing financial and economic support to the regime.
3. Tribunal (an international investigative body). The investigation should result in the ‘Belarus Magnitsky Act’ to ensure international prosecution of all responsible for atrocities in Belarus (torture, abductions, disappearances, and killings). It must include targeted restrictive measures and use of the universal jurisdiction (The UN, OSCE, and the Council of Europe mechanisms and capacities could be used).
4. List of adjoining actors. The imposition of personal sanctions against persons from the Russian side who participate in the implementation of ‘Putin’s plan’ with regard to Belarus. The list should include both official operators and representatives of the Kremlin ‘proxies’ actively working towards cession of Belarusian land to Russia.
5. Act on Hybrid War. The Kremlin’s actions in relation to Minsk should be recognized as ‘hybrid war.’ It should be emphasized that the ‘Lukashenka-Putin settlement plan’ entails an intense hybrid war of the Kremlin against Poland, the Baltic countries, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. ‘The Act on Hybrid War’ must exhaustively characterize the Kremlin’s actions in Europe as a strategy of continuous interventions, destabilizations, and unacceptable actions on the territory of the EU countries.
6. Act on RT (Russia Today) media network. RT, as one of the main tools of hybrid aggression against Belarus, should be banned from all the EU member states. This direct use of the Kremlin’s propaganda tool in the Belarusian crisis is the best evidence of the need for a separate package of measures for RT. The result of these measures should be a clear declaration of the consolidated intention to paralyze any work of this media network outside the Russian Federation.
7. Act of support of Belarusian society («Marshall Plan» for Belarus). Form a special international body to assist Belarus nation and its democracy transit, which should elaborate and adopt a “Marshall plan” for Belarus, which provide assistance to Belarusian society in crisis and assist in democracy and economy transit of post-Lukashenka Belarus. This initiative is promoted by the Vysegrad Group and will be presented to other EU countries during the Special European Council (24-25 September 2020).
8. Saving Belarus IT-sector. A particularly important area of concern is the destruction of the IT cluster in Belarus and repressions against representatives of the Belarusian creative industries. The progressive sector that has become the catalyst of Belarusian economy and the driving force behind the ‘2020 Flower Revolution’ must be supported in an institutional form at the level of the governing structures of the European Union.
«Belarusian Cyber-partisans» continue hacking major websites of state institutions of Belarus in response to repressions against IT sector workers. In the last few days, they made efforts to hack the websites of state taxation system as well as the president’s web-portal, and hacked state procurement platform, and Minsk City Council’s website.
700 Israeli pilgrims from Israeli Hasidic community got stuck at the border crossing between Belarus and Ukraine. They were traveling from Minsk to Uman’ in Ukraine to participate in an annual commemorative event at Rabbi Nachman Breslev Grave Site. Although all these people are supposed to stay in Belarus on a quarantine for 2 weeks according to national legislation based on WHO’s COVID19 recommendations, Lukashenka and his administration are now pushing the Hasidim towards Ukraine promising to cover transportation to Uman’ in an effort to play ‘religious minority supporters’ card. This initiative of Lukashenka can not be trusted, and is illegal according to national legislation. Ukraine has its borders closed due to COVID19 situation, moreover it previously announced that no pilgrims will be able to visit Ukraine this year. The situation at the border is stable, but tense.
Belarusian solidarity campaigns collected over US $ 6.1 million in private donations to support the victims of repressions and police violence.
On Sunday, two BMW traffic police motorcycles hit into a barbed wire fence that OMON put on the road to stop the protesters. An elderly woman was badly injured by sharp razors of the barbed wire. The executives of the road police ‘called her and apologized’ the next day. The drivers of traffic police bikes left the scene after the accident. There has been to criminal or administrative case on the matter.
Heather Shkliarov, a US Diplomat and the spouse of a political consultant and political prisoner Vitali Shkliarov (he remains in KGB and is presumably subject to torture and ill-treatment), published a piece on her experience of pleading with Belarus to release her husband.
Acting president of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenka and the President of Russia Vladimir Putin met in Sochi (Russia) on Mnday. Putin announced that Russia will provide a US $1.5 billion loan to Belarus. This amount doesn’t really look like a victory of Lukashenka. In August 2020, Belarus spent a US $1.4 billion (15,8% of state reservers) to stabilize national currency in the aftermath of ‘elections’.
Numerous residential areas in Minsk become local centers of protest: people gather in their yards or in postcard locations within their areas to arrange music concerts, theatre shows, or play games together. The idea of a ‘community’ in the Western meaning of the term (that has long been a very sporadic phenomenon), is ‘growing from the bottom’ really fast. The police and nomenclature react inadequate: people are being dispersed or are being filmed by plain-clothed people and the police, some are being detained and beaten for jhaving parties with their neighbours. In at least one case in Uručča area of Minsk, an unknown man in olive uniforms who supported the police, arrived to the gathering spot with a shotgun. Whenever people beatify their yards with posters, murals, stencils, or flags, OMON and unknown plain-clothed people or people in olive uniforms arrive and vandalize the efforts of local inhabitants – and even steal their property, namely the flags, that seem ‘ideologically wrong’ to the state security.
Local administrations in at least 4 areas in Minsk were evacuated on Monday following explosion alerts that htey received via landline phones.
Human Rights Watch urged the UN and the OSCE to start investigations on the matter of torture and police violence in Belarus.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell stated on Tuesday that the EU does not consider Lukashenka a legitimate president. The EU sees a way out of crisis in Belarus through a political dialogue between the acting authorities and the greater society. Mr. Borrell urged OSCE to initiate such dialogue through OSCE observation mission. “We were unable to contact the Belarusian authorities at any level,” he added.
Vatican insists on repatriation of Belarusian Catholic Church head, Archbishop Tadeush Kandrusevich. The Cardinal Secretary of State of the Holy See, H.E. Pietro Patrolin, stated that Vatican will work on the resolution of this case. On August 31, Archbishop Tadeush Kandrusevich was denied entry to Belarus from neighbouring Poland with no explanations – just a day after Kandrusievich condemned the police violence and wrote a public address warning the public that Belarus faced the prospect of a civil war.
The first formal explanation why he was denied entry to Belarus appeared on September 14. The leader of Belarusian Catholics (who is the citizen of Belarus) was not allowed to return to his own country because the Ministry of Interior declared his passport invalid: ‘We inform you that you have not been allowed to cross the state border due to a decision by interior affairs organs that finds invalid the passport for the Republic of Belarus… that you hold’ (quote from a letter of the chief of the State Border Guard Committee, Anatol Lapo).
205 Belarusians received humanitarian visas to Lithuania, at least 54 of them already crossed the border searching for secure place to stay outside Belarus. Politically-motivated outflow of people to Ukraine and Poland should attract more attention from International Organization for Migration.
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a statement on the situation in Belarus, which says that the officially announced results of August 9 election do not reflect the real expression of the will of Belarusian citizens.
Acting Prosecutor General’s Office and acting Ministry of Education threaten parents that their children may be removed from families if they will participate in ‘illegal gatherings’ – which means mostly anything these days.
In Minsk State Linguistic University the police now patrols the main building to avoid expression of dissident opinions. The administration academic institution introduced access control that will be carried out by the employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Minsk resident Stsiapan Latypov became subject to a criminal case. He asked the policemen who were vandalizing the property of the homeowners association in his yard for an ID. He was immediately detained. Later he was beaten, and his house was searched.
Belarusian customs committee demanded a private publishing house Yanushekvich’ to provide an official certificate that ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ books they published in Lithuania and imported into Belarus do not contain «calls to overthrow the Belarusian government».