Victory Day Celebrations and Political Trials in Belarus

While independent press covers numerous political trials, unprecedented in post-Soviet history of Belarus, the official press focuses on celebrations of victory in the World War II organized by the authorities.

The state-controlled Belarus Today and Zviazda covered the Victory Day celebrations in Minsk in great detail as they did in the past. However, unlike in earlier years there was no military parade in Minsk. Economic difficulties made the government cut their expenses. Lukashenka with his sons and flowers are on front pages of Belarusian state press but state newspapers write nothing about the methods which used to make sure that people show up at the celebrations. Belarusian blogs are full of stories suggesting that thousands of employees of state enterprises were obligated to take part in the official Victory Day events.

The main story on the front page of the official Belarus Today covers events in Ukraine, not in Belarus. Anti-Soviet demonstrators in Western Ukraine clashed with those who took out to the streets to celebrate the Victory Day with red Soviet flags. As a result of these clashes, several people were injured. While Ukrainian authorities are investigating what caused the incidents and why police was so ineffective, Belarus Today was quick to blame Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich personally. This is in line with the recent verbal attack of Belarusian president against Yanukovich who did not invite him to Chernobyl-related events in Ukraine last month.

Belarus state press traditionally uses the Victory Day celebrations for state propaganda purposes. First, the victory is supposed to show advantages of the Soviet political model, which is given the full credit for the defeat of Nazis in Europe. Second, the war effort is supposed to symbolise the struggle of Soviet people against invaders who came from the West. It very well fits the contemporary anti-Western rhetoric of Belarusian authorities. Germany and Poland were accused of staging protests which followed presidential elections last December.

Lukashenka continues to use the 11 April terrorist act to tighten control over the Belarus society. Last week he requested to strengthen labour discipline because of terrorist acts. He urged to use methods of Yuri Andropov, a Soviet leader in 1980-s who came from the KGB ranks. According to Lukashenka, because the suspect terrorists could take time off work to build their explosive devices, the discipline and ideological indoctrination of all employees in Belarus should be strengthened.

Most of headlines of independent media cover trials of those who protested against falsification of presidential elections in December 2011. The authorities allowed independent journalists and Western observers to be present at those trials but excluded some of the detainees’ relatives. Riot police officers act as witnesses in most of the trials. They claim that they were beaten by protestors who failed to abide by their lawful requests. Opposition activists, including former presidential candidates denounce the trials as political shows and point to numerous inconsistencies in charges bought against them. Judges tend to agree with prosecutors and are widely expected to find opposition activists guilty and sentence more of them to years in prison.

It is surprising that in the shadow of the ongoing political trials, Lukashenka announced at the Victory Day celebrations that he was open to cooperation with Europe. On the next day, a response to this invitation followed from Ferentz Contra, the ambassador of Hungary which took the rotating presidency of the EU in 2011. According to him, any meaningful dialogue with the Belarusian authorities will begin only after release of all political prisoners.

YK

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