Belarusians Pop Car Tires to Express Ukraine Sentiments
On 23 July, the main Belarusian portal TUT.by blew the Internet up with an article about Belarusians who were going around popping car tires with Russian number plates in Minsk.
The site's administration removed nearly two thousand comments for inciting ethnic hatred.
The attitude of some Belarusians towards Russia is getting more radical due to the conflict in Ukraine, and these tires appear to be just one example of their growing displeasure.
In a turn of events unheard of in Belarus previously, people are also target cars with Ukrainian symbols and historical Belarusian white-red-white flag symbols.
Radicalisation is not only a result of the Ukrainian conflict or boom of Russian organisations now active in Belarus, but also from the authoritarian political climate in the country.
The authorities have banned basically any political protests from taking place, so many feel they have no way to express their dissent other than by piercing the wheels of cars.
Fighting in The Streets
On 23 July, TUT.by tells published an article describing how at least three cars were in Minsk, all of which were carrying either Russian numbers or symbols.
The vandals have made use of different means of inflicting damage: popping tires or breaking out windows, scratching the side of the car or pouring buckets of mud on them.
Last year, the Belarusian media wrote about several cases where drivers of public buses hung Russian flags on the window and activists sought their withdrawal. On 30 October 2013, police even detained an activist in Minsk for a few hours as the driver accused him of debauchery.
Not only cars with Russian symbols become victims Read more
Later, however, the police released the activist, and Minsk's public transport service apologised "for the inconvenience" and the driver remove the flag.
However, not only cars with Russian symbols have become victims in the latest wave of hooliganism. Recently, a driver who had a Belarusian white-red-white and Ukrainian flag in their, said that someone since May 2014 has been puncturing his tires repeatedly in Minsk.
Until Lukashenka came to power the white-red-white flag served as the official symbol of Belarus. Now the Belarusian diaspora and nearly all opposition parties in Belarus consider it as the only true flag of Belarus.
Country of Intolerant People
Most of these events are, to a large extent, the result of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. While a few Belarusians are fighting on both sides in the Donbass, some continue to battle with one another Belarus, albeit typically in a much less violent form.
This ongoing, growing conflict helps to debunk one of the most popular myths about Belarusians – their tolerance.
Belarus occupies 92nd place in the Global Peace Index. This ranking makes use of three main criteria: the level of safety and security in society, the extent of its domestic or international conflicts, and the degree of a nation's militarisation. Belarus is better positioned than Russia (152nd place) and Ukraine (141st position), but worse than its EU neighbours Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Moreover, recent these offences have ties to another important myth – that of the Belarusian partisans. After the Second World War communists portrayed Belarus as a “guerrilla country”, one that knows how to fight under occupation.
These recent events suggest a growing trend of anti-Russia sentiments. A driver of one of the damaged cars quoted on TUT.by said that, "he had never seen people in Belarus have such a strong dislike for the Russians [before]".
The current radicalisation of Belarusian society has its roots in the absence of democratic institutions and open forums within the country. According to Freedom House's criteria, Belarus has the same freedom rating as China. Belarus needs public debates to help society let off some of its steam.
Pro-Russian organisations supply free Russian flags for distribution in Belarus Read more
However, the authoritarian regime provides few chances for genuine public discussions to take place, as Lukashenka likes to call virtually all pro-democracy organisations a "fifth column".
Therefore, many have only one way of expressing themselves – popping the tires of those who have different political views as expressed by the national insignia of this or that country.
Thus, while most Belarusians hold pro-Russian sentiments, some Belarusians have become sensitive to the Kremlin's barrage of anti-Ukrainian propaganda which has served as a catalyst to revitalise dormant pro-Russian organisations in Belarus.
As part of their work, pro-Russian organisations supply free Russian flags for distribution in Belarus at every turn possible. Although Russian organisations previously did not spread Russian national symbols in the past, in recent months the Belarusian media has reported on a serious spike in their distribution in at least five cities, including Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
Although Belarusians call the police to try to get them to stop people from handing out Russian flags on the street, there is obviously not much that they can to do. On one such occasion, on 15 July, the police acted and detained people distributing Russian flags in Orsha, a town in east Belarus.
They turned out to be deaf people who were either selling or giving away the flags in exchange for a miniscule wage, as they have an extremely difficult time finding other jobs in Belarus.
Since distributing the symbols of another country remains legal according Belarusian law, the police were obliged to release them, since they had nothing to hold them on.
Belarusian Hooligans and Russian Organisations
Who is responsible for the damage done to the cars remains unknown. In the case of the cars with Russian symbols, suspicion may fall on football fans. Despite a spike in pro-Russian sentiments, Belarusian football fans have much better ties with their counterparts in Ukraine than in Russia.
This is why most football fans support Ukraine today. Their support has only grown in the months since protests broke out in Kyiv last winter. In one instance the police arrested several BATE fans for merely having taken a photo in solidarity with Maidan.
With regards to the cars vandalised that were carrying Ukrainian symbols, activists of pro-Russian organisations would appear to be the most logical and likely perpetrators.
Lately, organisations such as Rumol (Russian youth) have intensified their activities in Belarus through their usual events such as holding sports competitions or tourist rallies.
since late 1990s, Belarusians have been deprived of any real form of participation in the nation's political life Read more
Their last event took place in Minsk region on July 2014. The Belarusian authorities pay close attention to these associations, but do not interfere with their activities. Their hands-off approach is likely due to the fact that Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian federal government agency, is financing these organisations.
Still, it can be ruled out that ordinary Belarusians may also be responsible for these acts of vandalism. An increasingly propagandistic Russian television, which is very popular in Belarus, has created an atmosphere of hatred presenting Ukrainians as fascists or a people who support a junta.
At the same time, since late 1990s, Belarusians have been deprived of any real form of participation in the nation's political life.
As a result, some people may view vandalising someone else's property as an opportunity to express their stifled political views.
No matter who committed these offences, they show that the Russian war against Ukraine will shape not only high level politics in the region, but also affect the relationship between thugs, football fans, youth organisations and ordinary people.
MaeSens Collects Record Donations, Cycling Initiatives, Lustration – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Cycling initiatives bloom in Belarus. MaeSens donations exceed $300,000. New Homel campaign launches a hotline for residents on local issues.
European Intercultural Festival announces creative competitions.
Makei flies Brussels, Head of Lithuanian MFA – to Minsk. Belarus and United States reciprocally reduce visa costs.
Cycling in Belarus
Velofreemarket is to be held in Minsk on July 27. The agenda provides exchanging bicycle items in the best traditions of freemarket: you can bring nothing, but take a couple of useful features for free. The organizers also promise practical workshops on bike repair and tuning, film screening, panel discussion and presentations from Minsk Cycling Society, Bike kitchen Garage 38, Critical Mass initiative, Falanster NGO and EcoTopia Bike Tour.
First Saturday bike event from IbikeMinsk project. On July 19, in the center of Minsk, a bike event under the project I-bike-Minsk took place, organised by a network of petrol stations A-100, Minsk Cycling Society, with the support of Green Alliance. The participants had an opportunity to demonstrate their ability in figure riding, send a postcard to friends, recalling the need for protecting the climate, as well as to rent a bike for "Thanks".
Cycling race Susedzі attended by about 700 participants. On July 19, a traditional amateur cycling race Susedzі 2014/ Neighbors took place at the August channel near Hrodna. This year the event was really a breakthrough both in the number of participants and volunteers. The youngest participant was 5 years old and the oldest 71. In total 693 people attended.
Homel activists open a public hotline on local issues. The campaign New Homel launched a hotline for Homel residents who have concerns regarding conditions of their houses, yards, etc. New Homel became a logical transition from the campaign Novobelitsa implemented by a group of activists headed by Galina Kravchenko.
The campaign Novobelitsa achieved 20 victories in the city for eight months like installing new playgrounds, bicycle parking, etc. and that inspired activists to expand their activity for the whole city.
Donations collected by the MaeSens project have exceeded 3 billion rubles (about $300,000). MaeSens project is a social Internet platform, launched in October 2011. The main goal is raising funds for charity through charity auction meetings.
New UNDP initiative to integrate people with disabilities into society. Under its new initiative 'Inclusive development agenda beyond 2015: Social inclusion of peoples with disabilities in Belarus', UNDP offers everyone to talk about real-life experiences of people with disabilities through a special online platform. Once a sufficient number of stories are received, they will be processed with special software, and the results will form the basis of new programs and projects in the field of social inclusion.
Trip to Kiev for ideas. On July 21-24, in Kіev, a group of Belarusian activists and journalists participated in the information trip titled U Kraine Ideiau/In the Country of Ideas, organised by Belarus Watch. Participants had the opportunity to meet with leading organisations of today's Ukraine such as Public sector of Euromaidan, coalition 'Resuscitation reform package', Internet project Hromadske TV, Internews Ukraine, Centre UA. All meetings were broadcasted online.
Round table discussion entitled 'The relevance of lustration in the contemporary post-Soviet space' was held on July 18 by the public initiative 'Lustration for Belarus'. The range of issues for discussion included studying the Ukrainian experience, as well as examples of lustration in other post-Soviet countries, and possible options for the development of the Concept of Lustration in Belarus. The organisers came to the conclusion that Belarusian society must be prepared for the process of lustration in advance and invited those present to work together.
Shuma-Library ornament. Shuma musical project together with researchers made ethnography collection of traditional symbols of Belarus with a description of their value. Shuma-Library ornament is an educational project implemented completely on a charitable basis. Shuma-Library aims to broaden knowledge of authentic Belarusian symbolism, print favorite ornaments, embroider, do tattoos, etc.
European Intercultural Festival: contests. The European Intercultural Festival goes on to invite to participate in its contests, namely in European Belarus movie contest, children's drawing contest My Europe, essay contest My Favorite City in Belarus. The Festival is organised for the second time and to be held in Minsk on September 3-13, 2014 on the initiative of the Office for a Democratic Belarus, the Office for European Expertise and Communication and Fond of Ideas. The works for the contests should be submitted by August 30.
Monitoring violations of academic freedom of students for January-May 2014. Studentskaya Rada Youth group in the framework of the Bologna Public Committee with the support of EuroBelarus presents the results of the Monitoring violations of academic freedom of students for the first five months of 2014. In particular, the authors note the increased pressure on students for their participation in CSO activities. The Monitoring is carried out in all Belarusian cities with the higher education institutions in order to obtain relevant information on the situation of academic freedom and the rights of students.
Presentation of Ales Bialiatski's book. The Quicksilver of Life is the first book by Chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna, Ales Bialiatski, which was presented in Minsk on July 22 with the participation of the author. The former political prisoner was released a month ago, on June 21, when the book was already printed. The book consists of a series of essays, or rather, letters from Ales Bialiatski, which he sent to his colleagues during his detention in Babruisk colony.
Makei in Brussels. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Vladimir Makei took part in the Eastern Partnership Ministerial Meeting, which was held in Brussels on July 22, 2014. Vladimir Makei met with top officials of the European External Action Service and the European Commission as well as ministers of foreign Affairs of the EU Member States and the EaP Partner Countries.
Belarus and Lithuania foster dynamic cooperation (video). The corresponding assessment was made by the PM Mikhail Myasnikovich at his meeting with the Lithuanian Foreign Minister. The latter is also persuaded that good neighborly relations should be developed. Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevicius pays a working visit to Belarus on July 24-25. Belarus-Lithuania relations, cooperation between Belarus and the European Union are on the agenda.
USA reduces costs of visas for Belarusians on parity terms. After consultations between the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and the American side as of June 1, 2014 the universal consular fee for reviewing applications for issuing Belarusian visas of all kinds to USA citizens was set at $160. The U.S. reduced the cost of visas for Belarusians on parity terms and will now levy a similar consular fee of $160 for issuing a number of kinds of multiple-entry visas with the validity period of 12 months.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.