Arrests, Detentions and Warnings – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Belarusian authorities seemed to have stepped up their pressure against civil society activists over the last two weeks. They have used various tools – from warnings to administrative arrests. In some instances, there is no apparent reason for repressive actions as was the case with the academic director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies Alexei Pikulik.
Pikulik detained and tried in Minsk. On May 31, Alexei Pikulik, academic director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), was arrested near his apartment building. He was accused of “hooliganism”. He was sentenced to five days arrest and had been released on June 5.
Svetlahorsk police detain campaigners and journalists. On May 31, Svetlahorsk police detained a number of activists of the Tell the Truth civil campaign (Siarhei Vazniak, Alexander Ulitsenak, Mikhail Pashkevich), several local residents campaigning against the construction of a pulp mill, and journalists, including Alina Radachynskaya, Aliaksandr Barazenka, Siarhei Balay, and Ina Studzinskaya. All detained were released except Mikhail Pashkevich – on June 01, he was sentenced to 7 days of administrative arrest.
Young people detained during a meeting with their professor. On May 27, Minsk police arrested twenty-one young people, who met with the expert on nuclear energy Georgiy Lepin. After the procedure of fingerprinting everybody were released.
Journalist receives a warning from the prosecutor’s office. Homel region prosecutor’s office issued a warning to BAJ member Larysa Shchyrakova for “contributing to the producer company N.E.W.S. Informacja (Poland)”.
Viasna demands to stop illegal administrative arrests of civil activists. The Human Rights Center “Viasna” condemns the illegal administrative prosecution and arrests of a number of youth activists, including Mikhail Muski, Zmitser Kremianetski, Raman Vasilyeu, Mikalai Dzemidzenka and Pavel Vinahradau, as well as human rights defender Aleh Vouchak. Viasna states that the Belarusian authorities have repeatedly used the disgraceful tactics of prosecuting civil activists under administrative procedures.
Author of “Musorok” poster jailed for 10 more days. Minsk Court has pronounced the decision to Ivan Amelchanka for 10 more days. Earlier he was jailed for 15 days after he had organized the happening “Mycopoк” at “Chernobyl way”.
Andrei Molchan beaten for white-red-white flag taken to emergency hospital. Activist of the civil campaign “European Belarus” was detained by policemen in Minsk on May 19. The guy hoisted a white-red-white flag near the supermarket “Pershamaiski” to express solidarity with political prisoner Syarhei Kavalenka. After being beaten by policemen Andrey Molchan has a jaw fracture and craniocerebral trauma.
Authorities against Young Front. Since the very beginning of 2012 Young Front members have been condemned to 350 days’ administrative arrests, which broke the absolute record by Belarusian authorities towards one organization. These figures were articulated at the press conference organized by Young Front activists on May 21.
New political prisoner. On 29 May, Vasil Parfiankou, a pardoned post-election protester, was sentenced to six months of arrest for violating the restrictions of a preventive supervision imposed by a court under Art. 421 of the Criminal Code. The Human Rights Center “Viasna” and Belarusian Helsinki Committee view the sentencing of Vasil Parfiankou as a politically motivated decision, and will consider the activist a political prisoner from the moment when his imprisonment starts.
Journalists and activists detained in Grodno. On June 1, unregistered Union of Poles in Belarus scheduled an unsanctioned picket in front of the Grodno regional executive committee. Activists protest against the introduction of the Russian-language education in Polish schools. The police detained the activists Igor Bantsar, Edward Dzmukhovsky, as well as journalists Yan Roman, Yuliya Kalyda and Andrei Pochobut.
Workshop cancelled in Gomel. On June 01, the workshop for NGOs "The interaction of CSOs and media," organized by the Gomel Democratic Forum will not take place. Just an hour before the event the administration of the hotel "Sozh" informed that they Immediately need to repair the premises which were rented for the workshop.
Entrepreneurs defend their rights. On May 25, about 50 entrepreneurs of mall "Atlantic", located at Minsk's Komarovsky market, refused to work and appealed to the center's owner. Businessmen protested against the sudden rise of rent at once for 70 US dollars. Defending their rights, entrepreneurs asked the head of the NGO "Perspective" Anatoli Shumchanka for assistance.
Court upholds oil refinery worker`s suit against Ivashkevich. On May 22, Minsk’s Savetski District Court upheld a lawsuit filed by an employee of Mazyr Oil Refinery against opposition politician Viktar Ivashkevich for his campaign for the European Union’s ban on Belarusian petroleum products. As a result of the hearing, Ivashkevich was ordered to pay Maryna Tsybliyenka 500,000 rubels (around $60), a sum that she had sought in compensation for “moral harm".
Belsat journalists detained in Minsk. On May 23, in the centre of Minsk policemen detained cameraman Ales Lyubyanchuk and Liubou Lebedzeva, who were freed soon. The policemen seized the journalists after they had interviewed Andrey Bandarenka, a human rights defender.
Aleh Volchak sentenced to 9 days of arrest. On May 24, human rights defender Aleh Volchak was sentenced to nine days of administrative arrest on disorderly conduct. A few hours before he was detained by three plain-clothes policemen in Minsk.
Baranavichy authorities block registration of Ukrainian minority NGO. It is two years since Baranavichy activist Mikalai Charnavus started applying for the registration of a local Ukrainian minority NGO “Kobzar”. His latest visit to chairman of Brest regional executive committee Kanstantsin Sumar was not optimistic, as the high official said the NGO could only be registered after 15m rubles were donated to the city budget.
Property at Ales Bialiatski’s country house inventoried. Court officials put the property at Ales Byalyatski’s country house in the town of Rakau in an inventory list. Ales Bialiatski’s apartment in Minsk was seized earlier this year.
Social contracting discussed by deputies. On May 29, the extended meeting of the Committee of the House of Representatives on Labor and Social Protection took place in Gomel region. The meeting was attended by Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Protection, Alexander Rumak, as well as deputies, representatives of ministries, etc. The central topic of discussion was the experience of implementing state social contracting adopted by the NGO "ACT" in Gomel region in 2011.
Citizens of Minsk and officials discuss the problem of packing. On May 25, a roundtable discussion "Packing construction. How to reach a compromise" takes place at the press center of the "Arguments and Facts in Belarus". The discussion is attended by representatives of the Minsk city executive committee, Minsk Heritage, the Union of Architects, the State Control Committee, NGOs, residents of the Revolutsionnaya street. TUT.BY conducts an online broadcast.
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.
Lukashenka: Russia Cannot Strangle Belarus
Putin is visiting Belarus today on his first trip abroad since his re-election as Russia's president. Alexandr Lukashenka is trying to capitalise on the worsening relations between Russia and the United States caused by the anti-missile defence issue.
It is unlikely that the Belarus government will manage to secure further expansion of Russia's economic support. However, the authorities receive additional guarantees of maintaining the economic support at the current level. At least this year, Russia will not revive sensitive issues in its relations with Belarus.
Lukashenka refrained from making critical statements in relation to the Russian leadership in his annual address earlier this month to avoid creating discontent in the Kremlin. He is trying to make the West believe that Belarusian – Russian relations have been developing in the best of all possible ways.
Addressees of the Annual Address
The people of Belarus were the last of all possible addressees of Lukashenka's annual address delivered on 8 May 2012. In 2011, when the prices rose more than twofold and the average salary shrank to the same extent, the electoral rating of Lukashenka, according to independent sociologists, dropped to the 20% mark. However, even in 2011 Lukashenka was saying that he had been supported by more than 80% of voters during the presidential election held on December 19, 2010, and the following year, taking into account the "worsening of the socio-economic situation", he estimated his rating at 70%.
The parliament was also not among the primary addressees of the speech. During the entire history of its existence since the referendum held on November 24, 1996, the parliament has rejected only one draft law submitted by the Presidential Administration. When Lukashenka needed to speed things up, the parliament (de facto, a branch of the Presidential Administration) adopted laws, which were handed down from the Administration, within three days.
The main addressees of the annual address were the West and Russia Read more
The main addressees of the annual address, which included the principal foundations of foreign and domestic policy for 2012, were the West and Russia, i.e. Belarus' main foreign partners. As happens rather often in today's Belarus, the postponement of the address was accompanied by an information leakage organised by the authorities.
The government tried to do its best so that those who study the development of situation in Belarus – analysts, diplomats, politicians – received information that Lukashenka had found the speechmakers-drafted theses related to privatisation to be too liberal. And he allegedly considered the thesis on relations with the West to be too confrontational.
The Cold War Costs and Benefits
The authorities have gotten another opportunity to continue the cold war with the West. It is important for Lukashenka that, after Andrej Sannikau and Zmicier Bandarenka, other personalities who position themselves as leaders, i.e. Mikalaj Statkievich, Paval Sieviaryniec and Zmicier Dashkievich, write petitions for pardons. The government wants to be assured that no groups within the opposition are able to ruin its game plan with the West, which is possible in the not-so-near future, a game plan similar to the one which was played in the second half of 2010.
The authorities believe that the EU will never agree on expanding the economic sanctions Read more
The continuation of repression does not mean that the authorities will burn bridges in their relations with the West. Lukashenka wants to persuade the West that the latter will not have other partners in Belarus and that cooperation has to be developed on his terms, without asking for major steps towards political liberalisation. The authorities believe that the EU will never agree on expanding the economic sanctions.
Currently, Western companies do not intend to participate in the privatisation of Belarusian state property. The privatisation of assets in 2012 for the amount of USD 2,500,000,000 was one of the terms of the agreement with the Anti-Crisis Fund of the Eurasian Economic Community (which is fully controlled by Russia). The sale of controlling shares of Belarusian enterprises to Russian companies is now the main issue of Russia's foreign policy towards Belarus.
The announcement that Lukashenka was not satisfied with theses on privatisation created suspense: what will be the final decision regarding privatisation of major enterprises in 2012? In other words, will the government make steps towards genuine integration, as it is understood by the Kremlin?
Belarus will not fulfill the requirements imposed by the Eurasian Anti-Crisis Fund Read more
Yet again, Lukashenka noted that Belarus will not fulfill the requirements imposed by the Eurasian Anti-crisis Fund for Belarus as far as the sales of enterprises is concerned. “We have rejected all lists of enterprises to be privatized. However, it was not done to humiliate the workers of enterprises. People react in a very painful way. They ask the question: “Don’t you need us anymore?”
Talking about concrete enterprises, Vice-Premier Uladzimir Siamahka noted as follows: “Belarus will never ever sell the controlling stock of “Belaruskali” shares. According to him, it would be a crime against the state.” Also, Semashko reiterated that Belarus would not sell the controlling share of Minsk Automobile Plant.
Lukashenka: Russia Cannot Strangle Belarus
This annual address of Lukashenka had to be made by the time of the presidential election in Russia. Lukashenka's address contains some signals to Russia and Putin, not only for 2012, but also for the long term as well. Lukashenka's statements on privatisation and relations with Russia and the West were intended for his new old partner Putin as he enters his next presidential term. And taking into account Putin's intentions and authoritarian trends in Russia, they regard not only his immediate presidential term.
Lukashenka’s team considered it to be relevant to tell the newly elected Putin that they would not make concessions. Lukashenka’s speechwriters included a number of rather clear signals in his speech that would not please Moscow anyway, and not to mention that the theses were delivered in Lukashenka’s own folk-kolkhoz style. Therefore, the kinds of expressions would appear to be quite offensive to Putin.
Some malevolence was present in Lukashenka’s statements about the Belarusian-Russian relations. “If somebody hopes that as soon as Putin comes back, they will start smothering us and try to strangle us with a noose around our necks, it is just a matter of vain hopes”.
Putin would like to strangle Belarus but certainly not this year Read more
Following Lukashenka’s expressions, it appears that his team does not have new illusions regarding the targets of Putin’s administration in respect to Belarus. In other words, Putin would like to strangle Belarus. However, Putin will not suppress Belarus this year, since it has restricted resources and opportunities.
Lukashenka's team has reason to believe that the main foreign policy issue for Putin's administration in 2012 will be relations with Ukraine. Russia will endeavour to prevent or, at least, complicate to the maximum possible extent Ukraine's movement (while quite a lengthy one) into the EU.
Regarding Belarusian-Russian relations, Lukashenka has good grounds for optimism this year and later on. He hopes that Putin will be bogged down in Ukraine and that the problem of deployment of anti-missile systems would remain at the top of Russia's agenda.