The 9 August presidential vote in Belarus and its immediate aftermath
Since the 9 August presidential vote, the situation in Belarus has been changing rapidly every day. Belarusians do not believe the officially announced results: 80% for the incumbent Alexander Lukashenka and 10% for his main challenger Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya. Since Sunday evening, public peaceful protests and solidarity actions have taken place across Belarus.
- Domestic observers characterise the 2020 vote as the “worst elections ever”. Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign filed 3,000 complaints. Honest People counted over 5,000 violations of the election law. 41.7% of voters took part in early voting, which is an all-time record for the presidential elections in Belarus and led to total turnout of more than 100% in some polling stations.
- Out of nearly 6,000 precinct election commissions, several dozen commissions managed to count the votes fairly. According to official protocols, Tsikhanouskaya received between 60% and 90% of support in a number of districts. Meanwhile, over 1.2m Belarusians voted on the online platform Golos – Tsikhanouskaya received 80% support.
- The internet was shut down in Belarus from the evening of 9 August until the morning of 12 August. Only messaging application Telegram and some other online resources were available inside the country for those who used VPN and proxy protection. Telegram channels gained phenomenal popularity; the audience of the Nexta Live Telegram channel has increased six fold and now has 1.9m subscribers.
- The first four days of night-time protests, on 9-12 August in 30 Belarusian cities, ended in disproportionate and brutal use of violence by the police. The police used weapons and equipment never used before: water cannons, rubber bullets, stun grenades. Over 6,700 people were detained, including journalists; dozens of new criminal cases were opened; one protester in Minsk, Alexander Taraikovsky, aged 34, died.
- Starting from 12 August, hundreds of women in white dresses with flowers filled the streets of Belarusian cities, protesting against police brutality. Doctors, builders, workers, and teachers are joining solidarity actions. Numerous enterprises, including the largest ones, are joining the protests or going on strike. Among them are MAZ, BELAZ, BMZ, Grodno Azot, Astravets NPP, Minsk Metro, IT companies, and others. Protesters stand mostly unchallenged by police.
- Starting from 13 August, the police started to release detained protesters – 2,000 people have been released to date. Many of them report torture and abuse. Human Rights organisations and media document evidence. Psychologists and lawyers are providing free help for the victims. The BY_Help initiative has raised over $2m from over 53,000 contributors to help those arrested and injured – an absolute record for Belarusian crowdfunding initiatives.
This overview has been prepared by Pact.
Freedom day, escalation with Russia, and the ‘Ministry of Truth’ – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Despite Lukashenka’s declarations on closer integration with Russia, long-term trends show that Belarus is gradually distancing itself from Russia. OSCE representative visits Minsk. Belarus seeks warmer relations with NATO.
Belarus’s self-awareness is on the rise. Belarusian authorities show tolerance to the Freedom day concert, yet demolish crosses at Kurapaty. Nobel Prize laureate Sviatlana Alexievich condemns the authorities over the Kurapaty crosses demolishing.
Russia will provide Belarus with a state loan of $600 million. Benefits for IT sector work grow, yet IMF and World Bank worsened Belarus GDP growth forecast for 2019.
Belarus: The State in the Middle – Gabriella Gricius, Global Security Review, argues how long Belarus can continue to balance between East and West. For two decades, Belarus has played a game of “Monkey in the Middle.” Amidst increasing tensions between Russia and the West, however, it remains to be seen how much longer it can continue to do so.
OSCE Special Representative: Fighting Against Fakes, One Cannot Create a “Ministry of Truth” – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir visited Minsk on March 18-20 and met both state and independent media, as well as MFA and the Ministry of Information. In his interview to TUT.by, Harlem Désir tells if the OSCE can influence the Belarusian authorities and how to deal with fake news without restricting freedom of speech.
Belarus-Russia: Is a New Alliance Model Possible? – Dzianis Melyantsov and Yauheny Preiherman, the Minsk Dialogue expert initiative, do not believe that the recent Russo-Belarusian conflicts are just an ordinary allied routine. In fact, today Minsk and Moscow are arguing about the basics of their relationship: what format of the Union State, which this year marks its 20th anniversary should be.
Will Russia try to occupy Belarus? – Ryhor Astapenia, at The Washington Post, tells four things you need to know about the two nations’ falling out. In brief, a closer look at the evidence suggests that the chances of Putin governing Belarus are slim. While Alexander Lukashenka may publicly say that the two countries may integrate more, long-term trends show that Belarus is gradually distancing itself from Russia.
Escalation After Tea. Why Minsk Noisily Quarreled With the Russian Ambassador – Artiom Shraibman, at Carnegie Moscow Center, assumes that heated rhetoric between the Russian ambassador and official Minsk is a symptom of deeper processes in the mutual relations. Both sides feel that they have come to some historical threshold. The old format of friendship has been exhausted so much that there is nothing to risk with.
Not an Enemy: Belarus Seeks Warmer Relations With NATO – Arseny Sivitsky observes that Belarus wants to expand constructive dialogue with NATO. However, further development of cooperation is limited by institutional and ideological constraints, which include the lack of necessary NATO framework agreements, false perceptions in the West of Belarus as a political-military appendage of Russia and concerns over the lack of progress in democratic reforms.
About the Information Security Concept of Belarus – Belarus Security Blog analyzes the Information Security Concept adopted in March 2019. In general, the concept itself is a positive trend in the work of the authorities in the information sphere, but it is aimed at ensuring the information security of the authorities, but not the people. Also, experts doubt that all the concept’s provisions will be fully implemented in practice.
Freedom Day: Metamorphosis of Power and Opposition – Considering this year Freedom Day, Artiom Shraibman sees that the authorities and the opposition change their attitude to one of the main annual events of Belarusian politics. So, the authorities show their tolerance to concerts in authorized and fenced squares. The opposition has been divided into a “new” of young bloggers and activists, and a “political” of traditional opposition structures
Words Matter: Belarus’s Self-Awareness on the Rise – Analyzing the recent exchange between Mikhail Babich, Russia’s ambassador to Minsk, and the Belarusian MFA, Grigory Ioffe believes that public remarks made in recent weeks have arguably contributed to Belarusians’ self-awareness and national consolidation at least as much, if not more than, all of the persistent political chatter of the last quarter century.
Sviatlana Alexievich: This is a Reference Point In Our History – Commenting the demolition of crosses in Kurapaty, Nobel laureate in literature Svetlana Alexievich admits that even she, accustomed to conflict with the authorities, was shocked. The writer is confident that even this case doesn’t lead to revolution and mass protest, there will be a notch in the mass memory about that day when the power has passed some new line.
Economic authorities propose changes in the stock and securities market to give a boost to regional development. The Finance Ministry proposes to abandon the preemptive right of executive committees to acquire shares, which has a restraining effect on investments in the regions. In addition, economic authorities envisage reducing the state’s share in joint-stock companies.
Russia will provide Belarus with a state loan of $600 million. The funds will be used to refinance payments to repay the previous loans. By the end of April, Minsk can also receive the 7th tranche of $200 million from the Eurasian Foundation for Stabilization and Development (EFSD). The total EFSD loan of $2 billion is provided to support the reform program in Belarus.
Benefits for IT sector work. In 2018, the total tax payments of Hi-Tech Park’s companies and their employees have amounted to almost $280 million. This is $7 thousand per employee, which exceeds the tax payments of the average employee in the Belarusian economy almost 5 times. This is a finding of the review prepared by the IPM Research Center.
IMF and World Bank worsened Belarus GDP growth forecast for 2019. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has revised downward its forecasts for the economic growth in Belarus in 2019 from 3.1% year-on-year to 1.8%. The World Bank also revised the nation’s GDP growth from 2.7% to 2.2% in 2019 and said that the economic growth would depend on the results of Minsk’s talks with Russia on compensation for the so-called ‘tax manoeuvre’ in the oil sector.
Belarus criticized for poor anti-corruption standards. The Council of Europe, in an unprecedented move, has publicly declared Belarus’ failure in anti-corruption standards adopted in European countries. Twenty of 24 recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) “have remained outstanding”.
ICNL releases report on restrictions on higher education. The report seeks to understand the ways in which governments are repressing university autonomy and closing academic space. Belarus is mentioned in relation to forced membership in the government-controlled youth organization, the pressure on students for their socio-political activity, etc.
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.