Does Belarus Need A Shadow Government in Exile?
Former Belarusian colonel Vladimir Borodach published his manifesto on 1 June in which he promised to overthrow the government in 3-5 years. The idea looks unrealistic both for his opponents and potential supporters, but received much publicity in the Belarusian press because it reflects the general fatigue of opposition "losers" and their unsuccessful actions.
As an example, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis said in his interview for Carnegie Europe on 15 May that he was tired of all the plans for supporting the opposition in Belarus. He suggested that it would be better instead to create a transitional council that might be backed by the U.S. But in fact direct support of Belarusian society at large is much more important and realistic than planning alternative government structures abroad.
KGB Officers As Advocates of Democracy?
Vladimir Borodach and his comrade Anufry Romanovich, a former KGB agent, claim that they have organised several meetings of retired officers in Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine over recent months. They aim at creating the Council of National Revival which would unite opposition forces to topple Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka.
They tend to use extremely radical rhetoric, saying that leaders of their organisation should be ready to sacrifice themselves and their families to win the battle against Lukashenka. From their point of view, only force is effective when dealing with the Belarusian regime.
What is more important, they say that almost all Belarusian opposition leaders are controlled by secret services and thus the Council should be situated in exile.
The Only Country With Opposition Military Junta in Immigration
It is better to gain voters' sympathy rather than threaten authorities with revolution without the proper support of the Belarusian public Read more
Despite radical moods in some opposition organisations, most main stream Belarusian politicians, activists and analysts rejected the idea. They say it is better to gain voters' sympathy rather than threaten authorities with revolution without the proper support of the Belarusian public.
Prominent political observer Valer Karbalevich says with irony that the Borodach’s initiative is exotic for the world that has not ever seen opposition military junta in immigration. Former presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin highlights the need for opposition consolidation within the country, not outside it. And Alexey Pikulik from the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies (BISS) adds that survival of such immigration structures depends only on grant aid.
As analyst Yuri Chavusau noted, an opposition in immigration lacks legitimacy because authorities concentrate their propaganda on the opposition's detachment from Belarusian society. Moreover, voters may feel distance and think that such opposition does not reflect their interests.
Moreover, any transitory council outside the country would not be able to function effectively without international recognition. Borodach has already asked Washington, Brussels and Moscow for help. But Hans-Georg Vick from the organisation "Human rights in Belarus" (Berlin) thinks that such recognition is impossible, because it does not correspond to the interests of the main geopolitical actors in the region.
And if it so, that’s for better: an attempt to create "a national unity government" on 19 December 2010 resulted in large-scale repression against civil society and political opposition. This crackdown could have been provoked by Russian intelligence services who manipulated several opposition figures to break off Belarusian contacts with Western countries, as former economic adviser to Russian president Andrei Illarionov suggests.
History of Belarusian "Shadow Governments"
Actually, there is nothing unique in Borodach’s proposal. Transitory councils have been used in Syria and Libya to prepare the ground for foreign intervention. But this scenario is not only undesirable but unrealistic in Belarus which is supported by the Russian military.
In the late 1990s Hienadz Karpienka led the National Executive Committee – a shadow government formed by ex-deputies of the 13th Belarusian Supreme Soviet (Parliament). But he unexpectedly died from cerebral haemorrhage on March 31, 1999. His colleague, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenko disappeared under suspicious circumstances a month later after his attempt to create the Union of Officers.
Both politicians were very popular and their example shows how any serious attempts to create alternative institutions of power may end in Belarus.
Belarusians already have the Council of the BNR – the oldest existing government in exile. The short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR) was declared on March 25, 1918 during World War I. Then its officials were forced to leave the country after it was taken over by the Soviets. The government serves as a symbol for Belarusian democrats, and many argue that there is no need to have another one.
It is important to support the existing institutions instead of multiplying new organisations Read more
Finally, Belarusian opposition and civil society is largely represented in other countries. The Office for a Democratic Belarus functions in Brussels, the Solidarity with Belarus Information Office operates in Warsaw and the Belarusian Human Rights House had been set up in Vilnius. It is important to support the existing institutions instead of multiplying new organisations and thus widening the split between different opposition groups.
What Does Belarus Really Need In Place of A New Grant-Seeking Office?
The idea of uncompromising struggle against the regime gets some backing from radical activists. For example, Viacheslau Dzianau who is responsible for last year’s "silent protests" says that it is topical, because people are tired of indecisive politicians who are ready to coexist with Lukashenka for decades.
However, those who want to bring democracy to Belarus should not give money to a marginalised fiery-tempered group which does not represent any significant group of Belarusian society. The only reason why his initiative received so much attention in the Belarusian press is the weariness of Belarusians with both the authorities and the opposition which were unable to change anything in their lives. This raises hopes that some external forces will magically transform or put an end to the Belarusian regime without the involvement of society itself.
But only Belarusians themselves are responsible for what is going on in the country. Thus it is much better to focus assistance efforts on society at large: to abolish visa regime with Belarus, to offer more opportunities for Belarusian students and youth professionals and to establish broader ties with Belarusian officials and businessmen. And of course, it is essential to increase support for Belarusian civil society.
Such long-term measures would not bring immediate results. The most promising means to help foster democratic transition is to help Belarusians view their country from a different perspective. As a result of more integration between Belarus and the rest of Europe by means of education and more openness, more and more will feel responsible for their country and capable of actually changing it, not just talking about it. And then they would be able to formulate alternative policies and form a truly influential government of national unity – from within the country, not from exile.
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.