The April 11 Terrorist Act in Belarusian Press and Blogs
Belarusian authorities, the opposition and Russian security services as possible organizers have been the most discussed unofficial suspects of the April 11 Minsk bombing. All theories explaining the terrorist act at this stage are mostly speculative and not based on any concrete facts. However, looking through these theories is important to understand the public mood in Belarus today.
The details of the tragedy and various theories behind it are in the focus of all major Belarusian media, both government-controlled and independent. Other topics, such as devaluation of the Belarusian ruble and repression against opposition groups were overshadowed by yesterday’s tragedy.
Shortly before the April 11 events, the leading opposition internet media – BelarusianPartisan.org and Charter97.org had been blocked in all state institutions in Belarus. The authorities explained their decision by alleged violations of a law which prohibits announcement of public events, such as political demonstrations, if the organizers were unable to secure official consent to conduct such events. These web sites, as well as the internet website of Nasha Niva, an opposition weekly newspaper, were also subject to DOS attacks. Over the past few days access to these sites had been unstable, particularly from Belarus.
Many bloggers and some opposition websites were quick to accuse Belarusian authorities of organizing the bombing. For instance, BelarusianPartisan.org published an interview with Colonel Uladzimir Baradach, who suggested that the Belarus regime wants to consolidate power around Lukashenka when the country is facing the worst economic crises since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Only the Belarus regime had the organizational capacity both to carry out the attack and then use it for PR purposes.
Colonel Baradach suggested that the authorities might arbitrarily “appoint” someone to be guilty. According to him, the authorities would benefit from consolidating and channeling public anger and they will make sure to create a credible image of an external enemy. That would also distract the population from economic problems. Those who do not support this version believe that the Belarusian authorities have not reached the level of brutality necessary to organize a terrorist act of such magnitude.
The state-owned newspaper Belarus Today focuses primarily on Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s statements and actions which followed the terrorist act. He was on the scene of the tragedy a few hours after the explosion with his 7 year old son and flowers. Following Lukashenka’s statements, Belarus Today hinted that those who ordered the bombing were likely to be located outside of Belarus.
The official newspapers are not yet blaming anybody in particular for the terrorist act. But comments of those who usually represent pro-government position suggest a possible link between the unrest which followed the presidential elections and the April 11th terrorist act. They accuse the Belarusian opposition of trying to destabilize the situation in Belarus as well as of schadenfreude and baseless speculations following the tragedy. Proponents of this version usually do not mention that the opposition has never resorted to violence in the past. Moreover, some of its most prominent leaders, including two former presidential candidates, have been kept in prison since the recent presidential elections.
The third version popular among bloggers is to blame Russia. According to this version, it was primarily Russia which was interested in further weakening of political and economic stability in Belarus. Russian authorities know that in its isolation from the West Lukashenka will have to turn East once again for help. Proponents of this version also believe that the Russian authorities have significant experience in using terrorist acts to reach their political goals. However, Russia does not appear to be interested in the collapse of Lukashenka’s regime because they are likely to face uncertainty and Belarus may start drifting westwards.
It appears that following the initial shock, Belarusian authorities can follow one of the two main scenarios to handle the terrorist act – the “autocratic” scenario or the “democratic” scenario.
Autocratic states use terrorist acts as an excuse to ruin civil society and further consolidate power. This approach usually fails to prevent new terrorist acts. For instance, although Russia dramatically limited political freedoms over the last years, that did not help it to avoid terrorist acts, which happen with tragic regularity. The recent explosion in the Domodedovo airport is the most recent example of this.
On the other hand, democratic states are very careful about restricting civil freedoms even following terrorist acts, let alone curbing political pluralism. They try to consolidate the society at large rather then to polarize it and silence it. The result of their approach is an effective minimization of terrorist threats. The United States has been successful in preventing major terrorist acts on its soil since the 9/11 events.
Picturing democratic opposition and Belarusian civil society as terrorists, supporting rough regimes overseas and playing political games with Russia certainly makes Belarus less secure and increasingly vulnerable. It is neither in the interest of the Belarusian regime nor of those who want to see a transition to democracy in Belarus.
Pyrrhic Victory of Lukashenka
Very few remember that in 1993, the Belarus House of Government was stormed by some Alexander Lukashenka who was then a member of the Belarus parliament. Police did not let Mr Lukashenka inside the building, but he was breaking through with persistency, pushing the men in uniform at the entrance and waving his arms. He also had a support group with him. The journalists were filming the event. Lukashenka's jacket was damaged during that clash. He loudly appealed to the nation, demonstrated the "survivor" jacket, condemned the freedom strangler Vyacheslau Kebich, who was then a prime minister, and shouted that the police served the regime and was strangling a fighter for democracy.
But when Lukashenka was storming the Government House with his supporters, he was not beaten with a baton on his head. The police did not break the equipment of journalists filming the event, those present were not dragged into jails, were not laid down with their faces on the asphalt. Savage riot police did not rush to beat up the "mad rioter". He was just thrown out as a puppy, and the people around were laughing and joking as the sufferer for democracy was condemning the regime atrocities waving his torn jacket.
Now I am wondering why Lukashenko believes that he could break into the Government House, and anyone else – cannot? How come that he has forgotten these heroic facts of his own biography? Why then he was praising himself as a freedom-fighter and truth-seeker and now shouting: "Bandits! Terrorists! Thugs!"
Mr Lukashenka admitted that he was watching everything happening on the 19th of December from the operation control headquarters in Minsk. He was informed of all events and was personally giving orders to act in the cruelest way. The riot police was beating people with batons on their heads, without even looking whether these were women, passers-by, journalists. Mr Lukashenka has succeeded according to his understanding of democracy. His "democracy" has two components – lie and violence.
Lie – this is when he says that the Government House had been stormed. Personally, I carefully and repeatedly watched the official Belarusian Television footage – but could not find any storming there. The official propaganda keeps showing the same scene from various angles. They show it again and again to make it appear that the "storm" has been long and persistent. In fact, it is just one short scene – someone is breaking the glass. If Lukashenka is unhappy when the media focus on what he sees as isolated individual cases of disappearances of Hanchar, Zakharenka and others – we can draw another analogy. How many glasses per day are broken in our country? Five, ten, hundred, thousand … I do not know. But this is never called an assault or riot.
The storm was successfully staged by the authorities but they failed to get other "nice" pictures with protestors. For example, on the election day suddenly re-appeared mobile foreign currency exchange minibuses on the main street of Minsk. The same minibuses, which were removed a few years ago from all central streets of Minsk. Apparently, it was just a pure coincidence that on that particular day they happened to re-appear again on the way of tens of thousands of protesters. The people, however, unfortunately for the show directors, neatly bypassed these fragile minibuses filled with cash. The protestors simply went on carefully avoiding to cause any damage.
I can imagine how outraged Mr Lukashenka was in his operation headquarters – such a "nice" TV picture was missed.
Mr Lukashenka apparently thought that he succeeded in luring the protestors into a trap, when he got the picture of the glass doors being smashed which gave him an excuse to unleash the security forces. But in fact these were the security forces who lured him into a trap. In any event, had there been no cruel and ruthless crackdown, these elections could have been recognized by Europe and the United States. That way, Mr Lukashenka could have gotten the legitimacy and more room for maneuver. And now – no. He himself gave the order to ruin everything that was had been done for years to decrease his dependence upon Russia.
As a result, the day which was supposed to be the day of his triumph, Mr Lukashenka was holding an aggressive press conference in the spirit of "We will get them all!," "I am not afraid of anybody". Many have noticed that the "winner" on his cheeks flushed hysterically. The guys under his command waved their batons, supplied the courts with work and packed the prisons. He was watching the monitors observing the beating and humiliation of his rivals – an interesting "movie", which he certainly loved. But what is the price of that movie?
The guy got himself on a hook from which he will be unable to jump off. The door to the West is now closed, and the key to the East door had been lost, but they keep making an appearance that they are still looking for it.
It is just a classic illustration that in the absence of a real parliament and real media, the president is manipulated by his security apparatus. Had Mr Lukashenka acted like Mr Kebich did during the first storm of the Government House he would be now listening to the words of satisfaction from the United States and some soft criticism of the OSCE. But the Belarusian president is now guided by information and advice of "knowledgeable analysts" who like to stretch their muscles on live human subjects. They enticed him and he has has made the decision. And now he will have to dance under the Moscow balalaika without any room for maneuver.
This is why the most important documents to shed light on the current situation are not some secret documents about the West financing the Belarus opposition. Much more important are the details of close and constructive relationship of top Belarusian security services officers with their Russian counterparts. If a medal was given to Anna Chapman, then the Hero of Russia medals could secretly have been given to her collages in Belarus. To win a little cold war with Belarus as a result of a seven and a half minutes special operation is a very good result.
Read the full version in Russian on Svyatlana Kalinkina's blog.