The War of Blacklists – Belarus Politics Digest
Yesterday a former Belarusian presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich found himself on an INTERPOL blacklist. The Polish authorities had briefly detained him in the Warsaw airport before they found out that he was put on the list by Belarusian authorities who had targeted him for his political activities in Belarus. Mikhalevich was released after the intervention of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As this digest of recent developments show, Belarusian authorities and the European Union use their respective blacklists to restrict "undesired" individuals. Although Belarusian authorities usually make it easy to exit Belarus, they want to keep certain foreign journalists, NGO activists and politicians out of the country. Inside Belarus, they blacklist undesirable rock groups to prevent them from performing in public and restrict activities of Western NGOs and local opposition activists. The West, on the other hand, imposes travel bans and asset freezes against those whom they see as playing an active role in human rights violations in Belarus.
"Blacklisted" Belarusian Reporter could Enter Lithuania. The correspondent of the Belarusian state TV channel ONT Aleksei Mikhalchenko, targeted by the EU visa sanctions, was able to freely enter the territory of Lithuania to take part in the coverage of the meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Vilnius. As reported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, the journalist received the Lithuanian national visa as an exception.
Members of the Norwegian and Danish PEN Centers were not allowed in Belarus. On the night of December 05, in Minsk-2 airport representatives of Norwegian Danish PEN Centers were denied visas. Guests were expected to meet with representatives of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Belarusian PEN Centre, the Union of Belarusian Writers, local authors and publishers.
“Black list” of musicians works. On November 22, musician Zmitser Vaitsyushkevich’s concert was canceled a few hours before beginning. The concert was to be held in the café Mistral in Minsk. The similar incident occurred with Lyavon Volski in Brest.
Belarusian authorities close Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus confirmed the closure of the Belarusian branch of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung . “We made this decision due to the fact that the Foundation does not fully meet the criteria of constructive engagement with Belarusian authorities”, – said Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh. The Belarusian representative office had worked in Minsk since 1997.
National Bolsheviks Detained in Minsk. On December 06, in Minsk, two activists of the National Bolshevik Party – Eugeni Kontush and Vladislav Lobov, were detained. Yauhen Kontush is charged with “disorderly conduct” for alleged spilling a bucket of noodles and scattering leaflets at the entrance of the Belarusian TV and Radio Company on 3 December.
Tatiana Gatsura fined for performance against the death penalty. On December 09, the day of her birth, a human rights activist Tatyana Gatsura was punished by a fine equivalent to approximately $80 for participation in an unsanctioned action. On December 6, the mother of many children, Tatiana Gatsura, with her two sons came out into the street with a placard "Mr President, I have four children, who is guaranteeing their right to life?"
Tax officers are interested in the Liabedzkas' income. As the leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka informed the public, his wife and son have received a notification that they should submit tax declarations.
Preventive steps before the coming anniversary of 19 December events. The prosecutor’s office of Leninski district of Minsk has issued an official warning to the ex-presidential candidate Uladzimir Niakliayeu. The politician could be sent into prison, in the event that he intends to continue to violate the rules of conduct set for him, the same rules set for a convicted person. On December 06, Nasta Palazhanka, the “Young Front” deputy head, was asked by police if her place of residence changed.
Pickets banned. On December 10, International Human Rights Day, human rights activists applied for holding pickets in several cities in Belarus. The pickets were banned in Brest, Borisov, Vitebsk, Molodechno, Gomel.
“11+3” List. Now in prison there are not less than ELEVEN political prisoners: ex-presidential candidates Andrey Sannikov, Nikolay Statkevich; leader of the campaign “European Belarus” Dmitry Bondarenko; Paval Seviarynets; Head of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” Ales Byalyatsky; youth leaders Zmitser Dashkevich and Eduard Lobov; entrepreneur Mikalai Autukhovich. Anarchists Igor Olinevich, Mikalai Dziadok and Alexander Frantskevich are recognized as political prisoners of the Belarusian regime by human rights defenders at Viasna and BHC. Three more anarchists from Bobrujsk – Yauhen Vaskovich, Pavel Syramalotau and Artiom Prakapenka – are currently under discussion.
Foreign Ministry Receives Recommendations of UN Committee Against Torture. The Belarusian foreign ministry has received the recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture, the ministry's spokesman, Andrey Savinykh, said at a briefing on December 8. In its concluding observations released following the November 11 and 14 meetings of the Committee Against Torture, which saw representatives of the Belarusian government and of rights organizations deliver diametrically opposed reports on the situation in Belarus, the Committee called on the Belarusian government to promptly investigate all reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.
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.
Russian Elections: Déjà Vu for Belarusians?
In Russia's recent elections to the State Duma the ruling United Russia party won. The Russian opposition claims that the authorities falsified the results in favour of Putin's party. Similar to Belarusian authorities, the Kremlin put pressure on independent observers, falsified the results to a certain degree and temporarily blocked independent sources of information. But overall the Russian elections and handling of post-election protests were much more democratic than in Belarus.
What kind of changes will these elections bring to Russian politics and what consequences will they have for Belarus? Although the elections and post-election protests were an important political development for Russia itself, they will not be a game changer for Belarus-Russia relations. However, Russia's policy towards Belarus may change following presidential elections in 2012.
Political Spectrum of the New Duma
Various observers note that despite quite convincing victory as provided by Western standards, United Russia lost a big percentage of support among the population as well as the absolute majority needed to adopt federal constitutional laws. According only to official data, the United Russia's vote share decreased by 15% in comparison with previous elections. United Russia enjoys the widest popularity in the North Caucasian republics – for example, in Chechnya it was supported by 99.51% of voters. Such facts pave the way for public speculation about massive electoral fraud, as it is hardly possible to achieve such a result without falsifications.
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev headed the ruling party’s list during the elections and it seems that this helped United Russia to obtain 238 out of 450 seats. At the same time the Russian communist party wo 92 seats (19.2% of votes), Just Russia – 64 seats (13.25% of votes) and the Liberal Democratic Party with its irremovable leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky – 56 seats (12% of votes).
A Right-Wing Failure
It should be mentioned that there is still no sufficiently large right-centrist party in Russia, where the middle class represents a big part of the population and there is a growing demand for changes among the people. The so-called Liberal-Democratic Party actually tends to favor nationalist positions. An attempt to create the Right Cause party with aluminum and nickel tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov as its head came to a grievious end for its leader who was forced to resign amindst scandal in September. The party suffered a crushing defeat subsequently in the elections, and nowadays its new leader Andrey Dunaev is seriously considering the option of emigration.
Therefore, the State Duma will not represent a huge part of the Russian population with liberal views and it undermines the legitimacy of the legislative body. The main ideologist of United Russia, deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov paid attention to this fact just after the elections, stating that Russia needs a new party of “irritated urban communities”.
The election results clearly demonstrate that United Russia should move to make compromises and become more liberal although they will not significantly change the political spectrum represented in the Duma. If it does not change, it will increase the gap between the ruling elite and ordinary people. Citizens of big cities, especially Moscow and Saint Petersburg, are tired of the same faces in power for such extended periods of time and they actively expressed their voiced their opinions in the most recent elections.
Similarities and Differences with Belarus
Russian elections were similar to Belarusian electoral campaigns in many ways: the same pressure on independent observers (“Golos” organization), the same means of electoral falsifications (frauds with absentee ballots, fabricating results, throwing additional ballots in ballot boxes), preventive detentions (Sergey Udaltsov), mass protest actions followed by the arrests of opposition leaders (Ilya Yashin, Alexey Navalny, Sergey Mitrokhin) and the blocking of independent sources of information (Ekho Moskvy radiostation site, “Big City” journal and Livejournal).
Nevertheless, elections were more democratic than in Belarus. There was no pressure on independent observers in the majority of voting stations, and opposition leaders could openly express their opinion in mass media and Parliament without any intervention from state authorities. This included well-known debates between Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Alexander Khinshtein, when Zhirinovsky harshly criticized United Russia, not troubling himself to be too careful with his choice of words.
What are the Implications for Belarus?
The Communist Party has strengthened its positions as a result of the elections. It traditionally advocates the interests of the Belarusian regime in Russia and personally Alyaksander Lukashenka. In its election program the party promises to defend Belarus from “Russian oligarchs”. It could mean a potential increase in the influence of the Belarusian lobby in Moscow.
However, this election is incapable of considerably altering the state of relations between Belarus and Russia. At the same time the importance of the Eurasian Union project may rise in importance in order to show the effectiveness of the Russian authorities' foreign policy, given a sharp fall in public trust in the ruling elite.
It creates favourable conditions for Belarus in the framework of cooperation with Russia and it means that Russia will close its eyes to various controversial events that take place in its neighbouring state. Particularly, one should not wait for new video appeals of the Russian president to revive the investigation of notorious political disappearances in Belarus.
Elections and Belarusian-Russian Relations
Russian presidential elections will have crucial importance for the future of this country with prime minister Vladimir Putin as the main candidate. It is hard to define what will be his level of support given mass demonstrations in Moscow and his native town of Saint-Petersburg. Today there are proposals in mass media to nominate a single opposition candidate – communist leader Gennady Zyuganov or blogger Alexey Navalny.
One will be able to define Putin’s true intentions towards the Eurasian Union and the level of Russia’s willingness to pay for further integration only after the 2012 presidential elections in Russia. Then the Russian authorities will finalize their domestic and foreign policy for a middle-term perspective (5-6 years). The dynamics of Belarusian-Russian relations depends exactly on these two issues that can either promote or undermine the European ambitions of Belarus.
It may be that following the presidential elections, the Russian authorities will increase the pressure on Belarus again to obtain its remaining assets in the absence of any competition from the West.
The text originally appeared in Russian on n-europe.eu