Belarus transformation is ‘a marathon, not a sprint’


Belarusian authorities have started mass criminal proceedings against more than 200 peaceful protesters who were detained during a rally on Sunday, and are now at risk of being jailed for up to three years, Amnesty International reports.

“The Belarusian authorities clearly fear freedom of peaceful assembly in the country, and are now criminalizing it wholesale, by attempting to prosecute 231 detained protesters in one single case,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “The protesters called their rally on Sunday a March against Terror, and now they are being intimidated by the authorities even further.”

Credit: HRW

What would it take for the protests to succeed in removing Lukashenko from power? analyst Gennady Rudkevich, an Assistant Professor in International Relations at Georgia College, asks in The Moscow Times: 

  • Firstly, there would have to be substantial defections from the elite. Not because political elites in Belarus wield significant power, but because of the signal this would send to the Belarusian military and to Russia. That’s unlikely to happen, barring a significant economic decline.
  • Secondly, Russia would have to adopt a more neutral stance. Without Russia backing-off in its support for Lukashenko’s regime, the Belarusian economy is unlikely to collapse, the Russian-speaking media will be able to maintain a unified pro-Lukashenko front, and other countries will remain unwilling or be unable to put enough pressure on Lukashenko to resign.
  • Finally, Lukashenko would have to make a serious mistake — comparable to the Maidan massacre in Ukraine in February 2014 — to push otherwise passive opposition supporters to come out to the streets.

Conventional approaches to political change in Belarus based on largely symbolic gestures need re-examination, argues Yarik Kryvoi, the founder of the Ostrogorski Centre (or Center for Transition Studies). New approaches should in the first place focus on creating the texture of Belarusian civil society inside the country, facilitating its self-reliance and long-term resilience, he writes for the Belarus Digest. The key features of such an approach could include:

  • Strengthening and institutionalizing self-organisation mechanisms such as crowdfunding platforms (including their effectiveness and accountability) and communities in micro districts of Belarusian cities.
  • Creating new programmes for Belarusians not only to stay abroad but also to remain in Belarus, such as fellowships, grants, and long-term joint projects with foreign partners.
  • Creating viable exit strategies for law enforcement personnel not directly implicated in gross human rights violations through retraining programmes.
  • Stepping up efforts to create platforms for political dialogue inside Belarus, engaging various parts of the Belarusian society and state.
  • Reputable international organisations such as the OSCE could play an important role in preventing further bloodshed in Belarus and in peacefully resolving the crisis.
  • Long-term programmes to facilitate the development of alternative visions of Belarus through capacity building of think tanks, analytical centres, NGOs, whistle-blowers, human rights organizations, traditional and investigative journalism.

Independent labor unions have called for an end to layoffs and reprisals against workers who last week took strike action to protest the regime.

Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions

“We call on all Belarusian workers to show solidarity and protect their comrades against whose families the ruling regime is inflicting reprisals,” said a statement from the Executive Committee of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP).

The ITUC Global Rights Index has ranked Belarus “no guarantee of rights” for many years under Lukashenko’s government, including in 2020, in part because legal strikes are effectively impossible while illegal strikes fall foul of punitive legislation.

Ten days after LabourStart launched a campaign demanding the release of jailed trade union leaders in Belarus which prompted thousands of messages from trade union activists around the world, they have now been freed, the IndustriALL Global Union reports.

Credit: BKTU

The jailings followed a strike at the JSC Belaruskali potash fertilizer plant, as workers peacefully demanded freedom, democracy and respect. The response of the authorities was to arrest Siarhei Charkasau, a vice chair of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU), and three others: Pavel Puchenia, Yury Korzun and Anatol Bokun. BITU is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union.

Mediazona, a Russian media outlet which focuses on the law and justice system, recently received a data archive held by Belarus’ Investigative Committee from an anonymous source, Open Democracy reports. These documents consist of several spreadsheets containing information about individual instances of police violence, as well as inspections concerning reports of torture. Analysis of these documents shows that the minimum number of people injured by Belarusian police during protests in August and September 2020 is 1,373 people.

Credit: BKDP

Media outlets are being targeted too with access to independent sources of information deliberately restricted by the government, notes analyst Volha Siakhovich. In late August, the Ministry of Information ruled to block more than 70 news websites and websites of civil society organisations. After the election, state-owned printing houses refused to print some influential independent newspapers on flimsy or no grounds at all, she writes for Index on Censorship. Despite this, the media continue to do their job: blocked websites disseminate information through “mirrors”, Telegram channels and social networks; print newspapers are distributed by volunteers; journalists support each other.

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