‘Tactical’ Blackmail to Nowhere of the Dictator Alexander Lukashenko

Foto: BELTA / AFP

The exhibition on the events held in the Belarusian capital following the fraudulent presidential elections on 7 August 2020, which was unveiled at the Belarusian Independence Palace in Minsk on 1 November, includes a painting depicting the 23rd of August, the day of the most massive protests in Minsk, which gathered, according to different estimates, between 150,000 and 250,000 people.

The canvas does not show Belarusians protesting against the regime, but the dictator Alexander Lukashenko, led by his youngest son Nikolai, with a Kalashnikov in his hands, in the vicinity of the Independence Palace.

The exhibits included the machine gun itself, Alexander Lukashenko’s uniform with the OMON symbol, the flag with the inscription “Za Bat’ku” (For the Batkha) etc.

I should also recall that on that unfortunate 23rd of August, the dictator, apparently in all seriousness to say, in his own way’ triumphantly declared that the protesters had run away like rats. It turns out, after they saw him…

On 1 November, the Day of the Dead, the content of the exhibition, as well as the context, shows that there is plenty of room to work on ‘polishing’ the absurd in the newest Belarus.

And polishing is taking place towards complete surrealism.

On 31 October, the Ministry of the Interior of Belarus declared a group of just four citizens to be an ‘a group of extremists’ for allegedly engaging in extremist activities on the website Zhdanovichi 2020 – Viktor Tsoi Song Lovers Club.

The website was immediately banned and some of its members cancelled their registration for the sake of peace, as the designation by Minsk regime of anyone as a ‘group of extremists’ could lead to prosecution without trial and up to seven years of imprisonment.

Zhdanovichi is a typical small town on the outer side of the Minsk ring road, Viktor Tsoi Song Lovers Club is a typical provincial online community, whose members routinely discuss about speeding fines, lost dogs, repair of the town streets, etc.

The Minsk regime was frightened by the name of the Russian songwriter Viktor Tsoi, whose song ‘Changes!’ was one of the most important songs of the 2020-2021 protests in Belarus, and was sung in the streets and in the courtyards of apartment blocks practically all the time of the protests and demonstrations.

On 29 October, following the government’s resolution of 18 October ‘On Measures to Combat Extremism and Rehabilitate Nazism’, the Ministry of the Interior of Belarus recognised as ‘groups of extremists’ (and, of course, banned their activities, with the threat of imprisonment from 2 to 10 years) all subscribers of incorpore Internet resources Nexta, Nexla-live and Luxta.

The number of subscribers to all three is 1.46 million, while the most popular Nexta-live has 922,000 (2.1 million at its peak, which coincided with the peak of protests in Belarus).

It is logical in a way that on 28 October Alexander Lukashenko’s regime blocked the websites of the German news agency Deutsche Welle, as well as the US Congress-funded Russian-language television Nastoyashcheye vremia and ‘somehow’ overlooked democratic publication Novy chas (published since 2002) as an extremist. On 3 November, the independent TV channel Belsat was also ‘definitively’ declared extremist by the Belarusian Ministry of the Interior.

The Belarusian regime has been breaking records for some time now, designating over 100 online publications and websites as ‘extremist’. In its media and Belarusian blogosphere eradication campaign, Minsk has banned dze.chat, an internet resource that unites over 1,000 courtyard communities, and even Tribuna.by, the Belarusian branch of Russia Sports.ru, an online sports publication.

It is much harder to logically explain the decision of Alexander Lukashenko regime to block the website of the pro-Kremlin news agency REGNUM on 30 October without any comments. REGNUM should even be awarded the laurels of being the first Russian portal to be blocked ‘blindly’.

Unless REGNUM writers have often criticised Minsk for its too sluggish (on the edge of the outright apology) integration with Russia.

Earlier, on 5 October, the Kremlin-loyal daily Komsomolskaya Pravda announced about closure of its office in Minsk after Belarusian officials detained Gennadiy Mozheika, a journalist from the Belarusian edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda, on the territory of the Russian Federation (!), and transported him to Belarus to ‘give explanations’ in a pre-trial detention centre, where he was accused of incitement of discord and insulting the government representatives.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belarusi website was blocked on 29 September.

All Minsk actions listed here were provoked by Gennadiy Mozheika’s ‘impudene’ to write four sentences in a classmate’s memoirs about Andrei Zeltsar, an IT specialist from Minsk, who resisted with a weapon the KGB officers who stormed into his flat and shot one of them dead on 28 September.

Four sentences were enough to block the website of the daily that published them, and even to arrest its collaborator on the territory of the ‘brotherly’ country – the Belarusian power structures are threatening to prosecute anyone who even spills the beans about the deceased Andrei Zeltsar.

Vladimir Sungorkin, editor-in-chief of Komsomolskaya Pravda, had no choice but to use the word ‘arbitrariness’ to describe what the Belarusian authorities have done to the Belarusian editorial office.

Alexander Lukashenko’s regime has a clientelistic relationship with Moscow, with Minsk logically playing the role of junior partner (brother). It is difficult, if not impossible, to justify the ‘suspension’ of two Russian portals loyal to the Kremlin in Belarus without already being paranoid.

Prior to the visis of the Belarusian dictator on 29 October to the Dobrush paper mill in the Gomel region, his administration sacked 70 ‘disloyal’ workers, who took part in the protests on 25 October, and at the same time drew up a list of ‘loyal’ workers who had been ‘allowed’ to take part in the meeting with Alexander Lukashenko, even if they had been given specially tailored working clothes for the occasion.

At the end of September, the Belarusian KGB announced that it had liquidated an ‘extremist network’ of workers, who were allegedly planning diversions (destruction of equipment, infrastructure, communication facilities, etc.) to sabotage the activities of state-owned enterprises such as Naftan, Grodno Azot, BMZ (the Belarusian metallurgical plant), etc. The regime accused the 13 arrested persons of high treason.

The Ukrainian human rights organisation Centre for Civil Rights has prompted the international community to pay attention to the method of the Minsk regime of mobilising relatives, including children, to blackmail the opposition, through the ongoing international solidarity campaign “#BelarusWatch”. Opponents of the Alexander Lukashenko regime are threatened not only with imprisonment, but also with the deprivation of their offspring and sending them to orphanages. They usually leave Belarus after such threats.

Kaciaryna Vadanosava, TV presenter, musician, leader of the band Kaciaryna Vadanosava & Fantasy Orchestra, civil activist, mother of two, and her family were forced to flee their homeland after being threatened with imprisonment and a government institution for their children.  According to her, the worst was when she was attacked by strangers who claimed to have seen her singing with her daughter at a concert organised by the opposition, for which the inevitable retribution awaits…

During a search at the house of the human rights activist Vladimir Yavorsky and subsequent questioning at the police station, they threatened to take away his nine-year-old son Dannil, arguing that since his wife was being held in the Okrestin detention centre at the time, he would be arrested and there would be no one to look after the child. Although relatives could look after him…

Such blackmail is not new – Belarusian politician Ales Lahvinets told Nastoyashcheye vremia how in 2017, after his administrative arrest, his family was threatened with the status of ‘socially unreliable’ if he did not stop his political activities.

On 13 October, Sergey Kabakovich, Chairman of the Belarusian Investigative Committee, announced that criminal cases have been filed against the Belarusian opposition leaders Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Pavel Latushko, former Minister of Culture, on charges of violation of the Belarusian constitution, setting up of illegal government bodies, and negotiating with foreign states and international organisations.

The charges were added to the ‘bouguet’ of existing ones – creation of extremist organisations, riots, incitement to mass unrest, crimes against the state, conspiracy, etc.

The Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations (UN) said on 12 October that its staff in Minsk was using money given to the UN for victims of disability or domestic violence to hire lawyers for 23 Belarusian protesters on trial. The same was stated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Vladimir Makei to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres when he travelled to New York on 36 September to attend the 76th UN General Assembly.

Belarusian power structures keep their promise to prosecute anyone who even mentions the late Andrei Zeltsar – 136 people were arrested on 6 October just for commenting online on the incident in Minsk on 28 September that cost the life of a KGB officer.

This is the chronicle of the despair of Belarus, barely a month old, when nobody knows the real number of Belarusians who have fled Alexander Lukashenko regime and left their homeland.

Vyacheslav Orlovsky, Head of the Unit of the Ministry of Interior of Belarus for the fight against organised crime and corruption, in an interview with the Belarusian newspaper Belarus segodnia on 18 October, ‘fiercely’ announced an initiative to deprive all those who have fled the country of their citizenship – because they hate their country and are working in the interests of foreign countries.

It is also difficult to understand the meaning of such and similar narratives. And it is not only narratives that ‘happen’ in Belarus – the number of political prisoners has recently exceeded 800.

The evidence that Alexander Lukashenko and his entourage do not understand and are not going to understand is more than eęnough. According to Sasha Filipenko, a Geneva-based Belarusian writer, whose novels have been translated into many languages, says that on one hand it is difficult for the mind to comprehend the scale of the people leaving Belarus. However, the most important (and worst) thing is that if the conflict continues, there are less chances that they will return, as they will make a life in new places.

It is hard to live in a country where, for example, doctors are leaving.

Arūnas Spraunius

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Autorius: Voras Online