Indolent Youth

A Blog covering the impassioned and soulful politics of youth in post-communist transitioning societies...

Friday, July 28, 2006

South Ossetian Youth Call for State's Recognition

The South Ossetian youth organization, “We Alone,” has declared in an open letter to the presidents of Russia, Georgia and the United States, the United Nations General Secretary and the OSCE chairman-in-office, that the Caucasus republic should be internationally recognized, Interfax reports.

“South Ossetia…in accordance with acting legislation and the supreme democratic criterion, the people’s will, stayed within the Soviet Union and after its collapse, legally proclaimed its own independence,” the letter says.

“Only the international recognition of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transdniestria,” the letter continues, “can improve regional security and save the lives of civilians, women, children and the elderly.”

The organization calls on youth forces in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transdniestria to unite “in common efforts aimed at the recognition of our states’ independence and protecting them from external aggressors.”

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

2 Russians Sentenced in Minsk

Two Russian citizens have been sentenced to prison terms today for protesting across from the Russian Embassy in Minsk, Charter 97 reports. Nikolai Zboroshenko and Ekaterina Vinokurova, both activists from the Russian Oborona, were sentenced to 15 and 10 days respectively. The two Russians were among 47 others who were arrested on 16 July for holding a protest meant to draw attention to the problems in Belarus during the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, and to convince President Putin to stop his support of the Belarusian government.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Ice Cream Lovers Descend on Minsk, Threaten Lukashenko Regime!

Yesterday, democracy activists, wielding ice cream cones, besieged October Square in Minsk in the latest in a series of flash mobs aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the Lukashenko regime through comedy.

The uppity security services, catching wind of the disturbance, swooped in and dispersed the mob, arresting five in the process reports AFN.

Belarusian democracy bloggers are buzzing over their success. "It’s amazing that because of ice cream people were arrested,” said sovereigh. “The whole world will be laughing.”

Litota has provided a nice gallery of her photos from the event.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Zubr Announcement

In an announcement published on Charter 97, the pro-democracy youth organization Zubr has announced that it is disbanding.

Statement of ZUBR Resistance Movement
13:52, 05/05/2006

The presidential campaign 2006 has considerably changed the situation in Belarus. Despite total control, mass repression and intimidation the dictatorship failed to break people’s will for freedom. Dozens thousands of Belarusians went out to streets disregarding threats of death penalty and, thus, demonstrating their willingness to see Belarus as a free and democratic country. The Lukashenka’s regime was morally defeated.

It is absolutely clear that the final victory can only be achieved via unification of all democratic forces. Coordination within the frames of a partisan coalition is not enough. Now it is on the top agenda to create a single national democratic civic movement that would unite millions of supporters for democratic changes. Methods of unification, the title of the movement, forms of activities and ways of registration should be discussed.

We call upon all civil initiatives to join the united movement. As the first step of this unification, the youth resistance ZUBR declares interruption of all its activities under ZUBR brand and will continue its struggle against the regime within the wide national movement.

Only united we can win!

For your and our freedom!

Заява моладзёвага руху ЗУБР
14:02, 05/05/2006

Прэзідэнцкая выбарчая кампанія 2006 года карэнным чынам змяніла сітуацыю ў Беларусі. Нягледзячы на татальны кантроль, масавыя рэпрэсіі і запалохванні дыктатура не здолела зламіць волю народа да свабоды. Дзесяткі тысяч беларусаў, якія выйшлі на вуліцу, нягледзячы на пагрозу смяротнага пакарання, прадэманстравалі ўсяму свету свае жаданне бачыць краіну свабоднай і дэмакратычнай. Рэжым пацярпеў маральную паразу.

Абсалютна відавочна, што канчатковай перамогі можна дасягнуць толькі ў выніку аб`яднання ўсіх дэмакратычных сілаў. Каардынацыі ў межах партыйнай кааліцыі ўжо недастаткова. На павестцы дня стаіць стварэнне агульнанароднага дэмакратычнага руху, які будзе здольны аб`яднаць мільёны прыхільнікаў дэмакратычных змен. Неабходна дакладна прадумаць спосаб аб`яднання, назву руха, формы дзейнасці і магчымасці рэгістрацыі. Гэта неабходна рабіць ужо зараз.

Мы заклікаем грамадскія дэмакратычныя ініцыятывы стаць часткай гэтага руху. У якасці першага крока маладзёвы рух ЗУБР заяўляе аб перапыненні дзейнасці пад сваім брэндам і працягу супраціва ў межах новага агульнанацыянальнага руху.

Толькі аб`яднаўшыся мы здолеем перамагчы!

За вашу и нашу свабоду!

Заявление молодежного движения ЗУБР

14:02, 05/05/2006

Избирательная кампания 2006 года по выборам президента Беларуси коренным образом изменила ситуацию в стране. Несмотря на тотальный контроль, массовые репрессии и запугивания, диктатуре не удалось сломить волю народа к свободе. Десятки тысяч белорусов, вышедших на улицы, несмотря на угрозу смертной казни, продемонстрировали всему миру желание видеть свою страну свободной и демократической. Режим потерпел моральное поражение.

Абсолютно ясно - окончательной победы можно достичь только в результате объединения всех демократических сил. Просто координации действий в рамках партийной коалиции сегодня уже недостаточно. На повестке дня стоит создание общенародного демократического движения, способного объединить миллионы сторонников перемен. Необходимо тщательно продумать способ объединения, название движения, формы деятельности, пути регистрации движения. Этим надо заниматься уже сейчас.

Мы призываем все гражданские демократические инициативы стать частью общего движения. В качестве первого шага молодежное сопротивление ЗУБР заявляет о приостановлении деятельности под своим брэндом и продолжении сопротивлении в рамках нового общенародного движения. Только объединившись, мы сможем победить!

За вашу и нашу свободу!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Arrests On Top of Arrests

Several trials of youth opposition leaders were begun today in Belarus, Charter 97 is reporting. Artur Finkevich from Young Front appeared before a court in Minsk'’s Pervomaiskii region. He was arrested on 30 January 2006 for hanging signs with the slogan "We want change!" and charged for hooliganism and intentional destruction of property. For the latter offence, Finkevich could receive a sentence of between seven and twelve years in prison.

Nikita Sasim has been charged with evasion of military service, and faces up to three years in prison. Ironically, Sasim received an exemption from military service after he was beaten and given a concussion by OMON troops during a peaceful demonstration last fall.

Outside the courtrooms a number of protesters gathered in a show of solidarity. A number of these activists, according to Charter 97, have been detained and charged with participation in an unsanctioned meeting. Among them was Aleksei Kozulin, nephew of former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin. He was sentenced to five days in prison.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Using Chernobyl's Legacy to Push Democracy

Belarus’ opposition yesterday used the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster to protest against the government’s policies on the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster. The BBC reports that six thousand turned out to the annual “Chernobyl Way” march, organized primarily by the United Opposition Party and youth groups Zubr and Young Front.

The opposition takes the occasion of the anniversary each year to press for democratic change and highlight the government’s irresponsible Chernobyl policies. Many are angered by government plans to resettle the affected area, termed “the Zone,” says the BBC, as well as by the government’s silence on the catastrophe’s true effects.

This year’s protest carried with it increased significance coming as it did a month after government forces violently suppressed election related protests on Belarus’ Liberty Day. The large turn out—consisting mostly of young people—indicates the opposition’s relevance despite its crushing defeat in elections last month. Speaking to supporters at the protests yesterday, opposition leader Aleksandr Milinkevich vowed to force President Aleksandr Lukashenko from power within two years, RFE/RL reports. "We know how to do this. There is no need to wait for five years for us, we will eliminate the regime and will oust Lukashenko [sic] from power. This is our goal. We will overcome!"

For his part in organizing the meeting, Milinkevich was arrested and sentenced to fifteen days in prison. Other opposition leaders including Labor Party head Aleksandr Bukhvostau, Leader of the Belarusian Popular Front Vintsuk Vyachorka, and Syarhey Kalyakin of the Communist Party were also arrested Charter 97 reports.

As in the past, citizens from neighboring countries took part in the protest in Belarus or showed their solidarity at home. Belarusian customs officials turned away activists from the Union of Ukrainian Youth traveling to Minsk for the protests, says Charter 97. Still, the United Opposition website claims that members from the Ukrainian Student Brotherhood “stood shoulder to shoulder with Belarusian youth in the fight for Democracy.” Solidarity protests also took place in Russia, Europe and the United States.

The opposition is purportedly planning for protests to take place on 1 May. Activists are fervently discussing plans for events in Live Journal Political communities, where much of the grass-roots protest planning takes place.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Russian Youth Create Their Own Public Chamber

In Moscow on Tuesday, youth from more than twenty parties and civic organizations announced plans for the creation of a Youth Public Chamber (Молодёжная Общественная Палата). The organization, which will be independent from the Public Chamber created by the Kremlin, will have its opening session on 18 May 2006, Itar-Tass reported (11/April/06).

The Youth Public Chamber is to be more humanitarian than political. It will focus on a diverse array of issues, from fighting military hazing, to education and health reform. The organization, according to Moskovskii Komsomolets, also hopes to develop its own politically themed reality show called “The Delegate.”

According to organizers the project will be “an independent institution of civil society,” representing an “alternative to youth street politics” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta). The organization could be a further attempt by the Kremlin to draw breath from a small, but vociferous band of young Putin opponents who have adopted street protests and rallies as their primary political tool. The Kremlin has long been concerned about the rise in protest actions by young political activists. Such demonstrations tend to stoke the Putin Administration’s fears of Orange Revolution in Russia.

According to Yuri Afonin, however, “this initiative does not come from the top.” The leader of the League of Communist Youth insists that young political and civic leaders have taken the initiative to create and develop the new organization by themselves. (Itar-Tass)

However, as the left-wing Trud newspaper (12/April/06, № 064) points out, Dmitri Gudkov, son of People’s Party leader Gennady Gudkov and Aleksei Rogozin, son of Rodina Party leader Dmitry Rogozin, are among the founding members. Gydkov, at least, contests that his father has nothing to do with the MOP. “We agreed that in my own political work I will be fully self-sufficient,” said Gydkov, interviewed by NG.

Also among the 26 current members are representatives from Young Guard (the youth wing of the party of power United Russia), the Communist Party, the radical Liberal Democratic Party and the Social Democrats. Interestingly, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that there are no members from Yabloko or the Union of Right Forces, Russia’s most prominent, though disenfranchised, liberal parties.

According to Anton Nazarov, a member of the Council of Academic Councils of Moscow State University people aged 18-35 will be eligible for membership, though individuals from extremist groups like the National Bolshevik Party will be barred (Itar-Tass). Incidentally, a Moscow court today again denied the NBP registration as an official political party.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mini Maidan

Protesters erected a tent city on October Square in Minsk, persisting in their refusal to accept the results of Monday’s elections. Most demonstrators now accept that victory will not come soon, but for the dedicated few, there is no option but to continue.

While there were fewer people at last night’s event it was much better organized. Milinkevich’s team erected a sound system in order to better communicate with the crowd. In between speakers—which ranged from opposition political figures to poets, musicians and professors—organizers played Soviet-era dissident rock.

Participants in the protest were also better prepared. They brought hot tea and coffee, sandwiches, extra blankets and even spare socks, scarves and sweaters to pass around to those having difficulty enduring the freezing temperatures.

Contrary to state media reports, which have portrayed protesters as unruly teenagers, there were many adults and even pensioners in the crowd. There were also people who had arrived from different cities. Even foreigners from surrounding countries and as far away as Azerbaijan, arrived to show their solidarity with the protesters. International media were also present.

The tent city sprang up around ten o’clock. It grew throughout the night from about one or two to as many as fifteen tents. While miniscule in comparison to the tent city erected on Kiev’s Maidan a year and a half ago, Belarus’ small tent village served as an important morale booster for the small amount of protesters that lasted through the night.
Those not holed up in tents created a human chain a two to three rows deep in order to keep out unwanted provocateurs. If too much silence elapsed some one would belt out “Zhive Belarus!” and the group, which numbered only a few hundred by early morning, went wild cheering and yelling. Even by sunrise the protester’s cries could be heard three or four blocks away.

As with Monday night, police presence was minimal, despite a few thuggish KGB agents who milled around looking very annoyed. For the most part, protesters were left alone so long as they remained in the square.

A number were arrested when they went in search of bathrooms and more supplies. Not to be daunted, some of the protestors erected a tent around an open manhole to serve as a toilet. Food was more of a problem. At one point someone tried to throw food from a moving taxi, but police intercepted the vehicle. Still, by one or two in the morning food and drink began streaming in as police began to withdraw.

While some have had to leave October Square for work this morning, many more are still camped out. It has begun to snow heavily which is a problem, but it is doubtful that the protesters will leave unless forced to. As of now it is unclear what the authorities’ plans are.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Small bang...then fizzle

Thousands poured onto October Square in Minsk to protest the victory of Aleksandr Lukashenko in Belarus’ presidential election. Cold and boredom, however, quickly overcame most of those present leaving a meager few to stick it out with opposition candidates Aleksandr Milinkevich and Aleksandr Kozulin.

Prior to the protests, a number of activists were optimistic that a mass rally could lead to a revolutionary scenario, similar to that in Ukraine, that would replace Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime with a liberal democratic government.

Few expected Lukashenko to loose the elections outright. From the start of campaigning a few months ago opposition candidates and their supporters have been harassed, beaten and arrested. “The authorities only understand force,” said Press Secretary for the opposition Zubr Movement Aliaksandr Atroshchankau. “Evolution is not possible; we need revolution.” Atroshchankau was quick to point out that his group does not advocate violence, only mass peaceful protest.

Despite activists’ hopes, however, the protests fizzled almost as soon as they began. Weather was one reason for this. The sub-zero temperatures kept many at home and forced a good number to leave the rally early.

The event was also poorly planned with quite a bit of confusion as to where and when the protest would take place. This was partly the fault of the organizers. Numerous groups participated and there was no central decision making body. The Milinkevich campaign failed to take adequate control of the situation. Just two hours before the event one leader from Malady Front, a youth group affiliated with the presidential candidate, still had little detailed information.

The government played its hand well. The police presence was minimal and the much anticipated violent suppression failed to materialize. It is likely that use of force would have drawn sympathy for the protesters. As it turned out, the demonstration dissipated on its own. The state controlled media, in turn were able to use footage of spiky haired teenagers as proof that the opposition is little more than a bunch of thugs that would only destabilize the country.

A short brief on the elections.

Everything is quiet this morning here. Lukashenko won the election officially with 82.6% of the vote. Aleksandr Milikevich, the main opposition candidate received 6.0%. The highly esteemed Russian polling organization, the Levada Center found that 47% voted for Lukashenko and 25% for Milinkevich. The protest that followed the election started strong with thousands filling October square. After a few hours, however, the crowd began steadily to thin. There were a few drunken provocateurs, but the crowd on the whole was peaceful and friendly. As Milinkevich began to speak there was a freak snow storm that reduced visibility to nothing. Everyone thought it was provocation by the police, but apparently the entire city was hit. The police presence was surprisingly small, though this is understandable. There were many of foreign media present. I am worried about what may happen to the opposition activists once the journalists and observers leave. State-run media are calling the protestors hooligans and terrorists bent on distabilizing the country. There is another protest scheduled for tonight at 6:30. It will be interesting to see whether the authorities will allow a mass meeting for a second night. I am nervous and quite disheartened, but Alexsei, my tourguide here in Minsk is an incredible optimist. I will provide more details later.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Calm Before the Storm

As election day wraps up, there has yet to be any unrest in the streets of Minsk or elsewhere. One election observer from a Belarusian NGO informed that everything had gone smoothly. The opposition, however, has is preparing demonstrations on at least three major squares in Minsk. I have spoken with leaders from the two major youth organizations supporting opposition candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich who say they are prepared to bring thousands out into the streets when polls close at 8:00 (1:00pm EST). While worried about the prospect of violence, these activists say they are determined to bring about change in their country.

There is no question, it appears, that elections will be falsified. In the run-up to the polls there have been numerous violations of election rules. Opposition activists are arrested seemingly at random in an attempt to strike fear into their ranks. As I was speaking with one opposition member he recieved a call that a bus outside Pinks was stopped and that all young people on board were arrested. Still the two leaders with whom I have spoken have said that thousands have already arrived in the capital ready to demonstrate.

As of right now communication within the city is difficult. Opposition websites and news portals have been shut down and many expect that phones and email will be cut soon. Most of the preparations for this evening's protest have been carried out through word of mouth. Said one activist, "people have begun trusting in rumours."

Rally the Opposition!

Last night there was a rally and concert sponsored by the main opposition candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich. Though organizers claimed that 10,000 people attended the event, there seemed to be less than half that. Still, the mood was jovial and optimistic. Each of the bands harped on the same general theme: they expressed frustration with the current president and a desire for change.

The man set to bring about that change, Milinkevich, arrived half way into the concert that took place on Bangalore Square. Speaking in Belarusian, in itself an act of defiance, he pumped up the crowd, railing against the current regime for its crack down on basic freedoms. Closing his speech he declared that all Belarusians should be able to live in a free and just society where they can always listen to "beautiful Belarusian rock!"

Special forces troops, though amassed on the perimeter of the square, allowed the rock to play on despite threats that provocateurs would be in the audience. Earlier in the day an SMS was sent to all Minsk residents warning them to stay in doors or "run for their lives". Most felt this to be the work of the security services and ignored it.

Many are nervous, however. One concert goer, Aleksei, said that members of his family had been calling all day pleading with him not to go out on election day. The KGB has accused the opposition of planning to detonate bombs amidst large crowds on election day. Many see this as a threat that the authorities themselves will carry out such acts.

Throughout the concert, the MC made announcements warning opposition activists to be vigilant, not to drink and to beware of any provocation. Few doubt that there will be large rallies on election day whatever the results and despite warnings that violence may occur.

Last night's event ended without incident. Afterwards, I joined a number of activists as they clandestinely tied strips of blue denim, the revolutionary symbol, to signs and door handles throughout Minsk. If caught, they would be given a fifteen-day stint in jail automatically. If they were nervous about this, it wasn't evident. Their thoughts were mostly on the elections and the potential for change inherent in them. Some were certain that change would come, if not on election day, then soon. Others were not so sure.

There was a sense of desperation that weighed heavily over all of them. Pasha, a local actor declared, "I don't want my son to grow up under "Him"!" Each had traveled outside of Belarus, to Poland, the Baltics and even to Western Europe. They have seen how their neighbors have advanced, while in Belarus they have experienced stagnation. They will have their opportunity to express their displeasure today, though most fear that no one will listen

Saturday, March 18, 2006

All Quiet in Minsk?

On the day before presidential elections, the streets of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, remain quiet. Official election posters have just recently appeared in the city showing pictures and biographies of all the candidates. A large flat screen TV across from the ominous KGB headquarters shows a constant stream of adds telling people to "choose the best candidate." Still, there is only one candidate in this election. His face is everywhere: on signs in shop windows and on the TV. Still, I have rarely heard his name spoken aloud. All whom I have talked to refer to President Aleksandr Lukashenko as "He" and few doubt that he will loose this title after tomorrow. Two of my bunkmates in the train from Warsaw last night argued playfully over whether Lukashenko would receive 80% or 90% of the vote.

There are small signs of opposition, however. The occasional protest sticker over an official election poster, graffiti--these are indicators that not all of the populous accepts the status-quo.

In an hour there will be a flashmob and concert sponsored by the opposition on Bangalor square. This will be the first of many planned demonstrations before, during and after the election. Whether or not opposition candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich wins or not, these demonstrations will help to show the strength and unity of his supporters. This election could be the first step towards democratic change in the country or could usher in a long period of political stagnation. Everything now depends upon the desire and resolve of the people.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Unsanctioned Rally in Minsk Draws Thousands

Members of the Belarusian opposition have held an unsanctioned rally in Minsk today. About three thousand demonstrators pored into Freedom Square where they were met by nearly one thousand members of the Belarusian security service, Radio Free Europe’s Belarusian service is reporting.

Leading opposition candidate Aleksandr Millinkevich addressed the crowd calling for freedom and justice while supporters chanted “Long Live Belarus!” and “Freedom!”

Earlier in the day another opposition candidate Aleksandr Kozulin was arrested while trying to gain access to the All-Belarusian Assembly, where earlier President Lukashenko had given a three hour speech in which he lambasted the West for interfering in Belarus’ internal affairs. Kozulin was later released.

Information coming out of the country is sketchy at best. Opposition news portals and websites have been blocked. This includes the Charter 97 and Zubr websites. In addition telephone service in the country has been blocked in many cases and information is only coming via SMS.

A Poglyad member in Ukraine informed that the borders have been closed. This situation has yet to be confirmed elsewhere, however. In addition leaders from the Ukrainian citizens' party "Pora" along with six journalists were detained by the KGB and then denied entrance to the country after they had arrived at the Minsk 2 airport. The delegation had traveled to Minsk to observe the situation in the run up to the elections.

The planned rally on Freedom Square in Minsk with opposition candidate Alexandr Millinkevich was supposed to have begun at 18:00 Belarusian time. The latest information coming from Minsk confirms that Millinkevich arrived and marched with demonstrators to the House of Physical Culture where he addressed supporters. Riot police arrived in trucks and dispersed the rally shortly after it began.

A source in Minsk has informed that there is an increased police and military presence in the capitol. Interestingly, more than half the demonstrators are aged forty and over. Opposition rallies normally draw young activists. One elderly woman interviewed said frankly, “we are very tired of him [Lukashenko] and we must live happily like in Europe.”

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Update on Dedovshchina Cases

The Moscow Times reported yesterday that a Chelyabinsk court has sentenced two soldiers found guilty of hazing at the city's tank academy to one year in a disciplinary battalion. This is the same academy where soldiers brutally beat Private Sychev in January. The case in question is different from Sychev's, which is still under investigation. According to the Times, prosecutors plan to appeal the sentences as too lenient.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bolsheviks Enter the Conscription Debate

About ten activists from the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), a radical populist party in Russia, staged a protest at a Ministry of Defense building in Moscow yesterday to contest Russia’s system of military conscription and the horrid living conditions of young soldiers, reported. According to the NBP press service, “the army has tuned into a place of punishment: Russian youth are sent to the army as if they were being put through a meat grinder.”

Kommersant has reported that seven National Bolsheviks approached the Ministry building with the party’s flag and lit red and green flares. They then proceeded to chant slogans such as “Fire Putin,” “Russia without Putin,” and “The Army without [Minister of Defense] Ivanov.” When soldiers from the Defense Ministry apprehended the seven, two more appeared and handcuffed themselves to the fence surrounding the building. All protesters were eventually taken into custody.

The practice of Devdovshchina, a Russian military custom in which new conscripts are abused— sometimes to the point of severe injury and even death—regained international exposure when news broke in early January that an eighteen-year-old conscript, Andrei Sychev, had been beaten so savagely by older soldiers that his legs and genitals required amputation.

The incident touched off renewed debate in Russia over the country’s conscript system, which requires males to serve two years in the military when they reach the age of eighteen. According to an All-Russian Public Opinion Center (VTsIOM) poll published in Military and Society on 17 February, fifty percent of those surveyed supported a system of contractual service, up from twenty-five percent in 2002. The number refusing to enter into military service because of hazing also increased from sixty-three percent in 2004 to seventy-four percent in 2006.

In addition to living in squalid, impoverished conditions, many new soldiers are subjected to abuse by older conscripts, while officers remain indifferent or actively participate in the violence. According to Chief Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov, six thousand soldiers fell victim to military abuse last year, and more than twenty-six hundred were prosecuted for committing abuses. (Vremya Novostei 8 February, No. 21, p. 5). According to official statistics reported by the Associated Press on 27 January, sixteen soldiers died from abuse and maltreatment last year and a further 276 servicemen committed suicide. The official sources provided no specifics regarding the latter figure.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Belarus: Activists Gather, but Security Services Ready

Belarusian democracy activists and their supporters marked the monthly Day of Solidarity with Belarus yesterday. In Minsk, the Belarusian capital about 200 people gathered on October Square and a further 200 people assembled along Skaryna Avenue, Charter 97 reports. A number of activists were beaten and arrested though sources vary as to how many. The BBC puts the number at thirty, while Charter 97 and Agence France Presse report that 20 were arrested.

Among those detained were activists from youth groups Zubr (Bison) and Youth Front. Zubr leader Evgenii Afnagel received a fifteen-day sentence and Young Front Activist Oleg Korban a ten-day sentence for “hooliganism”.

The Zubr website is reporting that protests have occurred in Norway, Prague, Warsaw, Riga, and Kiev. In addition, several activists from Amnesty International protested in front of the Belarusian Embassy in the Hague. In Washington, DC about seventy people joined the civic initiative Poglyad in a protest outside the Belarusian Embassy. Among those in attendance were Irina Krasovskaya, President of the We Remember Foundation and Irina Vidanava, editor of Student Thought, as well as the Slovak Ambassador. US Congressman Thaddeus McCotter also made an appearance and gave a short speech expressing his solidarity with the people of Belarus.

The Lithuanian European Parliamentarian Vytautas Landsbergis also made remarks concerning Belarus yesterday on the occasion of the anniversary of Lithuanian Independence:

“On the 16th day of each month we recall the destiny of our Belarusian brothers, who are so alike with us. We are united by Nioman, we have so much in common in our characters and folk songs. The Belarusians aspire to freedom. There are young people with the Belarusian flag here… (applause)… Long live free Belarus!... It should be a country with Belarusian schools, a country where people are not forced to respect the dictator, who came from a village and reigns alone on all television channels. Today in Belarus the opposition leaders either disappear with no trace or get cast to jail with no reasons and no guilt proved. Let us wish Belarus freedom and, at the same time, let us estimate the value of our independence.” (Reported by Charter 97)

Vitalii Klichko, former world boxing champion and leader of the Ukrainian Civil Block Pora-PRP also sent Charter 97 a message: “Today, on February 16, 2006, I add my voice to the voices of hundreds and thousands of people all over the world who call for freedom and democracy in your country, in brotherly Belarus.” “Today, on February 16, 2006, I add my voice to the voices of hundreds and thousands of people all over the world who call for freedom and democracy in your country, in brotherly Belarus.”Reported by Charter 97

At a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday, MEPs expressed "solidarity with, and support for, all Belarusians who strive for an independent, open and democratic Belarus," reports

With the Belarusian presidential elections just over a month away it is crunch time for the country’s struggling opposition. Few observers believe that the elections will be free and fair as incumbent President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for twelve years, controls all major media outlets, and whose security service, the KGB, rivals its Soviet namesake in its oppressive vigilance.

In an interview carried on all Belarusian television channels on 27 January, President Lukashenko warned would be protesters that “there will be no disturbances. No one will climb onto the barricades to fight Lukashenko,” he said. “If there are provocations, we’ll give them such a going-over they won’t know what’s hit them.” (Reported by The Moscow Times)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Belarusian Day of Solidarity

Tomorrow is the monthly Belarusian Day of Solidarity, when Belarusian human rights and democracy activists honor political prisoners, independent journalists and democracy activists endeavoring to loose Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s strangle-hold on power. For information see Charter 97.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Left-Right Alliance?

On Friday, 3 February, youth from a number of prominent opposition youth organizations met in Perm, Russia seeking to strengthen ties and reconcile their often contentious political divisions, Vremya Novostei reported. Participants represented a broad spectrum of political views including the liberal Youth Yabloko, the Union of Right Forces and Maria Gaidar’s ‘Yes!’ and the right-wing, patriotic Union of Youth, the Motherland party’s youth wing. The ultra radical People’s National Party and the Movement Against Illegal Migration as well as several neo-fascist skinheads were also in attendance, and, despite some apprehension on the part of other participants, were allowed to participate and voice their views.

At the meeting, which was organized by SPS leader Nikita Belykh, participants engaged in roundtable discussions with notable figures from the Russian opposition. At one such roundtable Garri Kasparov, acclaimed chess player and leader of the United Citizens Forum implored members of the opposition to unite regardless of ideology. “Only a left-right opposition,” said Kasparov, “is in a position to offer a plan to escape the crisis that has lead to a single party system in the country.”

In a discussion session opened by the governor of Permskii Krai, Oleg Chirnukov, delegates from Moscow based organizations met with skinheads from Perm to discuss issues relating to the development of an opposition ideology. According to one neo-fascist from the Movement Against Illegal Migration, quoted in Vremya Novostei, about half a year ago they “realized that killing was ineffective, and therefore decided to try political methods of waging war.”

Inclusion of rightwing extremist groups and individuals in the forum prompted vociferous criticism from pro-government organizations. On Thursday, leaders from Nashi demanded a public apology from Governor Chirnukov, stating that if he refuses, “the organization will use all force necessary for the removal of the governor,” Gazeta reported. Activists from the Youth Guard, the youth wing of the pro-presidential United Russia party also joined in the attack.

In response to the attacks Chirnukov, who is one of the only oblast level governors not belonging to United Russia, stated that he is “categorically against giving the pulpit…to organizations and movements declaring racist or nationalist ideals.” On the other hand, said the governor, “we cannot turn our backs on those young people that are still able to hear us and realize their mistakes.” (From Gazeta)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Video Conference Links Belarusian and American Students

In a bid to increase Belarusian exposure to US culture and values the US Embassy in Minsk along with the organization Students for Global Democracy held a video conference yesterday connecting university students in Belarus with students from Washington, DC area universities and the University of Indiana. The event took place against the background of Belarus’ increasingly tumultuous political situation, and while discussants mostly confined conversation to mundane aspects of university life, anxiety on the part of Belarusian students occasionally bubbled to the surface.

The conference, which lasted just over an hour, allowed Belarusian students gathered at the US Embassy to engage their American counterparts on a range of issues related to university life. Both sides agreed that finding gainful employment following graduation is a challenge. The Belarusian students, all of whom had studied in the United States, complained about a law requiring students receiving government funding for higher education to complete two years of government service upon graduation. According to one student, the government gives graduates the worst positions and often sends them away from big cities to poor towns and villages. An American student from George Washington University sympathized. In order to pay off the $100,000 plus he had accumulated in student loans he had decided to join the US Marine Corps.

An air of cautious reserve overhung the discussion as students, particularly on the Belarusian side refrained from discussing controversial issues. According to Charlie Szrom, President of Students for Global Democracy, organizers sought to avoid interpretation of the event by Belarusian media as an American propaganda ploy. The idea behind the video conference said Szrom, was to “educate Belarusians about American life,” counteracting the Belarusian media’s often negative portrayal of the United States and Americans.

Still, with dimming prospects for political change following Belarus’ 19 March presidential elections, many students expressed dissatisfaction with the dilapidated political and social environment. One young woman noted that students are much more interested in international news because “here the news is not interesting because nothing is changing.”

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called Belarus the last dictatorship in Europe. Under the leadership of President Aleksandr Lukashenko the country has become impoverished and isolated from successful post-Soviet countries like Poland and the Baltics. The Belarusian population has little access to information aside from that produced by the heavily censured state media outlets. According to one student at the video conference, “most people who don’t live in the capitol just see what the government wants them to see.”

According to an official at the US Embassy in Minsk, video conferences between Belarusians and Americans serve “to keep the lines of communication open.” The embassy has already held a few of them, including one a month ago linking high school students in both countries. At the close of yesterday’s event Szrom expressed his intentions to hold a follow-up conference in a few months’ time.