I write a great deal about nations that get insufficient attention in the global media. I’d planned to write something soon about the upcoming elections in Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship. But my friend and colleague Janet Haven beat me to it, with a recent post titled “Invisible Belarus”. Noting that Belarus borders on Poland, a member of the European Union, she expresses wonderment that very little attention is being paid to an election run-up which “should make Europe cringe in shame.”
Alexander Kazulin, an opposition candidate running against Belarus’s strongman Aleksander Lukashenka, was recently arrested and beaten when he attempted to register to attend a meeting of delegates with the president. He’s been charged with “malicious hooliganism” for allegedly defacing a portrait of Lukashenka while in detention. “Malicious Hooliganism” is evidently a big deal in Belarus – it carries a possible jail sentence of six years. Reporters Sans Frontieres reports that at least nine journalists were beaten while covering Kazulin’s arrest.
As a Washington Post editorial notes, Lukashenka seems nervous, despite having stacked the deck so carefully that it would be miraculous if an opposition candidate won the poll. He’s nervous because the opposition expects to lose, then stage a “color revolution”, as in Ukraine, Georgia or Kyrgyzstan. The color’s already been picked out – denim blue, chosen to honor the denim jacket of Nikita Sasim, an activist with freedom group “Zubr”, who waved his jacket as the police broke up a protest that called attention to political dissapearances.
Janet notes that the Belarussian press is closely controlled and there are few bloggers in Belarus. One is “br23“, who is blogging from the national capital, Minsk. br23 recently posted a series of brief videos taken during a public appearance by Alexander Milinkevich, the leading opposition candidate. The videos were taken with a camera phone and are small, of poor quality and very brief. But they’re also very powerful. They show citizens chanting “Svabodu!” (freedom) during Milinkevich’s speech and yelling “Hanba” (shame) at the police who’d come to break up the demonstration. I’m thrilled these videos are being featured on Global Voices and hope that br23 will continue to keep us posted on breaking news in Belarus, like the recent arrest of activists from Belarussian NGO Partnerstva.
Tobias Ljungvall writes a great deal about Belarussian politics. His observations about Kazulin’s arrest are pretty fascinating. He sees Kazulin as pulling support away from the main opposition candidate, Milinkevich, and wonders if Russia is sponsoring his candidacy. Very interesting background on a situation I’m trying to learn more about.