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Belarus in Focus 2011

15 Nov

Olga Kohl, Deutsche Welle (Germany)

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Belarus: solidarity and releases from prison

"Long live Belarus" and "Go away!" – That´s the way tens of thousands of people have chanted as they marched through the snowy streets of Minsk straight after elections have been held. Many of them have been battered brutally by the police during or after this demonstration. At first the opposition member Sjarschuk Semjanjuk has planned to join the demonstration as well but he has been delayed for too long by his task as an election observer at the polling station 104 in Minsk. "When we have finished a tumultuous counting at 1 am it was too late. The protesters have been chased away already“, Semjanjuk reports to Deutsche Welle.

Huge amount of solidarity with the opposition

Next day Semjanjuk found out that more than 600 protesters have been arrested. State television reported they had been drunk and that they were rowdies motivated by western money. A part of general public denounced the protests. The majority remained silent. Nevertheless Semjanjuk took action. He and his friends used weblogs and social networks to call on people to donate everyday commodities and money for the detainees. Twenty minutes later the first donation turned up, Semjanjuk remembers, after that more were coming, hundreds brought their stuff to the headquarter of oppositional party BNF, which made a storeroom available.

Close to New Year´s Day the storeroom was packed with warm clothing, sleeping bags, sanitary products, food and books. Volunteers helped to assort and pack this stuff into boxes. Thereafter they went to the prisons and lined up for hours to deliver the boxes to the detainees. Volunteers even arranged a web-page to coordinate the delivering. They called this relief action “guardian angel“.

"The solidarity, which has been born out of misery, shows that Belarusians can close ranks properly" Sjarschuk Semjanjuk added. Currently he spends his days with other volunteers in front of the prisons. On Wednesday December 29th about 300 detainees, who have been sentenced to ten day custody, were released. Volunteers gave to them sweeties, good wishes for the New Year and contact for support.

Meanwhile hundreds of government critical protestors still remain in custody. Among them are seven oppositional candidates. The department of public prosecution has brought a charge against them because of calling out to join an unapproved protest rally against Lukaschenko’s re-election. They are facing jail sentences up to fifteen years.

Obvious fraud at polling station 104

In the meantime it becomes clear how the Lukaschenko administration manipulated the elections. For example in polling station 104 in Minsk, where 28-year-old Natalia Basylewitch was present as an independent election observer. Political scientist Basylewitch reported to Deutsche Welle about manipulations within the counting process. "About 1300 people have received ballot papers at this polling station but in the official election record the number 1952 turned up. Probably about 650 ballot papers have been credited additionally to Lukaschenko", Basylewitch says.

Because of this observance Basylewitch and Semjanjuk achieved an immediate recount in the presence of an OSCE election observer straight in the evening of Election Day. The result differed clearly in comparison to results in other polling stations throughout the nation where Lukaschenko had achieved 80% of votes cast according to official statements. In polling station 104 only 45% voted for Lukaschenko after the counting was repeated. There were more of those precedents in other polling stations where members of the opposition have been present as election observers. Unfortunately members of the opposition were allowed to observe the counting in just one out of hundred polling stations. About forty other examples of obvious fraud have been listed at the webpage by now. State television did not report on these incidents.

The mood in the province

Even in the province where people are widely separated from the internet they are talking about election fraud but only with friends and behind closed doors, a young police officer from a provincial town in the eastern part of the country reported from her observations as an election observer to Deutsche Welle. According to her information members of the election commission have added ballots for the incumbent president. There was a plan from above which prescribed the percentage of votes on Lukaschenko. If the plan was not met the employees would have to expect significant penalties and deductions to their wages.

The stick and the carrot

To affect as many electors as possible other measures were seized, too. Police officer Tatiana referred to a pay raise one month in advance prior to the election. Also student grants and pensions were raised in December. Furthermore starting from the mid of December students in Minsk can use the public transport for free. And police officers who were involved in the violent decomposition on December 19 were rewarded with an extra premium.

Deutsche Welle


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