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Belarus in Focus 2011

15 Nov

Ugis Libietis, Latvijas Radio (Latvia)


457

Minsk - silent protests and detention

There is no political leader, no opposition leader to call for such actions. Everything is organised through social networks liek Facebook, Twitter etc. Authorities are trying to restrict such activities, but it is a pretty hard job to do.

One of the initiators of these actions is Vyacheslav Dianov who is studying in Poland right now. My Belarussian fellow journalists, whose names I will not mention,  contacted him via telephone. Here is what Vyacheslav Dianov said just couple of hours before yesterdays protests:

(The voice of Vyacheslav Dianov)

We are not leaders. We are just moderators who activate people who participate in these actions. Leaders will have to prove themselves after the change of power. Then they will have to go in the nation and create a democratic government. This is not our intention. I’m 24 years old and I can’t be in the government, but I can do whatever I can to make Lukashenko go.

In this interview Vyacheslav Dianov explains that these are no demonstrations or rallies but actions, because according to a law there is just no such a concept as action. Some of the journalists also explained me that authorities are really confused, because there is no real reason to detain a clapping passer-by.

Yesterday’s protest action was also planned to take place in one of the center squares of Minsk – October square right in front of the presidential palace. A heavy thunder during the midday created some concerns that people will not participate in this protests, however before 7 PM even the sun came out from the clouds.

It is usually assumed that the local KGB is always thinking few steps forward. Last evening was nota n exception and right before 7 o’clock the open-air concert started on October square.

(music in the background)

I have to admit that at the beginning I wasn’t quite sure what was the purpose of this concert, but later on I heard someone congratulating students with the end of the school yeat. Later I found out that the concert was organized for the youth organization supporting president Lukashenko. Whole area was confined, police officers in uniforms as well as people in civilian clothes or even sports costumes carrying portable radio sets and video cameras were seen all around. Passerbies, who stopped even for a second were asked a simple question: „Dear Sir, are you waiting for someone? If not, please proceed forward and don’t disturb other pedestrians.”

With every moment the action grew bigger. Silent and clapping crowd which moved forward very slowly was supported by local drivers, who signalled with the car horns.

(horns in the background)

As you can hear, the crowed continued walking without shouting out any slogans. Even more, the organizers of the action asked everyone to step back from the people who could start shouting slogans. Maybe the only exception was some very energetic old lady.

(The voice of an old lady)

After noticing my recorder she couldn’t stop telling that right now everyone is only thinking abut the cheap sausage. Well, sausage had become very expensive lately and nobody loves Lukashenko anymore. Maybe with the exception of Lukashenko youth, special forces, KGB workers and civil servants. However they are also waiting for the fall of Lukashenko. And now they have organised a discoteque on the square, but not everyone is allowed to enter. Old people are not people. She joked, that she had to date her „old man” near the disco, but they were not allowed to enter.

(end of the voice of a lady)

 

The crowd walked forward peacefully and silently, however the special forces officers from time to time grabbed some of the protesters and took them to the buses wich were located nearby. In contradistinction to the last years December 19th opposition crackdown in the center of Minsk no special detention cars were used. Some buses, minivans and Soviet time UAZ jeeps with no number plates were used. These cars just stopped at the side of the road and it was clear that they will not stay empty.

The head of Belarussian Helsinki Group Oleg Gulak, to whom I was not able to speak much, also expressed his incomprehension about the principles officers used to select detained people.

The action was followed also by some dosens of local and foreign journalists, however it was not an obstacle for police to use force against them as well.

I guess I was one of the first journalists who was taken to the unmarked vehicle. I was detained the moment I was within the group of press representatives and with my mobile phone tried to make a photo of people being pushed in a police bus. The reason of detention were not explained to me. As for about some 15 minutes I was alone in the police van (not counting the driver), I had a chance for the only time to contact my colleagues in Riga

(on air conversation with Latvian Radio)

-Yes?

- Hello Ugis! Just a minute ago you wrote on Twitter that you are detained. Tell us how it happened?

- Together with other participants of so called silent protests I was walking down the street. The moment I stood with other local and foreign journalists and tried to make a photo of police pushing some people into the bus, two people came to me, grabbed my elbows and pushed me into another smaller minivan. Now I’m sitting here alone. There is another bus in front of our car and there are also some detained people. Now I’m being told that I have to switch off the phone. Ok, I have to finish…

(phone beeps)

From this moment on out Volkswagen minivan started to fill up. At first with three or four young men, later on with Journalist as well  - from news agency INTERFAX, news agency BELAPAN and others. No force was used against me, other colleagues were not so lucky.

The only thing I managed to record secretly in the car was conversation of police officers on the radio. They discussed how many of detained persons were in each of the buses.

(the sound of police radio)

From these conversations I concluded that there were around 40 detainees in each of the buses. There were 11 people in our van plus 5 security officers. From time to time they jeered about the detainees, however the attitude was quite correct – everybody was asked not to use mobile phones and not to cause problems, because it would be just a simple check of personal documents.

After the arrival at the police station journalists were partly separated from other detainees. If I remember correctly, the achievement of „our police company” was 17 detained people. The official numbers show that during that evening more than 150 people were detained all together. Have to admit, that also in the police station the attitude towards the detainees was respectable and filling of the papers took no longer than half an hour. Probably the spelling and writing of my name and surname was one of the most difficult tasks and that created some laughter either between journalists, either between other detainees as well as policemen themselves.

Unfortunately I have to say that during the checking of my recorder and listening of the materiāls I had recorded during the day time (even if it is not allowed by law), one ofthe commanding police officers managed to erase some of the sound files where i was able to record the conversation of police officers inside the car. 

Latvijas Radio



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