Political parties are the new target of the Belarusian dictatorship, whose repression has already affected protesters, journalists and human rights activists since the presidential elections of August 2020, deemed fraudulent.
Virtually innocuous in the political environment so far dominated by dictator Aleksandr Lukachenko, parties have become a hotbed of tension after the announcement of new acronyms by opponents of the regime.
Most feared by Lukachenko is executive Viktor Babariko, his most popular opponent in the election campaign until he was arrested last year and prosecuted for fraud.
Before his candidacy was revoked, Babariko obtained the endorsement of 435,000 signatures, four times the amount needed to be registered. In September, from prison, he announced the formation of Vmeste (together, in Russian), alongside his former campaign leader Maria Kalesnikava, who had also been in prison for seven months.
The duo’s plans are to officially enlist the party in May, but the registration is unlikely to be accepted by the regime, just as it is highly unlikely that they will be leaving their cell anytime soon.
One reason is Babariko’s popularity – independent research is nearly impossible in Belarus, but an online survey conducted in January by Chatham House placed him at the top of popular support, with 28.8%.
To contain the rival organization, the regime introduced a bill earlier this month strengthening the party’s rules. The dictatorship wants to increase the minimum number of participants and eliminate acronyms that do not present candidates for parliament for two consecutive years.
It also stipulates that only Belarusians residing permanently in the country can found parties, which directly target former Minister of Culture Pavel Latushka, exiled in Poland to escape repression.
“We are building a multi-party system in which Belarusian citizens will have a real choice among political parties,” the former minister said, announcing his intention to launch an acronym in an online video.
Lukashenko’s reaction was immediate: “Belarusian society has no experience of multiparty politics. If we make the slightest mistake in the formation of parties, supposedly guided by foreign experiences, we will destroy the country ”.
He also criticized “the political party system of Western democracy, where cheap populism and dirty political technologies replace ideologies” and said that the Belarusian people have no interest in forming parties except in “one. small part of the politicized public in the big cities ”. .
The party’s bill also seeks to prevent foreign residents from being party members, which would affect opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, exiled in Lithuania.
However, she has already announced that she intends to remain non-partisan. The strategy of his group is to try to negotiate with the dictatorship, probably with the intermediation of the OSCE (European Security Organization), a peaceful transition, after which new elections would be called.
In power since 1994, Lukachenko only admitted the possibility of leaving the presidency after approving a new constitution, under discussion since last year. Opponents say, however, that this is just a time-saving strategy.
Along with the movement to block the organization of the opposition party, the Belarusian dictatorship continues to tighten up the media, which has already led to the suspension of dozens of sites and processes against news channels on social networks .
In early April, a bill on the media increased the requirements for journalistic activity and increased the number of cases in which they could be prevented from disclosing information.
On Monday (12), the government revoked the operating license of Euronews, a pan-European service of Media Globe Networks which broadcasts in several languages.
The regime has also not relaxed its crackdown on protesters, imposing a new code on March 1 that tightens sanctions against participants in unauthorized peaceful assemblies – which includes wearing white and red clothing or decorating windows with prohibited symbols.
The celebration of Freedom Day on March 25 (anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People’s Republic in 1918) was banned. Still, police detained more than 400 people, including random pedestrians.
In parliament, amendments were made to increase criminal liability for participation in protests and public criticism of the regime. “The human rights situation in the country has deteriorated considerably over the past month,” said the Viazna organization.
But while protests have subsided this year, that doesn’t mean it has cooled the rejection of Lukachenko, who took more than 200,000 protesters to the streets for several weeks in the second half of 2020, analysts said.
Almost 46% of Belarusians said they disapproved of the dictator in a survey with a representative sample conducted by telephone by OSW (Center for Oriental Studies), compared to 40.8% who rated him positively.
The center notes that since the questions did not refer to electoral preference, it is likely that there will be “a group of Belarusians with a moderately positive opinion of their government, but who, after 27 years, expects to political changes in the country “. .
To escape harsh penalties, those who oppose the dictator have opted for “white guerrilla warfare,” such as pulverized miniatures and online cultural actions.
The outlook for the coming months remains bleak, however, according to Kamil Klysinski, senior analyst for Belarus at OSW. “It is to be hoped that the repression not only will continue but will also intensify, to completely discredit the democratic circles of Belarus and to take complete control of the country”, in a text on Freedom Day.
“However, it is important to stress that the discontent has only been drowned in its outward manifestations, but its causes have not been eliminated,” Klysisnki said.
Since the start of the presidential campaign in May 2020
2,300 criminal cases against political opponents, activists and protesters
631 criminal trials against demonstrators, with more than 400 convictions
332 criminal cases for defamation, injury to public officials and the police
325 political prisoners in detention centers
480 arrests of journalists, 12 still in prison
97 journalists sentenced to administrative imprisonment
62 journalists attacked
3 journalists convicted of criminal charges
In March 2021
1,139 detained for participating in demonstrations
36 arrests of journalists
490 lawsuits against public activists and demonstrators
395 administrative prisons (from 15 to 25 days)
105 convicted in politically motivated criminal cases
Sources: Viazna and Association of Belarusian Journalists