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Is Lawless Belarus the World’s Future?

Dictator Lukashenko pretentiously boasted: “From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank my supporters and congratulate them on my victory. And as for my opponents, I have to inform you on the saddest of occasions for you, that you will now have to deal with the acting president for at least another five years.”

While looking at my Clustrmap stats (no “e”), I wondered about the countries which had no more than 1 visitor to my journal. What would be some reasons for the next to zero visits from developed countries to any Internet journal with many articles on many important topics besides computer failures?: a language barrier problem, economic problems (poverty), and Internet censorship. and decided to look up Armenia’s poverty level, and it wasn’t good. I read that 50% of their population is unemployed, or hardly making any money. Then I decided to learn about Belarus, which to me is an obscure country. And wanting to learn about it from some place other than Wikipedia first (or Wikipedia clones) looked here. And I noticed an ominous remark on that website, which says,

Do not take photographs of government buildings, military installations or uniformed officials.

After going back to that site to copy and paste that here I just noticed the sentence below it, which confirms what I suspected about it after reading that no photographs remark, which is that it is a police state. After reading that remark I looked up on Google, “Belarus police state,” and found this recent news:

‘European’ Police State

The bloody aftermath of the elections and the ensuing government crackdown testifies to the fact that Belarus is not a state governed by law.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The bloody aftermath of the elections and the ensuing government crackdown testifies to the fact that Belarus is not a state governed by law.

Former Chief Justice of Belarus’s Constitutional Court, Valery Tsikhinia once called the situation in the country “legalized lawlessness” — government institutions and their leaders carry out laws in an arbitrary manner, while citizens are bereft of any understandable rules of the game.

This is particularly true in the economic sphere – where it is virtually impossible to work and not violate some law, decree, or regulation. Businesses are compelled to operate within some sort of “gray zone.” Consequently, nobody is immune to possible “kompromat,” especially if ordered from above. Only in Belarus are 99 percent of all inspected business entities found to be guilty of some violation and, consequently, sanctioned.

The line between law and lawlessness has become invisible.

In such a situation, everybody is guilty of something; however, not all the guilty are punished. Culpability is designated either by political expediency or sheer happenstance, and all but Belarus’s President Alyaksandr Lukashenka are defenseless in this environment. No one is immune to politically-motivated retribution – neither ministers (for example, former agriculture czar Vasil Lyavonau) nor prosecutors (senior investigator Svyatlana Bajkova).

In 2007, Belarus was in second place in terms of number of prisoners per capita. As in Stalin’s times, prison labor is exploited in the construction of grandiose government projects, like the Minsk Arena sports complex. Belarus is also among the countries in the world that have high numbers of children in correctional facilities. The average length of incarceration in the country — 6.3 years — is one of the highest in Europe.

In 2009, Lukashenka ordered changes to the law allowing for security services to search and arrest anyone without prosecutorial warrant. Under law, officials of 68 different government agencies have the right to institute administrative charges against citizens, and 27 different government bodies are empowered to review those charges. In 1997, over 4 million Belarusian citizens – more than half the adult population — were charged with administrative offenses. Since an explosion in downtown Minsk on Independence Day in 2008, every male citizen has been summoned to provide finger prints — they all instantly were suspected of having committed a crime.

Lukashenka’s government has effectively transformed every “meek and tolerant” Belarusian into a criminal. Eurasian Monitoring’s sociological surveys of the CIS reveal that more Belarusians — 23 percent — fear incarceration than any of their neighbors.

And then there are the repressions against representatives of the political opposition and civil society. Such people have no constitutional protections. They are beyond the pale, fair game.

Yet, it’s not enough simply to say that Belarusians live in a lawless state — in fact, where they live is in a police state. Evidence of this is the absence of rule of law as a regulator of civil life and the enormous role of the security services. The security services are the most paramount of all government institutions, the chief instrument of power maintenance, the ultimate mechanism of generating societal fear. Eight powerful security apparatuses are empowered to conduct investigations – a hypertrophied reflection of a societal anomaly. They monitor not only the opposition, but are also tasked with sniffing out potential political disloyalty within the ranks of officialdom.

Paradoxically, these powerful security services are strangely impotent in fulfilling what should be their primary job – protecting the populace against crime. The myriad, extant security apparatuses notwithstanding, not a single high-profile crime has ever been solved.

In a 2008 speech addressing members of the security forces, Lukashenka brought forth the following facts:

The crime situation in the country had been deteriorating since 2001. In a six-year period, the level of criminal activity per 100,000 citizens rose by 70 percent. In the same period, the numbers of victims of crime and criminal recidivism doubled.

In spite of their numbers and scope, Belarus’ security services fail to protect the country’s citizens, because they are not concerned with protecting citizens. Instead, the main task of the security services is to defend the government from political opponents. There is simply no time or energy for anything else.

— Valer Karbalevich

Though it is an oppressive country, a large part of it is prospering in general, which is evident from this comment below from a report on Belarusian poverty from the United Nations Development Program:


Compared to many transition countries, Belarus has one of the lowest poverty rates. Less than 1% of the population is living in extreme poverty, as defined by an income of less than $2 a day. At the same time, a significant number of Belarusian people fall into the low-income category: according to official statistics, in the middle 2000s, the number of people living on less than the minimum subsistence budget is still considerable, exceeding 1.7 million or 17.8% of total population. As in other CIS countries, in Belarus the rural population, children, and single-parent households run the highest risk of poverty.

The challenge is how to turn the nation’s high rate of economic growth into a sustainable reality while lifting the low-income category of people into middle-high income categories.

In 2009, Belarus was found to have a very low unemployment rate, less than 2% have no jobs. It is a socialistic country however, so that everyone has a job there doesn’t surprise me; it’s not hard to assign jobs in mass, but it is a problem to make sure everyone is good at the job/s they’ve been assigned, and making enough money to do something other than survive to work for the next day.

But, back to why I only had 1 visitor to my journal from Belarus after a long time with many varied articles: it turns out that its very oppressive government extends its oppressiveness directly to the Internet:

Controversial decree on Internet censorship signed

The scandalous decree on national segment of the Internet has been signed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The decree is to come into effect on July 1.

The text of the draft decree appeared on the Internet in last December. It brought on criticism by the Belarusian media community and international human rights organizations, including OSCE. The draft decree met unambiguous estimation – the document is prepared to block uncomfortable for authorities pro-opposition Internet resources in Belarus.

The decree On Measures for Revising Use of the National Segment of the World Wide Web, signed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka on February 1, hasn’t undergone many changes. It contains the dubious norms that caused so many protests by journalists and human rights activists.

In accordance with the document, Internet resources in Belarus will be controlled in an order established by the Council of Ministers on agreement with a special service, the Operating and Analytical Centre under Lukashenka’s Administration (OAC). The Centre is also to control the country’s Internet service providers. The OAC “on agreement with the President of the Republic of Belarus” will define the list of “telecommunication operators, which have the right of direct access (interconnection) to international telecommunication systems, and authorized Internet service providers”.

Activity of a provider can be stopped on a decision of the Council of Ministers. The Operating and Analytical Centre will also be able to forbid access to the information illegal in accordance with the Belarusian legislation. The OAC will also control registration of .by domain names.

Internet users will also be controlled:

“Owners of places of collective use of the Internet or their representatives must identify Internet users in places of collective use of Internet services… Information about user devices, personal data on Internet users and information about the Internet services rendered must be submitted upon request of state bodies which carry out investigative activities, prosecution agencies, and preliminary investigation agencies.”

Lukashenka has created secret service for Internet

The Operating and Analytical centre under the president is given a right to control online correspondence of Belarusians and monitor which websites they browse.

On January 4 Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed the law “On amending some laws of Belarus to clamp down on criminal activity”.

Thus since yesterday the Operating and Analytical centre under the president is invested with authority to carry out operational-investigative activities at the territory of Belarus. In other words, the Centre has a right among other things to control online correspondence of Belarusians and monitor browsing of websites by Belarusian internet users, Electroname.com informs.

We remind that the OAC is a governmental agency with regulates activities on protection of information containing data with state secrets of Belarus or other information protected user the law from leaks through technical channels, from unsanctioned and unintentional influence. Besides, the OAC is the administrator of BY domain.

The state budget will give 12,540,583.0 thousand Br for fin[a]ncing the activities of the Centre in 2010. – More here.

[Did] (the Belarus) dictator [“privatize” the] .by domain zone?

By one decree Lukashenka has made so many problems and inconsistencies in ByNet, that the mess is to be cleaned up for many years.

The Belarusian ruler has encharged everyone with tasks and responsibilities: from clients of an internet café to webmasters of state websites. And in an odd moment he adjusted distribution of BY domains, as long as they are “Belarusian”. Under decree number 60, the Operating and Analytical Centre under the President (OAC) “defines the order of registration of .by domain names”.

However, as website informs, in fact .by domain is not owned by the Republic of Belarus, and it does not belong to the OAC and “Open Contact”, which are just an administrator and a technical administrator of the domain zone respectively. “OC” and the OAC have been given the right of administration and setting rules of domains registration by the international non-profit organisation IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), which is in its turn is controlled by the ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). And that’s not all. The ICANN had been created with participation of the US government for regulating issues concerning Internet Protocol (IP) address space allocation, top-level domain name system management and other aspects of Internet functioning. No matter how many times Libya, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and other countries which are “progressive” in terms of Internet freedom, tried to change the existing situation through the UN, the Internet is still under the US government, thank goodness. – More here.

Increased Internet censorship in Belarus

The Belarus government has adopted new measures increasing the control of the Internet and restrictions on online freedom of expression.

Following Decree no.60 (On measures for improving use of the national Internet network) issued on 1 February 2010 by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belarus Council of Ministers adopted five resolutions with new Internet regulations introducing the compulsory registration of all web sites and the collection of personal data of Internet cafe users.

The decree will enter fully into force on 1 September but the police has already started interrogations and equipment seizures in a campaign meant to intimidate Internet users and online journalists. According to the new regulations, all ISPs on the territory of Belarus, irrespective of their commercial or non-commercial nature, must register with the Communication and Information Ministry and provide technical details about online information resources, networks and systems used to connect to the Internet, including computers and mobile phones. – More here.

When looking through Russia Today’s video on the 2010 Belarusian election riots for frames to use for this post, I noticed that when I found what seemed best, was that Lukashenko’s mustache resembled Hitler’s. When I put Lukashenko and Hitler into Google, I learned that he minimized Hitler’s evil by acting like Hitler’s persecution of the Judeans was something to overlook:

Publication: Monitor, Volume 1, Issue 142

Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko yesterday defended remarks he made in an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt, in which he praised Adolf Hitler for his creation of a strong German state, and compared his own role to that of the Nazi leader. “The history of Germany,” Lukashenko said, “is a mold for the history of Belarus… It took centuries to form the German order. Under Hitler, this formation reached its highest point. This corresponds with our understanding of a presidential republic and the role of a president in it.” He agreed, however, that the consequences of Hitler’s leadership “were bad in foreign policy.”

And then found this:

Bigotry in Belarus
10/20/2007 22:10

The problem of the new anti-Semitism goes beyond Bobruisk, its long-gone Jews and Lukashenko’s bigotry.

Belarus is a special case even against the background of some of the more troublesome members of the former Soviet Union. Its president Alexander Lukashenko, who had been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator,” is notorious for his anti-Western positions. He has sought to outlaw his political opposition and nationalize much of the media. Last week he delivered a long rambling rant in which he reminded anyone who may have forgotten that he also ranks among the world’s most unabashed and brazen anti-Semites. It wasn’t a slip of the tongue that could be conveniently overlooked. In a live broadcast of a press conference he gave, Lukashenko addressed himself to the issue of shoddy conditions in the provincial city of Bobruisk. He had no doubt about where the guilt lay – with the Jews. And he kept hammering home that message. For several extraordinary minutes, the president of a European state in the 21st century took unimaginable pains to blame the city’s former Jewish residents (it’s now nearly empty of Jews) for its squalor, dilapidation and poor state of sanitation and repair. Bobruisk, Lukashenko stressed to his listeners, “is a Jewish town and Jews don’t look after places in which they live. It’s a fact. Take Israel for example. I was there and saw it for myself.” Bottom line, Lukashenko determined that “Jews had turned Bobruisk into a pig sty.” Things began to look up, he contended, “only after the Jews departed.” That said, he still urged those “Jews who have money” to return to Bobruisk. This wasn’t a one-off either. Lukashenko has a long and dishonorable history of anti-Semitic diatribes. His most noted outburst dates back to 1995, when he went to great lengths to praise Adolf Hitler, asserting that “the history of Germany is a copy of the history of Belarus. Germany was raised from ruins thanks to firm authority and not everything connected with that well-known figure Hitler was bad. German order evolved over the centuries and attained its peak under Hitler.” – More here.

(2/15/2011: After publishing this journal entry I found an article about religious persecution about two days later, here’s most of it:

BELARUS: ‘Forbidden Christ’ and right to legally challenge warnings forbidden
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

‘Forbidden Christ’, a Belarusian film documenting Soviet-era persecution of Protestant churches, was banned from a Catholic film festival by the Belarusian State Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, Forum 18 News Service has learned. It was seized from film director Aleksei Shein and sent for an “expert analysis” to the KGB secret police. However, the KGB told Forum 18 that it would be returned to Shein. He told Forum 18 that “perhaps the authorities fear that some believers will see a parallel with what is happening in our country now”. Separately, the latest attempts by Jehovah’s Witnesses to establish the right to legally challenge official warnings against literature distribution have failed. Both the Supreme Court and Gomel Regional Prosecutor’s Office have rejected the right to make such legal challenges – despite a Constitutional Court decision upholding the right to make them. One Jehovah’s Witness community has been warned that it faces liquidation if it continues to distribute literature.

‘Forbidden Christ’, a Belarusian film documenting persecution of Protestant churches in the Soviet period, was in September banned from being shown at a Catholic film festival by order of Leonid Gulyako, the Belarusian State Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In February it was seized from the film’s director, Aleksei Shein, as he was leaving Belarus and sent for an “expert analysis” to Grodno [Hrodna] regional KGB secret police, according to a 21 October Customs Committee document seen by Forum 18. Grodno Regional KGB told Forum 18 on 4 November that it found nothing against the law in the film and it has been returned to the customs for it to be handed back.

‘Forbidden Christ’ is based on archive footage of trials of Protestant leaders during the Soviet period, and 20 interviews with victims of Soviet anti-religious policies and historians. The 52-minute film took Shein six years and 4,540 Belarusian Roubles (8,690 Norwegian Kroner, 1,080 Euros, or 1,500 US Dollars) to make. (The first section can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YEfaR7Xmdc).

Why is the state hostile to the film?

Film director Shein says two reasons could lie behind the state’s attitude to his film. “One is that the film not only recounts the Soviet repression of Protestants, but also shows believers’ refusal to compromise and give in to the communist system,” he told Forum 18 on 30 October. “It shows Soviet reality – the authorities’ total control over information, elections and the absence of freedom of expression and religion. Perhaps the authorities fear that some believers will see a parallel with what is happening in our country now.”

He maintains that the Belarusian authorities would prefer that people do not know about Soviet-era repression of religious communities, as they regard themselves as the heirs of the Soviet regime.

Belarus discourages the commemoration of Orthodox Christians killed for their faith by the Soviet Union, the KGB secret police – which retains the Soviet-era name – has sought to have icons of them removed from Grodno Cathedral. KGB officers also often monitor visitors to mass graves of Stalinist repression victims. An Orthodox chapel planned for the site has never been built (see F18News 12 May 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1127).

Shein also pointed to the authorities’ dislike of his role as a leader of the opposition Christian Democrat Party. “Perhaps that’s enough of a reason for the authorities to obstruct the showing and distribution of this film.”

“Countering extremist activity”

The authorities did not obstruct the film’s launch on 26 January at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the capital Minsk. Shein told Forum 18 at the time that he thought the authorities would not seek to obstruct showing of the film because it was about the Soviet period, not about current developments.

However, on the morning of 11 February, Shein was stopped on the border with Latvia and held for five hours. Six DVDs of the film, as well as Christian Democrat leaflets, were confiscated. The Department of Customs Investigation of Oshmyany Customs began an investigation under Article 14.5 of the Code of Administrative Offences (“undeclared goods”). “The protocol records that these materials will be examined as to whether they contain testimonies which could slander the honour and dignity of the Republic of Belarus,” Shein’s Christian Democrat Party said at the time.

Pavel Skrobko, head of the Ideology Department at Grodno Regional Administration, told Forum 18 on 4 November that Oshmyany Customs had sent the confiscated materials to his office for an expert analysis. But he had had to return them, as “it is not within our competence – there’s a Religious Affairs Office in Minsk”.

On 15 March, the Customs Service ended its investigation, after finding that no crime had been committed.

Shein returned to the customs post on 12 October to collect the films and documents confiscated from him in February, but was asked to submit a written request for their return. On 21 October, in a letter seen by Forum 18, Gennady Kuzyuk, deputy head of Oshmyany Customs, wrote back to him to say that the items have been sent for a decision by Grodno regional KGB secret police.

Kuzyuk cited regulations requiring state agencies to work together “with the aim of countering extremist activity in relation to printed or audiovisual materials brought through customs containing information which could cause harm to the political or economic interests of the Republic of Belarus, its state security or the health and morals of its citizens”.

“It is a completely normal film”

“I didn’t need to declare these items, as they were being taken abroad for personal, not commercial use,” Shein told Forum 18. “The materials were confiscated for the simple reason that the authorities did not like the theme.”

He added that as one of the Christian Democrat leaflets had already been cleared of extremist content by the KGB, after being confiscated from another Christian Democrat, the authorities must be targeting the discs of ‘Forbidden Christ’.

Kuzyuk of Oshmyany Customs was not answering his phone each time Forum 18 rang on 4 November. However, his assistant Gennady Andrushkevich, who drafted the letter to Shein, insisted to Forum 18 that the confiscated materials “will be returned” to Shein. “Printed and audiovisual material which has not been produced by a state firm must be checked,” he maintained. “Then the KGB will return it.” He denied that the material had been confiscated, insisting it had simply been “removed”.

However, Natalya Baklaga, spokesperson for Grodno regional KGB, said it had checked the film and the leaflets and found nothing against the law. “It is a completely normal film,” she told Forum 18 on 4 November. She said that the materials have already been returned to the customs for them to be returned to the owner.

She stressed that the materials had not been taken by the KGB. “The customs were suspicious that these items contained extremist material,” she told Forum 18. “Different agencies send us all kinds of things.”

‘Forbidden Christ’ forbidden

‘Forbidden Christ’ was due to be presented on 9 September in Glubokoe in Vitebsk [Vitsyebsk] Region at the Catholic-run Magnificat 2010 festival of Christian documentary films. Although the festival’s opening ceremony on 7 September was addressed by State Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs Gulyako, he subsequently ordered the festival’s leadership to remove ‘Forbidden Christ’ from the programme. Otherwise, he threatened, they risked having the festival closed down. Press reports said that Gulyako had personally telephoned festival organiser Yuri Gurulev to issue the order. The festival removed ‘Forbidden Christ’ from the programme.

“Religious affairs official Gulyako told Gurulev that my film had not been approved by state religious affairs experts, that is it had not successfully passed some kind of expert analysis,” film director Shein told Forum 18.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Gulyako on 4 and 5 November. Officials told Forum 18 he was in a meeting or out of the office.

In 2008 Belarus banned a Christian music festival, initiated by Catholics, minutes before it was due to begin (see F18News 25 September 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1193). Fr Zbigniew Grygorcewicz, who helped initiate the festival, was expelled with four other priests and three nuns from Belarus in December 2008 (see F18News 7 January 2009 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1237).

“Mass quantities”?

One of State Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs Gulyako’s assistants, Marina Tsvilik, insisted to Forum 18 on 4 November that permission is needed from her office to export religious literature or films “in mass quantities”. Asked whether six copies represented “mass quantities” she said she did not know. She denied that requiring such permission represented censorship. “We have to make such that such materials contain no calls, for example to religious hatred,” she claimed.

Right to legally challenge warnings forbidden

Two Jehovah’s Witness congregations, given official warnings after some of their members offered religious literature to passers-by on the street, have failed to legally establish a right to challenge such warnings through the courts.

The community in Gomel [Homyel] received a written “final warning” from Aleksandr Prusov of the Religious Affairs Department of Gomel Regional Executive Committee in September 2009, shortly after it had been heavily fined. Both Gomel Regional Court and the Supreme Court in late 2009 rejected their attempt to challenge the warning – despite a 2007 Constitutional Court decision upholding religious organisations’ right to make such challenges (see F18News 18 January 2010 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1396). – More here.

A frame from an RT video of the 2010 Lukashenko vote riot

More about Belarus:
Travellerspoint info
Lukashenko: Europe’s Last Dictator
Infoplease on Belarus (visually appealing and concise)
The national government of Belarus
Atheist-dominated Wikipedia (which is strangely lacking any section on Belarus’ government)

Matthew 24:9-13:

…they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Update 04-18-2012:

After having been jailed more than once based on hearsay and over judicial and police maliciousness and incompetence, and now that Obama has the power to cause anyone to disappear under the pretense of terrorism, I can say that America has become Belarus, or rather, Belarica.

  1. Sam Daams
    February 13, 2011 at 2:36 AM

    Thank you for linking to the Travellerspoint guide to Belarus, but there seems to be a problem with the link?

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