Posts Tagged Belarus

Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear

I think it’s funny. Peaceful Swedish citizens get themselves a small jet and sneak off from Lithuania over the Belarusian border to scatter teddy bears in support of the freedom of speech. In Belarus, which is so obsessed with its security.

I don’t find it funny when there is a show of toys with slogans for more human rights and freedoms and the human organisers are tried and put behind bars. The toys luckily, not.

It is not very amusing to see Soviet style parades during the Victory Day and Independence Day celebrations, showing off military aircraft and defence equipment, all those tanks and other examples of the munitions wardrobe of Belarus.

Twenty five years ago, in 1987, as the Soviet Union was crumbling and tumbling, German Mathias Rust illegally landed next to Red Square in Moscow, in the heart of the Soviet empire.

Of course he was tracked, but nobody was decisive enough to give an order to shoot him down. As a result there was a window of opportunity for Gorbachev; he fired key defence officials who opposed his perestroika ideas.

Belarusian history also knows a very different story: In September 1995 a balloon participating in an announced international race was shot down; two Americans were killed. A big international scandal followed.

Who knows what happened now, when Belarusian authorities have tense relations with both Europe and Russia? If there was a decision not to shoot the low-flying plane. If the plane went unnoticed and managed to violate the Nato-Belarus border. Or if it was disassembled and brought to Belarus across the Russian border, where there are no border controls.

The facts are: there are videos showing hundreds of teddy bears with signs “We support the Belarusian struggle for free speech” flying towards places in Belarus that can be identified; there are witnesses who saw them, and those who picked them up.

The State Border Committee of Belarus denied any invasion of Belarus’ airspace, claiming that the video is a fake; the Lithuanian side confirmed the trespassing of the border but refused to elaborate if it was linked to the teddy bear flight.

Notoriously, Belarusian air defence system is meant to protect Russia as well. And now Belarus is planning to help Venezuela build up an air shield.

But apart from the question of national security. With human protests being silenced, the toys are still able to cross the border and ask for more freedom. But this time most of the teddy bears from Sweden ended up in police stations for further investigation. Isn’t it ironic?


PS  It was on 10 July 1994 that Lukashenka came to power.  18 years ago today.

, , , , , ,

No Comments

What’s in a Date?

It’s fun to be President of Belarus! You can never get bored. Nor can people around you.

Some countries rename themselves in the hope of a brighter future. Some governments rename their security services in the hope they will perform better.  Some presidents rename the days of weeks or months.

Belarus is different. We are practical.

Suddenly, two of the longest avenues in Minsk had their names changed without any public debate. WWII veterans wrote to the President saying they want the now-so-called Independence and Victors avenues to be named after their achievements rather than after a Belarusian enlightenment publisher and a popular, post-war Soviet politician.

There have been laws in Belarus to rename newspapers as non-governmental ones can not use the adjective “Belarusian” in their name.

On 1 September new norms of Belarusian language came into force. One of them says the word “President” should always be capitalised. It adds to the regulation that this word in Belarus should be used only for the highest political rank.

The latest news is that the President’s birth date has been changed. No, it’s nothing radical, just the small matter of having it one day later. On 30 August protocol departments in foreign ministries around the world sent their birthday greetings to Alyaksandr Lukashenka. But next year he is to get the congrats on 31 August instead. It wasn’t officially announced, but his official biography has been officially altered.

lThe President’s new birthday now coincides with the birthday of his youngest 6-year-old son, Mikalay, a.k.a. Kolya. They rarely part and are often seen together not just in Minsk but also abroad, even during top-level political negotiations and protocol dinners.

Why change? As the official story goes, the actual date of the Belarusian leader’s birth is and has always been 31 August 1954. The President had never before paid any special attention to his birthday. But after the birth of Mikalay he started to ask his mother for the details of his own birth. And so he found out that, rather than arriving into this world on 30 August, he was in fact born in the early hours of the following day. Why not just change it? Especially since now father and son can celebrate together? You can’t move the son’s birthday back one day, because his birth date is pretty certain.

To change the very day of one’s birth is not such a big deal, I would say. Especially for a President.

, , , ,

No Comments

Belarus, Young and Sexy

It is, isn’t it?

Today is the national holiday of Belarus. It’s a beautiful, sunny day with untypically gorgeous weather, people in the streets are peaceful and relaxed as usual.

On these summer days Belarusian cities are full of flowers, blooming in the baskets on lamp posts and in flowerbeds in the shape of labyrinths and peacocks. Public transport and buildings are dressed in the colours of the national flag: red and green. And even the two prominent colours of the rainbow on the billboards “Я ♥ Беларусь!” (I ♥ Belarus!) are red and green.

Summer becomes Belarus. That’s when you clearly see that politicians, conflicts, problems, they all come and go. Whether you associate yourself with the regime or not, you love your country. The notoriously tolerant spirit of Belarusians has a very modern side: we accept different points of view (e.g. of Belarusian wisdom: “Sure, God exists, we just don’t believe in him”), we are modest and self-sufficient, and absolutely never aggressive in our individualism. Actually, all European values start with tolerance, and we have this quality.

Nobody knows us, nobody loves us? It’s their problem. A country can’t be absolutely independent, anyhow. It’s impossible to be independent from money, and there are fewer and fewer cultural differences between countries. But Belarusians exist happily: a humble nation, which knows to work, has a sense of duty and responsibility, knows how to enjoy small things, knows that money can’t buy everything, a good-tempered and wilful people.

And if you have a look at the map, you’ll see that Belarus is not only the geographical heart of Europe. It also has the shape of a heart.

, ,

No Comments

Polish? German? Dangerous?

There are not that many people whose shoes I would never like to try on. But one of them is definitely Belarus foreign minister Martynau.

Think of a highly educated person able to fill large shoes. But, Martynau’s function is actually limited to promoting foreign trade. Foreign policy is drafted in the administration of the president. The foreign affairs chief serves as a postman to deliver messages to/from Lukashenka and as a whipping boy during international scandals.

How would a minister explain the newest escalating conflict with the Polish minority? On Friday (February 12) Martynau was in Warsaw to meet his Polish counterpart and to receive a letter to the Belarusian president with a list of proposals what Poland could do, if the Belarusian authorities don’t stop harassing the minority.

Since 2005 there are two Unions of Poles in existance. The head of the government-approved one, who won non-competitive elections, is rumoured not to speak any Polish at all, the head of the unofficial one, Angelika Borys, is supported by Warsaw.

The “reply” to the Polish letter came right the following Monday (February 15): some 40 Polish minority activists were detained, several immediately faced trial for organising a demonstration a week ago. Borys got a fine of 1 million Belarusian roubles (some €250).

The day after HR Ashton raised her eyebrows about the conflict (February 17), the detentions continued. Are Belarusian Poles so destructive and dangerous?

Who you gonna call? “Hello, Mr Martynau, could you please explain us what …is going on?”

HR Ashton said today (February 22) she would hope to talk to Minister Matrynov about the situation with the Polish minority during presidential inauguration in Kiev on Thursday.

There could be a dozen of unofficial explanations of the status quo: the need of Minsk to take in hand the independent Polish union, to gain full control a year before presidential elections and show everyone who is the boss with a victorious fight against an assumed “enemy.” It could also be Minsk’s way of showing how disillusioned it is with the slow thaw of bilateral relations with the EU. It might be the two wings of power within the regime in dispute over which way to go – East or West? Some Polish experts tend to think it’s Russian PM Putin putting pressure on the EU to see how far it is willing to step into Polish and Russian strategic interests in the region.

Now the concert of German Rammstein is about to be forbidden: The Council on Morals fears that it will destroy nothing less than Belarusian statehood and identity.

Mr Martynau, is the system really so fragile?

, , , , , ,

No Comments

Patriotic and/or Critical

Lately, I am more often asked why I am not patriotic. But I am.

It’s a strange notion anyway: Loving the country where you where randomly born and being loyal to this country is pretty irrational. But it’s something you can’t help doing. The rational part of it involves questioning everything, in particular government policies and actions, which is followed by criticism or praise. Criticism and/or praise out of love and loyality.

Patriotism, for me, involves paying attention and taking action, having obligations and rights. Being a part of something, you are responsible for the whole.

As a Belarusian I have always followed events in neighbouring Ukraine, and recently, ever more closely. Ukraine and Moldova are the only two post-Soviet countries to increase the power of the parliament over the president, the only two which are not afraid of a change of power. Look at Kiev and Chisinau! “Chaos,” would you say? “Possibilities” is my first thought, “no fear of change” is my second.

Orange Revolution leader Viktor Yushchenko won by a slender majority five years ago and now, with his miserable 5 percent of votes, he will depart without transferring power to an appointed successor as has become traditional in this part of Europe. Moreover, Kiev’s foreign policy won’t suffer any substantial changes. And society seems to accept this, even if it considers the elections to be a choice between lesser evils.

And that’s patriotism for me: Having your point of view and having your say, making decisions with both your heart and your mind.

, , ,

No Comments

Life, I Love You!

Interesting to follow the efforts of Europe (EU, CoE) to prevent the execution of two Belarusians. They were sentenced to death for alleged murders.

Usually Minsk and Brussels discuss free speech and freedom of assembly, now it’s time for the right to life. Now Europe is on the mission to save the murderers.

Actually Belarusian authorities consider the right to life and human dignity to be the most important. And with life everything is more or less clear: according to Amnesty International annually 1-3 people are convicted to death in Belarus. With the right you can never be sure: Belarusian Themis and her woman’s reason is sometimes difficult to follow.

For instance Vasil Yuzepchuk, who has two previous convictions, allegedly strangled six old women while his accomplice was holding them. Five of the victims were more than 70 old. He was also found guilty of assault and robbery and got capital sentence.

Yuzepchuk’s lawyer argues that the investigation and trial were fundamentally flawed, and that his client was beaten in detention. He says, Yuzepchuk belongs to the marginalised Roma ethnic group, doesn’t have an internal passport, is illiterate and does not know the months of the year.

But there’s a different very well known case. Three men and a woman killed a man from their village Pukhavichy. They stalked their victim for several hours before attacking him with axes and killing him with blows to the head. They set the body on fire and then went to a cafe to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

The suspects were released from pre-trial detention after less than a month by order of the President Lukashenka. Moreover, the Belarusian leader told Supreme Court Chairman to sympathise with them. “The victim was a villain, terrorised people, the entire village,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “If the men took that step, they probably were angered indeed and all ordinary people are on their side.”

In April three men and a woman were found guilty of premeditated murder and got unprecedentedly lenient sentences. Two men got 3 and 5 years in prison under the Criminal Code’s article, which provides for a prison term of between eight and 25 years, life imprisonment, or the death penalty. The rest received 2 years restricted freedom.

Then President Lukashenka has pardoned those who got prison sentences, the third guy was amnestied…

That’s why it’s impossible to say if the EU efforts to save two convicts could be successful. As all people are equal but some are still a tiny bit more equal.

… aaand I did it again :( I wanted to write something positive! Probably next time.

I’ll finish with a famous Soviet song performed by a Belarusian babushkababulya. The hit goes like that: “Life, I love you, and I hope it’s not all on one side”.

, ,

No Comments

Russian Bread Crumbs

It’s very likely that from now on the movement of Belarusian authorities towards Brussels’ requirements will be even more visible. The Belarusian president was furious about yesterdays’ remarks of the Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin who publicly cast doubt on the Belarus’ ability to default on its debt by the end of the year due to the dire state of economy. He warned it was too early to say whether Belarus would receive any further loans from Moscow.

“The future of Belarus can no longer depend on Russia… The days of Minsk bowing down to Moscow are over… Belarus needs to look for its happiness on a different part of the planet.”– announced Lukashenka. And underlined that he was saying this in public consciously.

The escapade came a day after his talks with the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Minsk. Putin who travelled together with Kudrin played a “good cop” and expressed hope that Belarusian-Russian trade kept increasing in the period of the global crisis.

Lukashenka in contrast expressed outrage that Kudrin’s comments had been agreed with Putin and commented that the Russian minister had also fully consolidated with the Belarusian opposition which lived on Western grants and tried to teach the authorities to work. (That’s probably the worst you can say about someone: he is with the opposition!)

The stakes according to Lukashenka are high: “If we don’t stand tall… we are going to be running in a sweat to the right and the left in the hope that someone is going to throw us a piece of bread from the table.”

He mentioned no alternative to Russia. But we have two strong neighbours. And if we don’t bow down to Russia, the movement towards EU could become more visible. The problem is that this visibility is nothing new. So there’s little hope this movement is going to be more effective this time.

, , , , ,

No Comments

Project Belarus Inside-Out

Call for authors, artists, journalists, photographers from Belarus, Germany, Czech Republic and other CEE countries

Deadline: June 11. 2009

For more information contact:

PLOTKI magazine, youth portal, and citizen journalism platform are looking for authors, artists, photographers and journalists with an interest in exploring Belarusian life from the inside.

Aim of the international project “Belarus Inside-Out” is to investigate, critically approach and creatively disclose the various aspects of Belarusian reality through the exchange of ideas between Belarusian and non-Belarusian counterparts.

Young authors, artists, photographers and journalists from Belarus, Germany, Czech Republic and other Central and Eastern European countries are invited to contribute creatively to an attempt of making Belarus more understandable to the international public.

*Project description*

Until recently Belarus has been often seen as a country stuck in the Soviet past. Today the EU officials consider the possibility of establishing a dialog with “the last European dictatorship”, which in its turn is studiously hiding the Belarusian realities behind the facades and proclamations very much reminding those of the Soviet era. Behind them one can find a unique culture, unique problems and unique people who are still in search of their own unique identity.

Together the participants will analyse the variety of socio-cultural dimensions of Belarusian everyday life; turn inside out the old stereotypes and create the new ones; they will look for a unique image of Belarus and spread it around.

*Project realisation*

The core of the project is a 10 days seminar which will take place in Belarus from the 14th to the 23rd of August 2009. It will consist of two parts: the workshop and the research trip. The gathered material will later be compiled in a bilingual publication, which will be distributed in the CEE countries. In January 2010 all project outcomes will be presented at release event in Berlin where the participants will meet once more.


There are various aspects of a socio-cultural life and countless topics connected to each of it: from the phenomenon of the generation “Y” to the immigration of youth, from the tragic consequences of Chernobyl disaster to the unique natural wonders, from the co-existence of the various religious confessions to the life of sexual minorities. The project plans to explore the interesting, little-known, controversial, provocative and exciting sides of the Belarusian day-to-day life. All ideas are welcomed.

, ,

No Comments

EUROveni EUROvidi EUROvici

Eurovision is too pop and not very euro anyway. Every year the whole Belarus watches its best participant to struggle hard to be among the first from the end.

They say this year we double our chances as there are two Belarusians: Petr Elfimov and Alexander Rybak from Norway.

Rybak was born in Minsk, migrated to Norway with his family at the age of five and has never been in Belarus since then. He may consider himself to be whatsoever: Belarusian, Russian, as that’s the mother tongue of his parents, or Norwegian, it’s a very subjective thing. But I don’t see anything Belarusian about him.

Rybak seems to be open, positive, outright and independent-minded. Belarusians are usually too serious about life, their occupations, their victories and losses. They take themselves too seriously. They live once and need to have everything right. They find suffering to be an integral part of their existence.

Moreover, Rybak is a “product” of a different society. I am not sure he would be able to achieve the same success in Belarus. The only thing Minsk and Oslo could have in common is a wee number of sunny days. So if this Norwegian boy wins (as most bookmakers say) that would be a well-deserved victory of Norway.

… the funny point is: Rybak’s father looks like a twin brother of Belarusian president Lukashenka… :)

, , ,

No Comments