Peter Lie­seg­ang, Mem­ber of the Asso­ci­ation ‘Human Rights in Belarus’ atten­ded the demon­stra­tion of Belarus­i­an cit­izens on pub­lic squares in Minsk in the even­ing of Decem­ber 19, 2010 – the day of the Pres­id­en­tial Elec­tions in 2010. He sums up his obser­va­tions as an eye-wit­ness.

If any­thing at all, the Belarus­i­an author­it­ies (who­ever they might be) really suc­ceeded in one thing on and after 19th of Decem­ber 2010: they sur­prised.

I would not know any­one, inside or out­side of Belarus, who would not have been sur­prised, baffled, deeply shocked as to what happened in Minsk start­ing near the close to the polls and ongo­ing up to now.

From all sides I hear that now thou­sands and thou­sands of people are try­ing to pon­der the ques­tion, what actu­ally happened on the 19th, who decided what at which time, what – if any – was the Rus­si­an part in everything, who has what to gain by what happened and is ongo­ing? The simple answer is: for the time being, we will not know.

So, let us con­cen­trate on the facts:

  • The past months it seemed as if Belarus­i­an author­it­ies were inter­ested in more recog­ni­tion from EU and US, wanted at least a slightly improved rela­tion­ship.
  • With­in the run-up to the “elec­tions” there were some minor, mostly cos­met­ic improve­ments (without real effect on the regime’s pos­sib­il­it­ies to organ­ize the res­ult).
  • E-Day itself, as usu­al, almost up to the end of the vot­ing peri­od appeared to the out­side to be orderly and well organ­ized.
  • Already before the end of vot­ing, around 7.15pm, one of the can­did­ates, Uladz­i­mir Nyaklyayew, while mov­ing in the dir­ec­tion of Octo­ber Square, was bru­tally beaten by state ser­vants and had to be taken to a hos­pit­al, where later on he was arres­ted.
  • Start­ing at 8pm demon­strat­ors were able to gath­er on Octo­ber Square without any dif­fi­culties. Except for the traffic police there were no uni­formed secur­ity troops vis­ible (although behind two adja­cent build­ing com­plexes they were massively present).
  • Around 9pm (by this time to my estim­a­tion there were about 10.000 demon­strat­ors present on the square) the lead­ers of the demon­stra­tion “broke out” of Octo­ber Square, went onto the Pro­spect, thus block­ing traffic (by the way, at this point my greatest admir­a­tion to the pro­fes­sion­al work of the traffic police, who did everything to ensure that there would not be any chaot­ic situ­ation dur­ing the block­ing of the traffic), and took the demon­strat­ors with them down the Pro­spect, cross­ing the main inter­sec­tion, into the dir­ec­tion of Inde­pend­ence Square.
  • There was no attempt what­so­ever by state secur­ity to block the demonstration’s move­ment neither from Octo­ber Square onto the main Pro­spect nor from the main Pro­spect to Inde­pend­ence Square.
  • Dur­ing the 20–30 minutes mov­ing along the Pro­spect and gath­er­ing on Inde­pend­ence Square the size of the demon­stra­tion increased greatly; to my estim­a­tion the demon­strat­ors num­bers reached its peak at about 9.30 to 10 pm, shortly after arrival at Inde­pend­ence Square (25.000 to 30.000).
  • A first attempt at pro­voca­tions was made shortly after the crowd arrived in Inde­pend­ence square. At this stage, organ­izers man­aged to isol­ate the pro­vocateurs who were try­ing to open the doors of the gov­ern­ment build­ing.
  • It took until about 10.30 pm for the core demon­stra­tion to fully gath­er around the Len­in monu­ment, and an amp­li­fi­er sys­tem hav­ing been brought into place. Dur­ing this time, besides the gath­er­ing of the core demon­stra­tion, people were scattered out all around Inde­pend­ence square, quite a few already again leav­ing.
  • The second “break­ing of win­dows” took place with loads of OMON troops inside the gov­ern­ment build­ing and evid­ently without any con­nec­tion to the bulk of the demon­stra­tion. By now it has to be seen as a fact, that these “attempts to storm the gov­ern­ment build­ing” were orches­trated by the author­it­ies.
  • Behind the gov­ern­ment build­ing there were masses of state secur­ity troops, and on the left side in front large groups of them star­ted get­ting ready. About 200 young sol­diers who were posi­tioned at the rim of the square towards Pro­spect in the end turned out not to have any role in the hap­pen­ings except for at the begin­ning adding their part to an aggrav­ated, hos­tile atmo­sphere.
  • Around 11.15 pm the crack-down star­ted and state secur­ity troops (OMON, SpezNas, and whatever else there might have been) “cleaned” Inde­pend­ence Square, and battled down what had been a totally peace­ful demon­stra­tion. Although in total there were less people arres­ted than after the “elec­tion” in 2006, this time the state used more dir­ect bru­tal­ity and force.
  • After Inde­pend­ence Square had been more or less cleaned, arrests star­ted in the imme­di­ate area, also of people who had not been involved; almost as if there was an order to arrest a cer­tain num­ber of people that even­ing.
  • Dur­ing the night from 19th to 20th and since then ongo­ing there is a total crack-down on seem­ingly all organ­iz­a­tions engaged on the non-state side of soci­ety. The massive­ness of this crack-down is unpre­ced­en­ted in the time of this regime.
  • Dur­ing the crack-down it became evid­ent that not all divi­sions of state secur­ity were act­ing on the same orders; one example for this is the pres­ence of the army, which was not used at all.
  • About 700 people were jailed for up to 15 days; at the moment 31 people are charged with organ­iz­ing mass dis­order, which can be pun­ished with up to 15 years in jail.
  • Not­with­stand­ing the ques­tion, who gave when which orders, it is more than evid­ent that the reign­ing lead­er­ship, includ­ing and fore­most the act­ing pres­id­ent, are sup­port­ive of all meas­ures taken by the state so far. This becomes very clear through the words of Lukashen­ka dur­ing his offi­cial press-con­fer­ence on 20.12.2010.

In order to answer the ques­tion “who is to blame for what happened and is hap­pen­ing?” it is thus irrel­ev­ant who actu­ally ordered what. The reign­ing lead­er­ship with the act­ing pres­id­ent up front is through daily deeds and words tak­ing full respons­ib­il­ity for everything occur­ring. (This argu­ment is sim­il­ar to that of the unpre­ced­en­ted res­ol­u­tion of the Coun­cil of Europe on the cases of those dis­ap­peared in Belarus, stat­ing that based on the giv­en facts, only two con­clu­sions are pos­sible; either the upper­most lead­er­ship of Belarus is itself dir­ectly involved in the dis­ap­pear­ances, or they are doing everything in order to cov­er up these cases.)

Categories: Analysis