Saturday, March 25, 2006

Belarus: Demonstrations Split Opposition?

Reports from Minsk are currently pouring in by the hour. What is most interesting is perhaps that there seems to be an increasing rift between presidential candidates Milinkevich and Kozulin.

In the early morning yesterday, the sit-in demonstration on Oktyabrskaya Square in Minsk was disbanded by riot-police. The sit-in appears, by that time, mainly to have consisted of youth from the Zubr movement. The bulk of the opposition movement had by then already given up on the sit-in and wanted to make a new go at demonstrations today, Saturday. As thousands of demonstrators today poured into the streets of Minsk, riot police still succeeded in barring them from getting to Oktyabrskaya Square once more. Instead, people gathered in the nearby Yanka Kupala park, dedicated to a Belarusian national hero. Speaking to the masses, opposition leaders Milinkevich and Kozulin adopted a resolution calling for new elections - without participation of Lukashenka.

What then transpired is still not wholly clear. Kozulin called for the demonstrators to move towards the Okrestina prison to free their co-demonstrators interned there, despite the fact that Milinkevich resisted such action. Many demonstrators, however, started moving towards Okrestina, and on the way there, Kozulin apparently was arrested by police.

The main opposition leader, Milinkevich, afterwards reportedly said: "What Kozulin did was a provocation." The effect of Kozulin's action was that demonstrators split in two halves - thus more easily dispersable by the police - and that Kozulin got even more attention than before due to his arrest.

This adds to the impression that Kozulin has alterior motives for his poisture as an opposition leader. That he is a populist is by now quite clear. That his actions repeatedly serve the interests of the Lukashenka regime, by splitting the opposition, is by now becoming even clearer. One must, therefore, ask to what extent Kozulin serves his own or Lukashenka's interests. The question is whether the opposition movement is now facing a split between Milinkevich and Kozulin proponents, thus playing into the hands of the regime. Will Milinkevich's plea for unity in the opposition thus go unheard?

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