Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Minsk Opposition Rally Gathers 15,000

This Sunday saw the biggest opposition demonstrations in Minsk since the April protests against the presidential elections last year, prolonging Lukashenka's rule over Belarus. An estimated 15,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Academy of Sciences to listen to Alyaksandr Milinkevich and other opposition leaders, in commemoration of the first shortlived Belarusian National Republic of 1918.

This time, authorities used milder methods to thwart the demonstrations than the violence seen last year. Thus, some 50 opposition activists throughout Belarus had been arrested prior to the rally, in order to complicate its organisation. The march was also led away from the city centre, and police repeatedly urged people to dissolve the "illegal demonstration." Furthermore, the Lukashenka regime had staged a number of concerts to draw attention away from the opposition rally.

Demonstrations must be seen as a test of oppositional strength and resilience. The opposition has for long been torn by internal struggles and conflicts, which has been skilfully exploited by the Lukashenka regime. With increasingly strained relations to Moscow, Lukashenka has recently signalled rapprochement and dialogue with the West, and here the predominantly western-oriented opposition is once again seen as an obstacle to the president's plans.

Speaking at the rally, former presidential candidate, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, called for political freedom and for the long-term inclusion of Belarus into the European Union. Referring to the international isolation of the Lukashenka regime, Milinkevich said: "We should understand that we are not alone. The democratic world and Europe stand together with us."

As a token of oppositional unity, the demonstration must be seen as a great success. Still, the opposition coalition remains fundamentally divided, and Alyaksandr Kozulin, who came second in last year's presidential elections, is currently serving a 5 1/2 year prision sentence for his political activities. So, as Milinkevich called out to the masses that "We are the majority! We will win!" it is questionable if this is enough to overthrow the Lukashenka regime. As long as the opposition remains divided, majority is not the issue - unity is.


rami said...

Last year we had a student from belarus, who explained to us the new Iron Wall policy that prevents the Belaurisian media from covering anything regarding the opposition, or anything produced outside of Belarus.

I doubt that the former hockey-player will allow others' to win, even if the majority voted against him.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Rami,

Control of media and print in Belarus is truly overwhelming. In short, every activity that could pose a potential threat to the regime is covered by extensive regulations.

I was not aware that Lukashenka had been a hocjey player for long. That was interesting information. I thought his real interest began when Belarus whipped the Swedish team in the WC semifinals the other year. For me, Lukashenka will always remain a collective farm boss, no matter if he gets "83%" of votes in rigged presidential elections or changes the constitution to his whims.



Lyndon said...

See also here.

serghei said...

I think it's interesting to see the future of Lukashenko, now that he lost the russian support, and never gained the western one. serghei

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Lyndon,

Thanks for the link to the Eurasia Daily Update! It seems Lukashenka is doing his usual disappearing act at the moment, by the looks of it.



Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Serghei,

Well, I surely would not like to be in Lukashenka's clothes. The thing is that he might hold on to power for long yet, even if all rational reasons contradict it. I only wish that all those people who always adapt to any situation would speak out for once and overthrow this last dictator of Europe.

BTW, it would be interesting with an overview of the Italian East European blogosphere.