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Belarusian Man’s Efforts to Educate Citizens, Police Goes Viral

  • Leonid Losich

A screengrab from one of Vasiliy Telogreykin's YouTube videos.

A screengrab from one of Vasiliy Telogreykin's YouTube videos.

Belarus also has one of the highest numbers of police per-capita: about 325 officers per 100,000 people, according to the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control. By comparison, the United States has 256 officers per 100 000 (in 2010).

Some Belarussian activists say the police have too much power.

Vasiliy Telogreykin (not his real name) is a lawyer. He says Belarusian traffic police stop him often, and sometimes “just to check your documents.” But Belarusian laws don’t allow for these arbitrary stops, he said, although he believe most Belarusians don’t know this, so officers do whatever they want.

According to Telogreykin, this practice of “document check” stops can foster corruption - if police stop somebody who doesn’t know his or her rights, police could extort money from them for non-existent offenses.

“They try to invent non-existent rules just to show you that they know much more than you. They are totally incompetent,” said Telogreyki.

The Belarusian highway police declined to comment publicly about Telogreykin’s work.

Telogreyki believes even some police officers don’t know their rights and laws. He made a video of a conversation with an officer and uploaded it to YouTube to show others that they shouldn’t be afraid to talk to police officers.

That video went viral, so he made couple more. They became wildly popular, too.

Belarusian drivers wanted to know their legal rights as well as their responsibilities.

His YouTube channel earned more than 8,300 subscribers in less than year - not bad for a country of 9.4 million people.

Telogreyki made a series of videos that explains how people should to communicate with the police, what kind of questions they can ask, and what kind of documents to ask them for.

Community grows

He built a community of supporter, and started a tradition of hosting weekly meetings in a local cafe. At those meetings Telogreyki tells people about their rights and explains difficult situations.

Telogreykin said the main idea of this community is not to tease police, as some may think. He said the community simply wants to rid the country of the legal nihilism that is the root of the problem.

Now the community has more than 2,000 people on social networks. Members are also educating police officers. Community members patrol Minsk streets, listening to the police radio to find officers on the street. Activists ask officers to explain their rights to them and try to help other drivers who had been previously detained by police. These encounters are usually recorded.

As a result, officers in Minsk are learning traffic law and drivers’ rights, and therefore are becoming more attentive to these issues.

Telogreykin also sometime attends courtroom proceedings when clashes between motorists and police officers lead to legal action.

“It’s a very slow process but we have to do it. If we want to drive according the rules,”- said Telogreykin.

What now?

Telogreykin’s social movement is gaining public support. He is registering it as a Public Association, and his fellow members are looking for a place to open an office where aggrieved drivers can get help.

They are hope to expand their services to other Belarusian cities.

Telogreykin also has a column in the biggest Belarusian automotive newspaper – Autobusiness Weekly where he advises motorists about legal issues for drivers in Belarus.

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    Leonid Losich

    Leonid Losich was a journalism fellow at the Voice of America in 2015.