News / Europe

Belarus Dictator Struggles With Internet-led Protest

Belarusian policemen block a street during an action "Revolution via social network" in Minsk, Belarus, June 22, 2011.
Belarusian policemen block a street during an action "Revolution via social network" in Minsk, Belarus, June 22, 2011.
James Brooke

The biggest anti-government protest in Belarus in six months flowed out of cyberspace.

Belarus’ protest movement has no leader.  It has no address.  It relies on the Internet.  And it has driven authorities of this former Soviet republic to harsh measures.

On Wednesday night, police snatched 460 people off the streets of nation’s largest cities.  Their crime -- clapping hands while walking on sidewalks.

Most were released Thursday after paying fines, although about 20 of them face charges of “petty hooliganism.”

Police also released 16 journalists who had been forced into prison trucks in the sweeps of sidewalks.  Sweden complained that police assaulted their charge d’affaires, who was observing the protest in Minsk.

Thousands of young people turned out for the protest -- the third time social networking sites had called for opponents of the government to take a walk on Wednesday evening.  It was the biggest turnout since protests last December, after presidential elections widely denounced as fraudulent.

Anatol Lebedko, chairman of the United Citizenship party, called the protest 100-percent successful.

Traditionally, he said, the secret police, still called the KGB in Belarus, arrest protest organizers in advance.  Now, there are no leaders to arrest.  Anonymous protest calls go out on Facebook and other social networking sites.  

Victor Martiovich, editor of the opposition newspaper Belgazeta, agreed, saying that the government does not know what to do.  It is facing an amorphous civilian opposition, one with no hierarchy and no leadership.

He said the protesters have created a brand, adding “Now everyone knows where to go if you are against Lukashenko.”

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ president for the last 17 years, threatened last Friday to turn off “that trash, the Internet,” as he put it.  Almost half of Belarusian adults are now online, a rate that increases in the cities, where 70 percent of the population now lives.

Already security services now block access to several opposition sites.  This week, they interrogated hundreds of Facebook users.

Searching for opponents, the president, a former collective farm manager, promised while on a farm visit last week that he would, in his words, "watch and observe -- and then whack them in such a way, that they won't even have time to run across the border.”

His immediate concern is the country's Independence Day July 3.

Lebedko, the opposition leader, said he would encourage people that day to go for family strolls, to enjoy the fresh air of a summer evening outdoors.

Swelling the ranks of the protest movement is this year's 50-percent devaluation of the Belarusian ruble.  While salaries are frozen, inflation is expected to hit 50 percent this year.

On Tuesday, Belarus received $800 million in aid from a Russia-led fund.  Thursday, Belarus authorities promised to send some of that money back to Russia to pay an overdue electricity bill to Russia.  The Russian power company had threatened to cut off power.

Stanislaw Bogdankevich, former president of the Belarusian National Bank, looks ahead and sees the economic situation getting worse.

With more and more bills coming due, lower living standards are expected to be the new norm for this Central European nation.  And that is expected to increase the numbers of illegal hand-clappers.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid