News / Europe

Belarus Dictator Struggles With Internet-led Protest

Belarusian policemen block a street during an action
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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs