News / Europe

Belarus Protests Fueled by Internet Freedom, Bad Economy

Former presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev gestures as he speaks to the media after leaving a court building in Minsk, Belarus, May 20, 2011
Former presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev gestures as he speaks to the media after leaving a court building in Minsk, Belarus, May 20, 2011
James Brooke

Internet freedom and an economic free fall are combining for unprecedented protests in Belarus, a nation historically locked up by a Soviet-style leader.

Falling living standards are swelling protests against Alexander Lukashenko, the strongman who has long ruled Belarus through a combination of charisma and intimidation.

Overcoming fears of the police, drivers have purposely paralyzed traffic in Minsk, traders have wrestled with guards at the Polish border, and every Wednesday evening silent protests become weekly events in all major cities.

An opposition leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, emerged from a jail cell last month to find he had to catch up with the fast-moving Internet resistance movement.

Neklyaev and other activists predict harsh police crackdowns on upcoming silent demonstrations. Police vacations have been canceled, they said, as Lukashenko seeks to keep Soviet-style control over celebrations next Sunday marking Belarus Independence Day.

A Neklyaev aide, Andrei Dmitriev, said protest information spreads anonymously through Facebook and Russian social network sites.

“It is very dangerous to show that you are active, because you can easily be put in jail for any reason,” he said.

Internet usage has exploded in this increasingly urbanized nation. One third of Belarussian adults are now on social network sites. Last year, the number of people seeking news on the Internet jumped by 82 percent, according to Iryna Vidanava, who runs an opposition news and entertainment website.

She said the total audience of independent and opposition news sites now matches the viewership of one of the Belarus' top state-controlled TV channels. Looking ahead, Vidanava predicts the deteriorating economy will sharpen protests even more.

"The peak of the protests will be in the fall, not in the summer," said Vidanava. "Definitely the government does not know what to do about the financial crisis.”

In Belarus, discontent is as near as the closest food market.

On Saturday, 57-year-old pensioner Lilia sat with her plastic bags after shopping at the massive Komarovski Market. She said prices on locally produced mushrooms are jumping, but she is afraid to complain.

If you open your mouth, she said, you will be taken to prison.

Lilia says she now gets most of her news from independent sites on the Internet. She said that she and her adult children believe the economic situation will only get worse. But after last month’s 50-percent devaluation, there is no way they could afford to emigrate.

At the vast open-air market, shoppers throng sections selling locally grown vegetables and fruit. But at the fish and meat sections, business is slow. Saleswomen chat with each other or read magazines.

A 24-year-old Polish language teacher, Irina, said she is downsizing.

“People can buy some macaroni and rice, but not meat for sure,” she said.

At a music store nearby, music is thumping, but buyers are scarce. Store manager Evgeni said prices have not gone up much, but customers are cutting back on non-essential purchases.

Belarus devalued because it ran out of hard currency.

At the Korona shopping center, people stand outside a foreign-exchange booth, waiting for someone to come and sell dollars.

Galiya, a mother of a handicapped child said she had been waiting two months to buy hard currency to buy medicine.

To save time, people sign up on waiting lists. When dollars, euros, or Russian rubles come in, they get a call.

Outside the Lithuanian Embassy, 21-year-old college student Anastasia paused in her quest to get a visa that would allow her to travel to the European Union.

“The students I see are very unhappy with the situation," she said. "They cannot pay for their apartments, pay for their food.”

The International Monetary Fund predicted that inflation in Belarus will be 50 percent this year.

The former head of the National Bank, Stanislav Bogdankevich, ran through the debts that will come due in coming months.

Objectively, he said, the situation is going to get worse.

For now, he said, Lukashenko is printing money to pay for salary hikes, giving people the illusion they are keeping up with inflation.

The government’s long-term strategy is to find a large source of hard cash - fast. The president is offering to sell Belaruskali, the country’s largest company, to Russian investors for $30 billion.

But opposition leader Neklyaev said the company currently earns Belarus $3 billion a year. He said that at current rates, its potash reserves could last 200 years. Selling this state company, he charged, would be treason.

An economy spiraling downward, plus a new freedom to communicate, appears to be pointing to turbulent times ahead for Belarus, often called the last dictatorship in Europe.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More