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8 Jan

Eva Coronado Alonso (Spain)
FronteraD, Dec 26,2013


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The awaiting revolution of Belarus and the mirror of Ukraine

Thousands of Ukrainians are filling the streets of Kiev, converging on the center of the city and occupying Maidan Square.

Citizens of Belarus have been one of the first to support citizens of Ukraine. Politicians, activists, and even famous musicians like the rock band Liapis Trubetskay have mobilized giving their support to the Ukrainian people.

The Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom yet again. This time against the Yanukovych regime. They took to the streets in support of an Association Agreement with the EU that was supposed to have been signed at the EU meeting that took place on 28th and 29th of November, in Vilnius.

There are some similarities between Belarus and Ukraine, but a revolution in Belarus would be more difficult than anyone could imagine. Minsk is not Kyiv and we can´t compare the strength of 45 million Ukrainians with that of 9 million of Belarusians directly.

A complicated journey

On  December 6th, KGB agents stopped 53 activists who were travelling from Minsk to Kyiv by bus. Law enforcement officials explained that they could not let the bus continue on to Ukraine due to the bad weather conditions. As a result, the bus had to return to Minsk. However, the activists got off the bus before it turned back and got to Kyiv by hitchhiking.

Belarusian opposition leaders to the government of Alexander Lukashenko, who is in power since 1994, show words of solidarity with the Ukrainians. This includes Uladzimir Niakliajeu of the Tell the Truth campaign and Yuri Hubarevich of the Movement for Freedom.

Many Belarusians show their support from Minsk. Natallia K. is Professor at the University in the capital of the country. “I don´t have TV and I don´t watch the news. One of the reasons is because it exasperates me. In any case, most of the people share the opinion of the Ukrainians and her hope of being closer with the EU. Maybe this will influence us.”

Vita Archipova is a student of Finances in Minsk, she believes the protests in her country are lacking “officially nobody cares, there are no protests, no people in the center of the city or near the embassy, of course we know and see the situation from the mass media but once again there is no action at all. Everything is very calm like nothing really happens. What about the opinion of the people? From discussions with my friends, group mates and other people I see that the majority is against the integration of Ukraine to EU just because of the financial side mainly, everybody thinks that integration will destroy the economy and production of Ukraine. And once again, I’d say that nobody really worries about what is going on in Ukraine, everybody just keeps on living their lives and don’t really react”.

Inside Belarus some marches have been organized for the next days, but it is not easy. The organizers of the march on the 21st of December in the city of Brest were local representatives of the United Civil Party (UCP); the march has been banned by the authorities.

Uladzimir Vuyek from the UCP’s Brest regional office explains the situation: “mass events are not allowed within less than 50 meters from the buildings of state administration bodies, local representative, executive and administrative bodies, diplomatic missions and consular bodies, courts, prosecuting bodies, territories of organizations providing defense, state security and livelihoods of the population, and within less than 100 meters from the buildings of health care organizations.” Vuyek says the reason for refusal is groundless, as previously during the celebration of May 1 (International Workers day) they have marched along the same route permitted by the authorities. The local leader guesses that the ban on the march can be regarded as defining the position of local authorities to the events happening now in Ukraine.

Belarus versus Ukraine

Even though they have a common history, their political regimes are very different. The repression is less severe in Yanukovych´s regime than in Lukashenko´s. Human rights are decreasing in Belarus where the death sentence still exists.

The last one was signed the 26th of November of this year. The accused is Eduard Lykov (53 years of age), he is accused of 5 homicides and has been investigated since 2011.

Belarus is the only European country that is still applying the death sentence. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union has expressed the opposition of the EU to this sentence, “We are conscious of the serious nature of the crimes for which he has been convicted. However, capital punishment can never be justified. The European Union opposes capital punishment under all circumstances.”

Dmtriy Karachun and Valeriia Didkovka are friends; both of them live and study in Lithuania. Dmtriy is Belarusian and Valeriia is Ukrainian, for many days they have been talking about the situation in Ukraine. They have many disagreements; it looks like it is difficult to see any common point.

“In Ukraine we have much more freedom, especially for these last 8 years. The law is different and the repression for being in the streets is less hard. The mentality is also different and the Belarusians are afraid. On the other hand, the national feeling is stronger in Ukraine. It is something historical, since the XIX century.” Valeriia says.

“I don´t think the mentality is any different. We all have a post-soviet mentality. Of course we have Lukashenko, and they don´t. Of course nowadays the conditions are quite different”. Dmtriy adds.

Both of them have friends, who have been in the protests on  the Maidan, Dmtriy explains how his acquaintances participate, “all of them carry Belarusian flags, but not the current flag, just the white and the red one. In 1996 our president changed the flag that we had and now the former flag is used in opposition to the regime.

Economics for a revolution

The Belarusian journalist Mary Yeryoma has a clear opinion about the reaction of Minsk in relation to the Maidan protests. ”Our officials didn’t give any official comments on the situation. The only exception is Lukhashenko’s press-conference with Russian journalists where he expressed not much more than sorrow that by signing the agreement with EU, Ukraine would probably ruin existing trade and customs relations with Belarus as a CIS country (the Commonwealth of Independent States is a regional organization, under Moscow’s inspiration and the participating 10 countries are former Soviet Republics). Our media are carefully following the situation and comparing it to Belarusian protests in 2006 and 2010. The majority of the media does not make any conclusions, they’re just reporting on events. I can say that Belarusians have very detailed information. That is also because many of our journalists were there, or are currently there, and are reporting almost on-line. In general, Belarusians sympathize with Ukrainian in their protests and respect them for standing up for their rights.”

In terms of economic well-being, Belarusians live better than Ukrainians. The average salary in Belarus hovers around € 437, while in Ukraine it is €291.

In Ukraine the opposition is well represented in parliament, and there is a real and constant political struggle in Ukraine between different political forces. A scenario that remains entirely unrealistic in Belarus. In Belarus, real politics rears its head only once in every five years during the presidential election. But in the daily life, Lukashenko has vast powers which make other political institutions meaningless. He is the only President who has been running the country since 1990 (they gained its independence in the 1990s.) Meanwhile, Yanukovych is the fourth President of Ukraine.

Just a few people foretell a victory for Yanukovych in the 2015 elections. But this is not an obstacle for his current power. Several Ukrainian oligarchs, such as Vadim Novinsky and Kostyantyn Zhevago, are members of parliament. Each of their respective wealth is estimated to be about $1.5-2bn. Rinat Akhmetov is Ukraine’s richest man whose personal wealth is estimated to be about $15.4bn.

The situation in Belarus is quite different. Like Mother Country Russia, the oligarchs are little more than managers who can be replaced and stripped of their property at any moment. There is no rule of law in Belarus, so all businesses remain at the mercy of the regime. The richest man in Belarus, whose personal wealth is estimated to be about $1bn, would have a spot on a list of the top 10 richest people in Ukraine. Belarusian oligarchs remain much poorer than their Ukrainian counterparts.

Belarus could be very proud of its technological sector. Some media say that might be the most attractive branch of the Belarusian service sector. If the current rate of this sector growth continues, the branch will achieve the goal of $1bn in yearly revenue well before the end of the decade. If that finally comes true, Belarus will leave the industrial rubble of the Soviet era (with the tractors as the best exponent) for a share of the global high tech pie.

Learning from Kyiv

The Russian president Vladimir Putin knows that Lukashenko is not Yanukovych. The Russian big brother has a different role depending on which leader he is facing.

Some months ago the Belarusian leader gave a warning that “If Russia keeps the exportations rights of its petrol products, Belarus is not going to be able to stay in Customs Union”.

This one was one of the last actions that Lukashenko took against the Kremlin.

Weeks before the EU meeting in Vilnius, at the beginning of October, representatives of Ukraine and Belarus celebrated the meeting. Yanukovich said then that his Belarusian counterpart claimed he must not block the decision of Ukraine related to EU Association agreement. He also indicated that if Ukraine would decide to unite NATO, Belarus would see that calmly.

The official position as well as the media position is calm and neutral. They tell what is happening nowadays in Kyiv, but they do not analyze the situation, they only show it. Before thinking about their southern neighbours they have other problems to think about: the new tax on vehicle owners, troubles for getting out the country, freedom of speech etc.

If the protest in Ukraine finishes in a peaceful way and they achieve changes, maybe in the near future Belarus will achieve changes as well. For the time being, Belarusians stay hopeful.

Originally published: http://www.fronterad.com/?q=revolucion-pendiente-bielorrusia-y-espejo-ucrania