A woman participating in antigovernment rally in Minsk on the Freedom Day, March 25. Photo: nn.by
About a month ago thousands of people in Belarus took to the streets all over the country in peaceful non-violent protests against a tax on the unemployed. The “law against social parasites” requires people who work less than 183 days a year to pay the government $250 annually (at the start of 2017, the average monthly salary was $380).
The government responded with 800 unlawful arrests and trials with multiple violations of court procedures, and the number is growing.
I was lucky to emigrate from the dictatorship more than 5 years ago and now I reside in Belgium. I continue to follow the news in my native Belarus. Free people in my native country are on the rise and there are some signs, that they finally may succeed after 23 years of dictatorship, but the mental battle is fierce: on each new manifestation dictator responds with a new wave of brutal arrests.
Imagine my outrage, when I read in the news that IMF Mission Chief for Belarus Mr Peter Dohlman held a meeting with the dictator to discuss a new loan from IMF to Belarus.
If this is not giving a hand to the brutal dictator in a time of need than what is it? So, I’ve started a petition with a demand to to stop negotiations on a new loan with the government of Belarus until all detained peaceful protesters would be released.
Important remark: it is not entirely safe in Belarus to sign such a petition. To make a long story short, the system of oppression for the vast majority of people in Belarus works as follows, if you express political or civil activity you will lose your job in less than a year term and after that you are very unlikely to find a decent new job soon. Another important remark, the secret police KGB acts under this name in Belarus and it regularly makes different provocations to identify people who might become “politically unreliable” and then to marginalize them. The paranoiac atmosphere stands there, one can never know for sure if it’s a genuine grassroots movement or some fake maneuver of the KGB.
5 years ago in Belarus I had the impression that the lack of freedom did seem OK for the majority of the people. No, nobody liked it, of course, but they somehow managed themselves to deal and to live with it. You know, like many little unsaid but scrupulously observed small rules of generally accepted social behavior. Don’t stand out of the “collective,” they say. Rule number one: the superior is always right; rule number two: see rule number one, they say. You can not trust anyone but yourself, they say. It all nails down to the depressing feeling of constant everyday oppression. Poverty and oppression. That how every day life of common people in Belarus looked like. And fake enthusiasm on state controlled TV channels and newspapers. And people who watch propaganda news every evening. When you talk to them you can never be sure, whether they are pretending for the sake of successful career or they are really crazy enough to believe propaganda crap. By the way, there are Departments of State Ideology in every factory, in every establishment, in every hospital, in every school.
5 years ago in Belarus, there were small civil (or “opposition” as labeled by state TV) communities, but KGB armed with poisonous combination of propaganda and oppression always managed to keep those communities at the margins of general society. Knowing this day-to-day reality in Belarus, I was expecting that the petition will be signed mostly from outside of Belarus. For those who are inside there is a non-negligible risk that the petition might be just a mean to collect names and account information of those who are not loyal enough to the regime.
Imagine my astonishment when first response came in hundreds literally overnight mostly from Belarus.
Not only did they risk to put their name on the petition. Many of them took a deliberate decision (it is on optional feature) to leave commentaries with their names which can be read by anybody. Most of them complained that demands of the petition were too mild. By the time there were 600 signatures, I’ve updated the petition based on the comments from the signatories. Now we demand to stop all negotiations (including consultations) between IMF and the government of Belarus, until all detained peaceful protesters will be released.
“I am tired of being a slave”
“I am tired of being a slave,” wrote Vitaly.
This particular comment stroke a chord with me. I had the exact same feeling when I worked as an emergency physician in a tiny little town for 2 years. I could not choose my exact specialty. I was told to do so. I could not choose a place where would I live. I was told to do so. After obtaining medical degree in Belarus you are obliged to work for 2 years at a place where they say at a position which they say. “Weariness” and “slavery” that what I felt. “Weariness” and “slavery” were two the most common words in the comments to the petition.
Finally, note, that Lukashenko is the closest ally of Vladimir Putin. On some web pages you can find a lot of information about petty fights between Lukashenka and Putin.
But this information is misleading. What seems much more important is the fact that they hold military drills together.
Therefore, if it would be a big conflict, Belarus and Russia would have one united armed forces. Hence, if you support Lukashenko, then you strengthen military might of Putin. These big drills are on how united Russia and Belarus forces would fight against NATO forces. 1000 tanks are supposed to be involved in the drills. Putin has a consistent history of growing appetite for military provocations. Therefore, in it’s net effect the loan would increase military threat from Putin to the free world. Even more importantly, this loan given at the moment of a need would give to Putin a signal that he can continue with his provocations. That potentially might put at risk territorial integrity of Baltic states. There are some signs that it actually might happen to Lithuania.
According to the former presidential candidate for Belarus Andrei Sannikov, Russia’s deployment of “Iskander-M” missiles to Kaliningrad, re-deployment of two biggest nuclear missiles carriers to the Baltic sea and military drills “West 2017” could be viewed as preparations for “full-fledged offensive.”
It is disheartening to observe such a shallow response from European politicians to the dictator’s apparent crimes. Prominent politician Mr Joseph Daul wrote in his Twitter account on 25 March: “If! repression! of Belarus ppl continues!!! EPP will make all possible to reinstate new measures against Lukashenka & his regime” (explanation marks are mine). Of course repressions continued since then. Only 1/10 of European PMs agreed to sign letter to European Commission with proposal to impose sanctions against the regime.
If repression of Belarus ppl continues EPP will make all possible to reinstate new measures against Lukashenka & his regime
— Joseph Daul (@JosephDaul) March 25, 2017
The most recent public information I’ve found on the loan is dated by 26 October 2016.
As of today, IMF officially denies that they received notifications from change.org regarding the petition. They did not respond (as of today) to my questions.
The fact that the free world is going to pay $3b to the dictator disheartens all Belarusians who cherish democratic values. Moreover it provides substantial financial help to the Putin-Lukashenka dictators’ alliance. It increases Putin’s military might. Thus, the loan is unethical, harmful for the civil society, encouraging for the dictators and most importantly dangerous. On the contrary, if IMF would refuse to provide the loan because of public pressure that would send a clear signal to the dictators’ alliance that have no other choice limit their military provocations. Not giving the loan would show solidarity of the free world with democratic community in Belarus.
Launcher of the petition “Stop IMF loan to the brutal dictator of Belarus!”
“I wrote a open personal appeal to two persons managing the loan negotiations. The appeal was sent on 22 March 2017 to the official IMF email and via regular mail to IMF office in Minsk. The appeal asked Mr Dohlman in DC and Ms Lysko in Minsk “to put on halt on your own behalf all negotiations between IMF and the government of Belarus” for ethical reasons.
The day after that, Mr Rice (IMF spokesman) said in his press briefing on 23 March 2017, “I am not aware of any letters to the IMF on this [the petition]. I am aware, from press reports, that there’s a petition ongoing in Belarus. But, again, we haven’t received anything there.”
This is indeed a strange statement because in any case (even if they did not process the email from the day before) change.org sends regular notifications to an addressee. The email of IMF is stored in their data base. Change.org officially confirmed for the record that they did send those notifications to IMF, however they did not provide exact dates for that.
There was also no response to the personal appeal above as well. I’ve reiterated the appeal to work email address of Mr Dohlman on 30 March. He has chosen to ignore it. On 31 March, I filed a case to IMF ethics hotline on Mr Dohlman (because it is unethical to ignore such emails). On 4 April an IMF public affairs officer answered on behalf of Mr Dohlman that IMF does not meddle in politics.
Journalist of Belarus branch of RFE/RL Dmitry Hurnevich has made numerous active attempts to reach Ms Lysko in Minsk to get her reaction to the appeal. The secretary in Minsk IMF office required to send an “official letter.” Dmitry has sent it and made several follow-up phone calls, but did not get a response, as of today.
I’ve also emailed to Mr Dohlman with the notion that his visit to Lukashenka could be viewed as an endorsement of Mr Lukashenka and his unlawful actions. In fact, Mr Lukashenka immediately has used this visit to promote his own political agenda in local press. I’ve asked to issue a statement that the visit to Mr Lukashenka pn 16 March should not be regarded as an endorsement of his political agenda. They did not respond as of today.