Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Clap in Belarus (Nor Dance in America)

Update (strap in) here.

You know when a regime is in trouble or has lost the plot, when you read stuff like this.

On Independence Day parade July 3, the police announced strict restrictions on clapping: you could only applaud the parade if you were a veteran or an ex-serviceman. Otherwise, you would risk being arrested.

Sounds familiar, but oh! wasn't it dancing that I'm thinking of? Whichever, arrested for clapping or dancing is still a sure sign that the establishment is totally out of touch with the society it purports to represent

Belarus: Clapping Protests Challenge Police Restrictions

by Claudia Ciobanu
23 July 2011

Prague - For the past nine weeks, Belarusians have been getting out in the hundreds into the main squares of big and small cities across the country on Wednesdays at seven in the evening. They clap, or let their mobiles ring all at once. The ‘Revolution through Social Networks- movement’ started by five students, and growing on the Russian equivalent of Facebook, Vkontakte, is posing a new threat to the Lukashenko regime.

"This is not a movement of the traditional Belarusian opposition: the participants are people who were never involved in opposition actions and never protested before," Mikita Krasnou, one of the five founders of the movement, told IPS. "People in Belarus were looking for new organisers, for new representatives.

"The traditional opposition is also interested in playing a role in this movement, and this has caused them to become more united," adds Krasnou.

The tactics of the group have confused the authorities. On Independence Day parade Jul. 3, the police announced strict restrictions on clapping: you could only applaud the parade if you were a veteran or an ex-serviceman. Otherwise, you would risk being arrested.

The authorities have also been placing limitations on the Internet: more than 40 percent of Belarusians have access to the Internet, but those using it from work, if this is for a state company, cannot access independent sites.

Since last year, those wanting to use Internet cafes need to present their passports. And, from this June, all Belarusian websites are forced to use the national domain, ‘.by’, making them easier to control. All Internet services are from the state provider, and the connection is both expensive and of low quality. More recently, access to Vkontakte has been blocked on Wednesdays.

But the KGB (security services) has employed more brutal repression tactics against the online activists: on Jul. 3, many were arrested on the spot; others, whose mobile phones were tracked down to have been used in the main squares at the time of the actions, have been brought in for interrogation.

Getting arrested in Belarus is no longer unusual. Many opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko have been arrested at least once; since the clapping protests began, around 1,500 people have been detained. Some are arrested for a few days, others receive year-long sentences.

"Fifteen years ago, if you belonged to the opposition, you were either a politician or a fighter, but now you just have to be a fighter," Aliaksey Shydlovski, one of the first political prisoners of post- independence Belarus and co-founder of Young Front and Bizon movements, tells IPS.

Shydlovki is a revolutionary from the previous wave. In exile in Prague for the past two years he says, "people getting out on the streets today in Belarus are braver than us, especially the women. The regime has gotten more insecure and hence tougher."

The insecurity of the regime stems largely from the economic crisis gripping the country since last year, after Russia spiked gas prices at the end of 2009-2010. This year, the Belarusian currency has been devalued by over 50 percent; prices for basic goods and gas have increased, and people are hoarding staples and other products. Having been shunned by the International Monetary Fund, Belarus has instead taken a 3 billion dollar stabilisation loan from the Russian-controlled Eurasian Economic Community. more

Belarus Wikipedia

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