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May 14 – May 20, 2018
Society and political parties

Environmental protests in Brest put forward political demands; the competition for leadership in the opposition has enhanced

The situation has not changed
Environmental protests in Brest put forward political demands; the competition for leadership in the opposition has enhanced

Environmental protests in Brest against the construction of a battery plant have transformed into political ones, demanding the resignation of local officials. Due to the competition for leadership in the United Civic Party and for the ownership of a draft law about the white-red-white flag, tension among the opposition has stepped up.

The local administration in Brest could not stop regional protests against the construction of a battery plant near Brest. The protesters have applied for an authorisation to collect signatures for the resignation of regional, district and municipal leaders.

Local authorities used a variety of measures to put pressure on protesting civil society activists and bloggers, including negotiations with local communities, authorising and banning rallies, laying off activists, handing out heavy fines, detaining and defaming protest leaders.

Meanwhile, activists have been flexible and used new approaches to defend their interests vis-à-vis the authorities, which, in the end, transformed purely environmental demands into political ones.

That said, in Belarus, any interference by law enforcement with local authorities requires an authorisation by President Lukashenka. The latter, however, appears to want to abstain from interfering in the local matter on the side of local authorities and the investor due to fears of suffering serious reputational losses, because the population in Brest has demonstrated high mobilisation capacity and is firmly and consistently opposing the construction. Some 37,000 local residents have signed the petition against the construction, which is more than 10% of the Brest population (348,000 people).

Centre-rightists are attempting to strengthen the external support for democratic transformation in Belarus through holding meetings in Washington. Simultaneously, due to the upcoming elections of the UCP chair this summer and significant differences in the vision of the party development by MP Kanopatskaya and other party leaders, intra-party tension has increased. In addition, National Democrats started a dispute over the ownership of the draft law on the white-red-white flag. Initially, the campaign in support for the white-red-white flag was launched by several organisations, such as Art Siadziba, Tell the Truth, Malady Front, and the Belarusian Christian Democrats.

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