Response measures by civil society and political parties to the COVID-19 outbreak complement each other, albeit tension among political and civic activists has grown
By Zmicier Kuchlej
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, civil society and business continued to self-organize and raise funds to assist healthcare providers and institutions. Public protests in Brest opposing the battery factory operations continued despite the coronavirus outbreak.
Despite detentions, heavy fines, and arrests of bloggers and activists, protesters in Brest have not abandoned public activity against the battery factory. Presumably, they anticipate some concessions from the authorities amid the unfolding presidential campaign. During previous political campaigns, authorities were becoming more sensitive and accommodating to people’s demands. For instance, during the 2019 parliamentary campaign, the Brest Regional Executive Committee Head decided to freeze the commissioning of the factory. That said, protesters in Brest enjoy strong support among locals, some 200 residents regularly participate in weekly Sunday protests despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Unlike the state, civil society and political organizations were prompt to respond to the coronavirus spread at the early stage. Community-based initiatives have helped to relax the tension and the shortage of PPE among doctors at critical times, despite the initial negative response from the state and healthcare officials. The authorities continue attempts to channel aid through GoNGO and pro-government trade unions, disavowing civil society efforts in the meantime.
That said, as of now, the largest public initiative # BYCOVID19 raised some USD 250,000 in support for doctors and vulnerable groups. The initiative has appealed to some 1500 people across the country, creating a decentralized network of volunteers displaying high self-organization
Political organizations continue to make up for the shortcomings and inconsistencies of the authorities' policies addressing the coronavirus outbreak. For instance, Tell The Truth HQs and regional activists from the BPF, BCD, For Freedom, Tell The Truth have arranged focal points to collect aid for healthcare providers. They have successfully utilized social media and messengers to self-organize.
Civic and political organizations continue to exert pressure on the authorities through social media activities and petitions, urging them to alter the COVID-19 response policies and rhetoric. Amid the absence of feedback mechanisms within the power, petitions have become an important indicator of people’s discontent with public policies.
Meanwhile, tension is building among civic and political activists, which has manifested in blogger Anton Matolka’s lash out at opposition politicians for the latter adopting civil society instruments (eg petitions) in their activities.
Overall, civic activists are likely to bolster their criticism of political organizations that participate in the presidential campaign amid the COVID-19 outbreak.