Targeted repressions demonstrate threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations
On August 21st - 22nd, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, the Presidential Administration newspaper, published two pieces about the convicted youth activist Andrei Gaidukov.
Law enforcement agencies specifically demonstrate the imminent threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations to different social groups. Such actions by law enforcers hamper the Foreign Ministry’s political maneuvers in the West.
The publication of evidence in Gaidukov’s case by Sovetskaya Belorussiya continues the tradition started after December 19th, 2010, when the same newspaper published confidential financial and programmatic documents seized from defendants in the mass riots case. This time, the newspaper published extracts from correspondence, allegedly between Gaidukov and the CIA European Office, regarding potential collaboration.
According to the prosecution, the Belarusian KGB was communicating with Gaidukov on behalf of the CIA, thus dragging the 20-year-old young man into an investigative experiment which resulted in Gaidukov’s criminal prosecution. On July 1st, Andrei Gaidukov, leader of the unregistered organization “Young Intellectuals Union”, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on charges of attempting to establish cooperation with foreign special services.
Another case, which entailed punishment for attempting to cooperate with foreign states, occurred in June with Tatyana Zelko, chairman of “Our Generation”, an unregistered pensioners organization. The woman was fined for receiving foreign aid to conduct political and mass agitation activities. During the trial the detention details were disclosed: Mrs Zelko was arrested by the KGB Department for Financial Investigations officers as she walked out of the Slovak Embassy in Minsk with 1,453 Euro in cash. Zelko was awarded a 50 basic units fine (BYR 5,000,000 or circa USD 560) and 1,453 Euro were confiscated.
These developments point to a coordinated targeted repressions strategy against members of specific social groups. In particular, seniors are one of the target groups in the EU programme “Dialogue on Modernization with Belarusian Society”. Previously, a massive information attack was organized against independent experts participating in the programme. Finally, youth movements have traditionally been a major focus of the Belarusian special services, and the KGB in particular. In this regard, it is noteworthy that Sovetskaya Belorussiya has launched its series of publications just before the school year starts, in early September.
In addition, the State Control Committee’s Financial Investigation Department (FID) is actively counteracting illegal foreign funding of non-governmental organizations in Belarus. The most notorious case led by the FID was the examination of “Viasna” human rights Centre’s financial activities, which eventually resulted in a 4.5 years prison term for its leader Ales Bialiatski.
Objectively, such actions by the Belarusian security forces hamper the Foreign Ministry’s attempts to normalize Belarus’ Western foreign policy. Foreign governments and international organizations reacted predictably negatively to the Gaidukov case. And the Foreign Ministry’s position in negotiations with the EU and the U.S. has weakened, since Belarus not only failed to fulfill the demand to release political prisoners, but also - in the eyes of the West - enhanced repressions.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.