Targeted repressions demonstrate threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations

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April 22, 2016 18:36

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.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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