Travel restrictions on the opposition remain informal
The Belarusian authorities have not formalized the practice of travel ban list application and use diverse measures, including illegal ones. Regardless of the previous declarations, the authorities find it less costly to act independently and do not rush seeking for assistance of their Russian colleagues.
On April 11, “European Belarus” civil campaign Coordinator Mr. Atroshchankau was taken off the train at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. Several days before, Academic Director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, Mr. Pikulik was stopped by the traffic police on a highway and his passport was confiscated. On April 13, Chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Gromada political party Mr. Shushkevich crossed the EU border via Russia.
By now, at least two criteria could be crystallized for adding citizens to the so-called “travel ban lists”. Firstly, quazi-legitimate grounds, when traveling is restricted by a court order (case of Mr. Atroshchankau). The court’s order could be extremely controversial (charges of trafficking of drugs and foul language use), but it provides with a formal reason to restrict a person from leaving Belarus.
Secondly, semi-legal actions of police officers: they create a reason for the detention of a citizen. For instance, suspicion of having committed an administrative offence: foul language use in public, participating in a brawl or a forgery (cases of Mr. Pikulik and human rights activist Mr. Volchek). The police used these pretexts to seize passports either for examination or “by accident”. Documents are not returned to their holders on various pretexts, thereby de facto their ability to travel abroad is limited.
Both methods are quite expensive, as they require the law enforcement bodies and courts to act semi-legally, imposing additional responsibilities on them, as well as put additional burden on human resources involved, i.e. additional duties for traffic and road police. Most importantly, such practices cannot be unified to become an automated routine. Every time it is a unique ad hoc operation, when movement of an individual is traced, information about it is forwarded to an action team and a “detention group” is formed and sent after the individual.
At the same time, the fact of Mr. Shushkevich successfully entering the EU via Russia demonstrates that the Belarusian authorities find cooperation with the Russian border guards even more costly. We have mentioned earlier, that to cooperate with Russia, Belarusian authorities would have to legalize the “ban list” somehow, for example, to take legal actions against all the individuals.
Belarusian security services’ actions demonstrate that for the moment being it is easier for the Belarusian regime to use semi-legal and illegal measures inside the country, rather than cooperate with Russian security forces in this regard.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.