DEBATE This is the second of two articles written exclusively for Mänsklig Säkerhet (the online magazine Human Security, Sweden) by two Belarusian journalists (anonymous here but known to us). They describe the brutality of Alexander Lukashenka’s regime and urge Sweden to, through OSCE, EU and other means, help put an end to the violence from the police and security units by acknowledging them globally as terrorists.
[En svensk sammanfattning av denna artikel hittar du här.]
In Lukashenkas Belarus, in order for him to maintain total control, both demonstrators and his own forces must be kept in fear.
Police Lieutenant Colonel Yury Makhnach called the atmosphere during the pre-election campaign a “preparation of the security forces for war against civilians. The ideology was thus: if the current government loses, then each of us will be strung up on trees by the road. Therefore, this government must be protected by all means.”
Lukashenko confirmed this in an interview with Russian journalists on September 9, 2020: “I won’t just leave. I will not just give it all up. Besides, if I leave, my supporters will be sliced to bits!”
State built on terror
Still, those ready to defend their freedom are gradually becoming bolder. People no longer fear what they feared initially. They are not afraid of enormous fines, not scared to end up in prison for 15 days.
“If you’ve not been to prison — you aren’t Belarusian”, they scoff.
The authorities realize this and seeks to increase fear through show trials, punishing innocent activities such as displaying a flag in your window, or hanging white-red-white Christmas decorations. Criminal convictions for writing “Won’t forget” on the ground where Taraikovsky was killed result in multi-year prison sentences.
A citizen of Switzerland was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for taking a balaclava off of a security officer. The number of such cases is growing each day.
Assassinations ordered by the state
Government by terror is not new to Lukashenko’s Belarus — the abducted politicians mentioned earlier were the first victims of state terrorism. Next in line were those who spoke out about them. The EUobserver published an audio leak, revealing the 2012 head of the Belarusian KGB Vadim Zaitsev planning a series of political assassinations on German soil, sanctioned by Lukashenko himself. (the authenticity of his voice was confirmed by an expert examination) A plan to kill Pavel Sheremet, a journalist considered a personal enemy of Lukashenko, was outlined: “We’ll plant [a bomb] and so on and this f*cking rat will be taken down in f*cking pieces – legs in one direction, arms in another. If everything [looks] natural, it won’t get into people’s minds the same way.”
Even if the assassination in Germany never took place, Pavel was killed in the center of Kiev, Ukraine, in 2016, in that exactly the way presented by Zaitsev four years earlier. The leak thus clearly points at a Belarusian trace in this high-profile murder, which could define it as international terrorism.
2020 – from state terror against individuals to state terror against a whole nation
In 2020, the state moved from terror against individuals to terror against a nation and an entire population.
Nikolai Karpenkov, Deputy Interior Minister and the former head of the GUBOPiK, has in a recorded speech mentioned setting up concentration camps for political prisoners: “… to develop, to create a camp … for such resettlement. And put barbed wire around the perimeter… Keep them there until they calm down”.
As it turned out, a version of such a camp has already been created, in August 2020, near the city of Slutsk, and some detainees have been brought there.
Now, a time for reckoning!
What we have described in our articles from the inside of Belarus, is today reality in the center of Europe, in the 21st century.
Today, in Belarus, terror is being carried out against all citizens, young and old, by those “security forces” who are meant to defend and protect them.
The task ahead of Europe is to react, to define actors for what they are and label those in power in Belarus, and security units who turn the country into a concentration camp with their proper name: terrorists.
We urge the international community to act, now.
We urge Sweden to help put an end to the violence and terror, through OSCE and the EU
We urge Sweden, who in 2021 holds the position as chair of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and others, not least Nordic Countries and the European Union (EU), to define and recognize OMON, GUBOPiK, Almaz, and SOBR as terrorist organizations and to expand sanctions to help put an end to the brutality.
This would send a clear message to those who rely on impunity in their use of force. Today, Lukashenko and his collaborators know that they may never be put on trial. The fear of one day having to answer for their crimes can greatly reduce the level of violence in our country.
This can be the first step towards restoring the rule of law and become a starting point for a new, democratic Belarus.
A country with a state for the people, not against us; a Belarus without terror and violence.
About the authors
The authors in Belarus ask to not publish their names of fear for their safety, as independent journalists have become a target for Belarusian authorities. Human rights activists report 477 cases of detained media representatives in the last five months alone, and 19 journalists are currently under criminal investigation.
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