Belarusian Rumours from Ruska

24 February 2006
23 days before elections

Mood of the day: waiting for a job

My nickname is Ruska. I live in Gomel which is almost on the border with Russia and Ukraine (and about 120 km from Chernobyl). I’m 31, unemployed, divorced and gay. I lost my job three years ago as a result of my human rights activism. Despite less then 2% unemployment rate according to state propaganda) in my country nobody wanted me with two university degrees and MA. Since that time I used to have different experiences from enjoying life in Hilton Times Square in NYC to living on 45 USD per month in my native Gomel. Of course all that time I’ve been involved in civilian movements and non-profit projects. I decided to spend one hour of my everyday life to write gossip about Belarusian life. Not sure that this could be interesting to anybody, but I have to carpe diem as well as the fact that Belarus is on the front pages today.

A friend of mine has called me two days ago and said that two OSCE long-term observers want me as their interpreter. Good-paying job! Missing such a great opportunity in my current situation is a crime. I leave it to my friend who feeds me with promises that he is just about to organize our meeting. Nothing remains to do, other than to wait.

I come back to the usual daily routine: all-day-long work on brother’s computer and swimming pool in the evening. Today there was nothing interesting in the sense of politics. We’ll see tomorrow.

25 February 2006
22 days before elections

Mood of the day: meeting friends

Today is Saturday. It means that my friends (those who still have jobs) are free. I’m invited to have dinner and some beer with my old friends in their apartment. We’re at the table talking about life and politics – right in traditions of “soviet kitchen democracy”. Everybody is angry about HIM, but nobody believes in changes. One friend is still missing. He is calling us from a pop concert organized tonight by Lukashenka’s propagandists in the main city convention centre. Somehow Liosha’s parents got the tickets. Biggest Russian pop stars are singing in support of HIM. At the moment Lolita – the most popular Russian diva – is singing her newest hit. We’re listening her voice from our friend’s cell phone and counting Belarusian roubles, which came to cover all honoraria and organizational expenses for all these stupid performances through out the country.

Friends from ZUBR called and told about solidarity action to pay a tribute to the political prisoners they held in Minsk in Okrestin Street nearby the police department. Guys did a jean-decoration of the trees and constructions, applying some jeans garment even to the trees sitting in the immediate vicinity of the jail central entrance. Until now the police continue detaining the ZUBR coordinator Evgenyi Afnagel and Oleg Metelitsa sentenced to 15 days detention.

26 February 2006
21 day before elections

Mood of the day: recovering from yesterday night

Yesterday night was really great. My friend who is a doctor presented to us MIEDOVUKHA made by himself. Ingredients of this magic drink are honey and spirits. After two shots of MIEDOVUKHA life is becoming so comfortable and happy. Belarusian government knows this secret. More than half of the country’s population knows it too. Prices for alcohol beverages are more than reasonable. Even with a very small salary you can buy something that will make your life not so grey and painful. You could even try to imagine your life without HIM.

27 February 2006
20 days before elections

Mood of the day: feeling international solidarity

Today major newspapers in Poland (“Gazeta Wyborcza”), Czech Republic (“Lidove Noviny”), Slovakia (“Sme”) and Hungary (“Magyar Hirlap”) published Lukashenka’s caricatures in solidarity with members of “Tretsi Shliakh” (the Third Way). Last year Minsk prosecutor’s office initiated a criminal case for insult of Lukashenka in animated cartoons at the Internet-site of the organization mult.3dway.org.

Sometimes I think how much support we have internationally and we don’t know what to do with this support. So many people around the world want us to be free and we still don’t know if we want to be free or not.

28 February 2006
19 days before elections

Mood of the day: making important decisions

Today is Mardi Grass in Western World and very sunny day in Belarus. It’s still quite cold but the weather is nice. I made a final decision on what to do on the elections day. There were three options: to serve as interpreter for OSCE observer (it sounds like it doesn’t work anymore), or to observe the elections in my district in the capacity of an independent observer, or to join protesters on Oktyabrskaya square in Minsk at the end of elections day. I’m choosing the most interesting and moving option. Yes, Oktyabrskaya square!!! A friend of mine told me that one OSCE observer escaped from Gomel under the pretext of high level of radiation. Ha! And we live with this for twenty years already.

What’s interesting in Big Politics? “We are against putting pressure on anyone, and bringing about regime changes,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a joint session of senior Russian and Belarusian diplomats in Moscow yesterday. And in Gomel regional police is meddling in electioneering for Aleksandr Milinkevich, seizing leaflets, posters and other campaign paraphernalia from activists. Three people were detained in my native city over the weekend.

1 March 2006
18 days before elections

Mood of the day: worry

I’m writing from cyber cafe in Minsk now. I met Iryna Toustsik, Coordinator of Human Rights Service of ZUBR few minutes ago. She told me horrible things. Here they are…

A lot of young people, activists from the youth movement in Belarus stay in prison now. Five students were expelled from universities during last two weeks for political and public activity. A hundred young people are summoned to KGB and police for interrogation. Agents of KGB threaten activists and their parents: loss of job, expulsion from universities and schools and other different problems. KGB tries to recruit activists to work on them, conducts searches at flats and offices of activists. Police initiate preventive arrests of our activists, ostensibly for reasons of hooliganism and political graffiti, of political and public activity. There are situations when police beat them. Activist of ZUBR Artsiom Govin from Belaaziorsk Brest region was detained for political graffiti, taken to police department where policemen have beaten him. Now he is in hospital with concussion of the brain. Police accuse him under article 341 of the Criminal Code.

All over the country, in different cities there were searches and interrogations by KGB. Timaphej Dranchuk, Mikola Astrejka, Enira Branitskaja and Alaksandr Shalajka are in jail of KGB now. Dzmitry Kaspiarovich convicted on 27.02.2006 to five months of arrest. Artur Finkevich is waiting for court in jail. Alaksandr Kazakou, Dzmitry Zubro and Alaksej Janusheuski were detained for political graffiti, but convicted on article 363 of the Criminal code (resistance to police). There are a lot of Criminal and Administrative cases to activists for participation in elections campaign, who support A. Milinkevich – single candidate from United Democratic forces of Belarus.

2 March 2006
17 days before elections

Mood of the day: horror

I’m in Warsaw now. My colleague and I are going to LGBT conference in Budapest. We are stuck here till tomorrow because Hungarian Consul is out of the city. Bad news is coming from Belarus… I’m horrified.

Law enforcement officers have started shooting at a car with activists of the opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kozulin. An incident has taken place at about 11.45 a.m. not far from Kastrychnitski police department (Fabritsius Street) in Minsk. The injured candidate for presidency had been arrested there earlier. A car with three young men approached the police department. One more member of Kozulin’s team entered the car. He had a photo camera with pictures made during arrest of 20 activists of the headquarter by the building of the police department. Policemen tried to penetrate the car after him, but the young men closed the doors and tried to escape. Then one of the law-enforcers took a gun and sent a bullet in a windscreen and a tyre of the car.

Tonight we’re joining my friend from Equality Foundation (Poland) at the protest demonstration in front of Russian Embassy. I’ll let you know the details tomorrow.

3 March 2006
16 days before elections

Mood of the day: performing solidarity with Russian brothers

Yesterday evening I joined some 30 demonstrators to brave the freezing temperature and protest outside the Russian Embassy to wind-up Europe’s day of action against the homophobic outbursts of the Mayor of Moscow and his stated ban of Moscow Gay Pride scheduled at the end of May. There were also feminist organisations and human rights activists. A letter to Russian Chargé d’Affaires Vladimir Sedykh from Tomas Baczkowski, the president of Equality Foundation, and my very good friend Lukasz Palucki who coordinated the protest, was handed over during the peaceful demonstration. “We sympathise with our friends from Moscow,” they wrote. “That is why, in cooperation with partners from other countries, we protest against attempts of human and civil rights violation by Moscow and Russian authorities.”

Today we’ve got our visas. And in few hours we’ll leave for Hungary. At the same time at the giant Palace of the Republic, 2.500 delegates are attending a lavish Soviet-style congress. Among them are tractor drivers and priests, factory directors and soldiers.

4 March 2006
15 days before elections

Mood of the day: enjoying freedom and missing home

We’re in Budapest promoting human rights of Belarusian LGBT people. I found few minutes to jump into a cyber cafe and write something for you, my friends. It’s pleasant to spend time in a beautiful free city, but I’m already missing my Belarusian home and my people. Searching for news from home.

Jeans determine political fashion of Spring 2006. It started by the ZUBR leader Mikita Sasim. When he was beaten up during a peaceful action on September 16th, he put up a jeans shirt instead of a flag. Every day hundreds of new jeans ribbons are seen in Belarus. More and more young people choose jeans as a symbol of freedom. Jeans is seen everywhere: at monuments, trees, lampposts, buses and doors’ handles.

Following items updated on 12 March

5 March 2006
14 days before elections

Mood of the day: planning for nearest days

I’m still in Budapest. The conference is going to end, but our flight is
only tomorrow. The weather is not very nice: wet snow. Bela Bartok’s (my
favorite composer) museum is under reconstruction. I’ve been there around one and a half years ago and had plans to do it again during this trip.

My friend from Amnesty International Ukraine wrote about their finalized
plans for Can I Get A Right action. It’s about raising awareness on human
rights situation in Belarus. The events will take place on 16 March in Kyiv,
on 17 March in Chernogiov, and on 18 March on the border with Belarus. I’m coming, but didn’t decide about the date yet.

6 March 2006
13 days before elections

Mood of the day: leaving for home

We’re leaving Budapest for Belarus. And today is the start of March “Can I Get a Right?” campaign. Youngsters from across Europe will hitchhike to Belarusian border. The campaign will be crowned by a demonstration in Bialystok close to the Belarusian border on March 16 in which the participants will light candles and sport jeans clothes to express solidarity with imprisoned politicians and the families of Aleksandr Lukashenko`s opponents who went missing in 1999 and 2000 and with those advocating democratic changes in my country.

During their trip they will collect signatures on alternative ballot papers for the elections on 19 March, which they want to offer symbolically to Amnesty International (AI) Belarus. I’m invited by country coordinator for Belarus of the Dutch section of AI to accept the signatures. I believe this will be a hot experience.

7 March 2006
12 days before elections

Mood of the day: worry about big loss for my organization

Today is a black day for my organization. Last night we were about to cross the Belarusian border in Brest when boarder guards and customs officers came and confiscated the money I brought for my organization from Poland. As well as the fact that we’re are not registered in Belarus and dependant on our foreign partners we could work with cash only. It’s a common situation for all human rights groups and political organizations in Belarus.

The money was allocated for our Annual General Meeting and newsletter… and we spent so much time to find it, so we’re in a very deep crisis now. I’m completely broken… I hope my colleagues and donors will understand the situation. At least I have a witness (my colleague who traveled with me). And of course this situation is not unique in Belarusian conditions. But I’m still shocked.

I’m in Minsk now. I can’t write anymore today. I need a short vodka.

8 March 2006
11 days before elections

Mood of the day: enjoying holiday in women’s circle

I’m staying in Minsk. I don’t want to think about politics and endless problems. Today is a Women’s Day – one of the most respected holidays in Belarus since communist regime. I’m enjoying myself in the company of my sister and other girls. We’re drinking wine and watching movies. It’s nice to have a break.

Late evening I found out about the publication of the new US Department of State report on human rights practices worldwide. According to it our government’s human rights record remained very poor and worsened in some areas with the government continuing to commit numerous serious abuses. I’m proud that my materials were included in the report’s section on “Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination”.

9 March 2006
10 days before elections

Mood of the day: wondering how stupid life could be

One more step to the cult of personality in my country: songs about dictator appeared. A friend of mine watched Belarusian TV channel, and almost had a stroke. “All of our well-known singers are singing a song “Listen to Your Batka” (father). They are singing it all together, in a merry and cheerful way. The feeling resembles the feeling of the people who saw the cult of personality of a famous figure of German history growing,” my friend said. It’s possible to download the song from www.uploading.com/?get=4470LO23(282 KB).

And here are the lyrics:

He is a hard nut to crack,
He wouldn’t teach you anything wrong,
He can call to order everybody,
He is really cool,
He can easily redress all grievances,
He is reliable and calm.
When you look at him, you can easily see
Who is the master in the house.

Refrain
Na na na na na na…
Listen to Batka!
If you have problems
Listen to Batka!
If everything is fine…
Listen to Batka!

And here is the different story. Today Piatro M., 10 years old, returned from school with his friends. He stuck a sticker to a lamp-post and was seized by a policeman. The friends managed to flee. The detainee was taken to a police station. There the police called him names, demanding him to give to them the stickers. Then they examined the child’s pockets, took out the stickers and let him go.

10 March 2006
9 days before elections

Mood of the day: happy in family circle despite being in need

I’m in Gomel finally. Today I’m visiting my Granny and (a bit later) my mother. Post factum congratulations and small gifts for the Women’s Day. It’s a good sign that my relatives will vote for democratic candidate for the first time ever. My mother is watching TV soap. Lukashenka’s face is appearing on the screen after the commercial. My mother is switching channels, but his face is everywhere. And she is deciding to switch off TV. I’ve been forced to ask my boyfriend to send me some money (for the first time ever), due to my really poor financial record at the moment. I haven’t been in so bad need since my student years.

Despite the resistance of the powers, the meeting of Milinkevich with Gomel dwellers is to take place 14 March in the Rebellion Square. The candidate for presidency in Belarus Alyaksandr Kazulin stated that the democratic forces can win more than 60% of votes. Graffiti with slogans “Sasha, where is the money?” and “We want the new!” appeared in Minsk. (Sasha is the nickname of Aliaksandr).

11 March 2006
8 days before elections

Mood of the day: enjoying my friend’s company

A friend of mine from Vitebsk came to visit me in Gomel. He is social rights activist in community and also a member of our organization. He is helping me with my personal webpage and we’re enjoying our talks about everything in this life. There is something that connects us. I’ve been detained by police in Vitebsk last November. Later on we’re detained together in Gomel by our local police.

Milinkevich today met people in Brest. Several thousand people attended. Gomel meeting with Milinkevich on Tuesday is planned in the Rebellion Square. It is where the well-known tank-liberator of Gomel settles down. I live in this neighbourhood and I return home near the tank every day. And so: during last two days I observe an entertaining show. Bulldozers are bringing huge masses of snow from all parts of the city. I have an impression that by the day of a meeting with Milinkevich we’ll have a ski complex in the Rebellion Square and voters should get skis to meet their candidate. Otherwise it will be simply impossible to reach him.

12 March 2006
7 days before elections

Mood of the day: waiting for energy for the next week

According to the official sources, Lukashenka presented his condolences on the occasion of the death of the former Yugoslavian dictator in his widow. It is said in the message that he was deeply grieved by the news on the death of Milosevic; an outstanding politician, entirely committed to his motherland, passed away.

A friend of mine who lives and works in Minsk called me and invited me to join her for vote observation on 19 March in Gomel. This could be nice and funny to do it together with her, but I have already different plans for this day. Yes, next week will be very, very busy: a number of international trips and many interesting visits. Tonight I’m planning to go to Kiev for private reasons (just for one day). I am not sure I will have time to meet my friends there. It’s evening now and we have less than 7 days before the elections (I don’t count early voting which starts tomorrow).

13 March 2006
6 days before elections

Mood of the day: feeling free in Ukraine

I’m in Kiev for personal reasons. Ukrainians are preparing for elections too. You can see information points of different political parties everywhere on the main street. And there is no police at all… How different the situation is in my country. A small picket of one person in support of a democratic candidate is usually guarded by two policemen at least. I’m returning home the same day. As the border guard checks my bag, he asks “Do you have something that could damage the interests of the Republic of Belarus?”

And the same time in Belarus an opposition activist, who had been arrested and beaten by police officers on March 11, was taken to the hospital from the courtroom today. The Belarusian authorities refused to issue entrance visas to all 7 deputies of the European parliament, who planned to come to Belarus to the presidential elections as observers. An opposition activist in Vitebsk who has staged daily protests to call for a boycott of the coming presidential election was slapped with another fine, bringing to more than $2,700 the total amount of penalties imposed on him by a district court in two days. Milinkevich promises not to repress Lukashenka in case it would be established he had not committed crimes.

14 March 2006
5 days before elections

Mood of the day: sun, work and meeting Milinkevich

Today is sunny and quite warm. Unfortunately it doesn’t serve my mother and Granny very well. These fast weather changes make them suffer from blood pressure and headache. We’re eating famous Kiev torte and drinking Baileys. I’m also working on PC and meeting people in the city.

In the evening everybody is going to the Central stadium to meet Milinkevich. Special police forces are ready to meet citizens too, but two hours before Milinkevich. My friends, relatives are coming. In the night I’m going to Minsk, so I’ll let you know details of this important meeting tomorrow.

A community was created in the blog service livejournal.com to help to find lodgings for people arriving to Minsk on March 19. The participants can offer a place or ask for help for the period of presidential elections. Not only users of livejournal accounts, but anonymous users may take part in the community. The address of the community is: community.livejournal.com/kvartira19/

15 March 2006
4 days before elections

Mood of the day: hope

Yesterday, the meeting with Milinkevich was exciting. About six thousand people attended. People applauded and shouted “A New President!”, “Freedom!” Everybody had the feeling of a special atmosphere of unity and hope. It was very comfortable there despite the fact that Gomel is the most pro-Lukashenka city in Belarus.

In the evening I called my friend in Grodno. She is SD activist and our member too. Liza told me that eight Swedish and six Danish citizens, who arrived to take part in observation of the early voting in Belarus, representing a monitoring group of SILBA, are forced to leave the country. Swedish observers were arrested in Grodno after they visited a poling station. Liza organized meetings and visits for them.

I invited my brave friend to join me in Grodno on the way to Bialystok. Dutch hitchhikers are waiting to meet us there tomorrow. I just recently received a phone call from the leader of a group.

I’m in Minsk cyber cafe now right after the meeting with OSCE observers. They arrived in the morning. One of the guys is a good friend of mine from Poland. I’m trying to connect them with the right people here.

16 March 2006
3 days before elections

Mood of the day: exciting

Bialystok, 11:45am. We’ve just arrived. Dutch friends picked us up at the train station. We’re going to the hostel of the University of Bialystok. Hitchhikers are staying here for two days. We’re inflating a big amnesty candle to be installed on Koscushki square at 2pm. We have some time to talk with the guys about their 10-days long trip from Amsterdam to Belarusian border. Actions in Bonn, Berlin and Warsaw were extremely successful. They collected more than 3 000 signatures under the petition addressed to Lukashenka and more than 1 000 ballot cards.

5:55pm. It’s a quite cold here, but the atmosphere is very warm and friendly. After a cup of coffee in the nearest café we’re going to the square. Our Dutch and Polish friends are unwrapping the petition. It’s 30-meters long. Probably the longest petition I’ve ever seen. We’re holding the petition and reading the names of those who signed it. Later on the
stage the organizers of action are handing the petition and voting cards to me. I’m excited to feel solidarity of thousands of people from all over Europe and especially of those who came to the Koscushki square today. White-red-white flags are fluttering under the square. There are many journalists here.

We’re arriving to Grodno late in the night. I’m taking overnight train to Minsk. Liza is calling me in the night. She just heard about our action from Radio ZET.

17 March 2006
2 days before elections

Mood of the day: calm before a storm

I’m in Minsk now writing from the main city cyber café which is not far from Presidential residency. It’s very quite in the city, street are empty. Most students have voted already and went home to enjoy two extra free days.
Belarusian TV reported that 600 000 people have voted so far.

More than 70 opposition activists were arrested and sentenced to short jail sentences in the last few days. Most of the activists were jailed either on charges of petty hooliganism or disobedience to police orders. KGB has opened a criminal case in connection with what it says is a plot to topple Lukashenko. Belarusian Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov said that he could not guarantee safety to journalists during the protest that opposition forces plan to stage in Minsk on March 19. He told reporters yesterday that he could guarantee it only if the reporters did not move outside an area that police officers would designate specially for them.

18 March 2006
1 day before elections

Mood of the day: spring in the heart

It looks like spring is coming to Belarus. The weather is nice. It is warm (+10 ºC). The skating-ring on October Square is melting and waiting for tomorrow evening. My friend from Gomel called me in the morning and told about his experience of returning from Minsk yesterday night. Police at the train station revised all of his belongings (every small piece). Other people from the train also passed the same procedures. He also told me that Belarusian-Russian border is closed for foreign visitors (except Russian citizens). Belarusian border guards are returning them back from the border.

People from different regions are arriving in Minsk. My colleague from Vitebsk called me last night and told that he’s in Minsk already with his friends.

This is the last piece of my diary. See you tomorrow on October Square! We’ll win!!!

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