To date any political, social, cultural activity that does not coincide with the positions of the official Minsk carries huge risks for freedom and people’s lives. The current state of affairs is characterized by the continuation of repressions against representatives of civil society, academic circles, political forces, the media, and ordinary citizens for being somehow active in civic activities / protests, or having expressed their disagreement with the actions of Belarusian or Russian authorities. Nowadays Belarusians are jailed for simply exchanging news from the independent press on social networks with their friends. According to the human rights center “Viasna”, as of July, 5, 1,234 people have been convicted in Belarus for politically motivated reasons (1). 86 people were convicted in June in criminal cases related to the manifestation of disagreement with the actions of the authorities. In total, they were sentenced to 109 years (7).
As for the latest mass expression of citizens’ disagreement with the actions of the authorities, it is worth mentioning the peaceful protests of Belarusians during the constitutional referendum on February 27, 2022. That day, more than 800 people were detained for expressing an anti-war position, the total number of detainees subsequently amounted to a little less than 900 people (2), (3).
Belarusians also took other steps against the presence of the Russian army in Belarus and its advance into the territory of Ukraine. This was expressed via guerrilla actions to disrupt the functioning of railway tracks (detained activists are now facing the death penalty), cyber attacks on ministries and infrastructure services, and the creation of communities in which Belarusians post information about the movement and activity of Russian troops (despite the criminal responsibility for this).
The authorities’ response to such activity was the tightening of legislation (the introduction of the death penalty for attempted terrorism), torture conditions of detention of Belarusians, demonstrative brutality during the detention of “rail guerrillas” using firearms.
As for activities in the field of culture, art, and education, the situation is not marked by any improvements. On the contrary, the monopolization of the humanitarian sphere of activity by the state continues.
In recent months, a number of educators and representatives of the academic community have been arrested, art exhibitions and concerts have been cancelled, and many publishing houses and shops with nationally oriented literature have been closed. Outstanding representatives of the Belarusian intelligentsia remain behind bars.
Human rights defenders during January-March 2022 witnessed more than 310 violations of the rights of cultural figures (5). Only in the last 15 days (15.06. – 30.06.) 5 people, related to educational activities, were convicted for their public work, among them a court verdict to philosopher V. Matskevich – 5 years in a strict regime colony. Human rights defenders also stressed administrative arrests for organizing a holiday for Ukrainian children, tortures against a local historian during this period.
State bodies continue to conduct cruel and preventive activities to “clean up” society. Experts note signs of “competition” between law enforcement agencies (4). In recent months, figures of independent trade unions, as well as representatives of the legal community, have been particularly subjected to repressions.
The situation with non-governmental and non-profit organizations remains a «scorched field». So, as of 24 January 2022, 339 civil society organizations in Belarus were in the process of forced liquidation (6). Among them there are educational and environmental initiatives, a hospice for children, organizations helping people with disabilities.
Belarus’ dependence on Moscow continues to increase actively. This is facilitated by both political rapprochement and the sanctions policy of the European Union and the United States, as a result of which the economic spectrum of Minsk’s cooperation with Western partners is significantly limited.
Thus, the sanctions affected about 70% of Belarusian exports to the EU, or almost 17% of Belarus’ total merchandise exports. The ban on potash transit through Lithuania blocks another 5% of exports. In addition, in April, the EU also sanctioned work with motor transport companies from Belarus, which worsened the situation with the provision of transit services and also has a negative outcome for Minsk.
In addition to the international isolation of Belarus and entering into force of most of the sanctions imposed earlier, Minsk lost another important economic partner — Ukraine, which accounted more than 14% of Belarusian exports (4). Thus, Russia’s share in Belarus’ foreign trade is growing, and there are no alternative ways to receive macroeconomic and financial assistance for Minsk.
A significant limitation of the sovereignty of Belarus is largely expressed in the preservation of the Russian armed forces on the Belarusian territory, ongoing missile attacks from the territory of Belarus, despite all kinds of statements by the highest state officials of Belarus about their imminent withdrawal in February.
The rapprochement with Russia is also clearly expressed in the adoption by state propaganda of Russian narratives about the “Nazi” Ukraine and the need for a “special military operation”. It is important to emphasize that many Russian TV channels continue to play a significant role in the Belarusian media field. The destruction of the independent press, as well as the rhetoric of Belarusian state channels in favor of greater “pro-Russianness” further worsens the situation in the field of information, adversely affects the formation of public opinion of citizens.
Thus, in recent months, despite the tightening of repression, Belarusians have been trying to prevent Russian troops from fighting in the war with Ukraine, supporting their southern neighbour in every possible way. An even narrower orientation towards Moscow contributes to the loss of part of state sovereignty, existence within the framework of the “Russian world”. The situation with respect for human rights continues to deteriorate, which leads to the degradation of national culture, education, and civil society. According to human rights defenders, as of July, 5, 1,234 people are behind bars in Belarus for politically motivated reasons. Any civic activity is strictly regulated by the state, political speeches against/protests guarantee to be accompanied by arrests and prison terms.