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The city is ours!
March 23, 2006 2:09 AM   Subscribe

Город наш! The city is ours! Belarussians are using weblogs, online communities, and text messaging to organize, share news and numerous photos, and oppose their corrupt government's fraudulent election. Patriotism, flags, and dark blue is in fashion, whether the government likes it or not.
posted by insomnia_lj (32 comments total)

 
LiveJournal also has this community in Minsk, which has been overflowing with posts during the last few days. Belarus is a bit different than Russian, but using Babelfish still gives you the gist of what is being said.
posted by insomnia_lj at 2:47 AM on March 23, 2006


It should be noted that nobody knows who won the election. The population is so cowed, it's entirely possible that the current regime won. That said, what is abundantly clear is that the election was completely corrupt and fraudulent.

I used Babelfish and my weak knowledge of Russian to read a moving account of conditions in the tent city that has arisen in the middle of Minsk's Oktyabrskaya Square. It sounds like there is a tight cordon around the area that people are somehow slipping through. The temperatures are well below freezing, and the crowds at night decrease to only a few hundred people. Supporters and good samaritans try to smuggle in thermoses of tea and bits of bread and sausage, but many of these are getting arrested by the authorities, and several have been sentenced to be kept in prison for a week or two. Still, the crowds appear to be growing during the days, and ramping up for a large protest on Saturday, which is the anniversary of the first independent Belarussian republic.

More excellent photos here and here.
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:27 AM on March 23, 2006


Excellent post - wish i could read some Russian too, though.

How did they originally succeed in setting up the tent city, and why haven't they all been carted away by the secret police yet? Is the government allowing a tiny group to stand around with a few flags while they're arresting anyone coming or going from the square just so they can later have a single instance of "free speech" to refer to? I'm amazed that this is finally happening, and have high hopes for Saturday.
posted by xanthippe at 5:13 AM on March 23, 2006


Wow - sometimes pancakes aren't funny.
posted by xanthippe at 5:19 AM on March 23, 2006


I just don't think it's going to happen. Numbers have been falling rather than rising; by Wednesday morning they were at about 200. It sounds like the opposition is pinning its hopes on a big turnout on the 25th, which has its own problems-- the security service has reportedly threatened to get everyone out on the 24th to ensure that there IS no big protest on the 25th, and the second major opposition candidate, Alyaksander Kazulin, is trying to coax people out of the square before then.

I would love to be proved wrong, obviously.

RFE/RL Newsline has been doing some good reporting on Belarus in the last few days if you don't speak Russian. The police have apparently been focusing their attention on people who stray from the larger group (to get food, recruit more people, etc.) and attacking and/or arresting them when they're alone and out of view of the cameras. So yes, they are restraining themselves from a major crackdown in full world view, but that is part of what worries me, because I'm not sure that will stop them on Saturday, especially if there is a big turnout.
posted by posadnitsa at 5:32 AM on March 23, 2006


Also, they started calling it the 'Denim Revolution' (quite prematurely) "in September when an opposition activist, Mikita Sasim, made a flag of his denim shirt -- before being beaten unconscious by police. Belarus' democrats now hope that their search for a catchy image may be over: Ukraine had orange, Georgia chose rose, Kyrgyzstan adopted the tulip. Denim has the added advantage of having strong counter-cultural echoes: jeans in the Soviet era represented cultural freedom and western consumerism." via the Belarussian Review
posted by xanthippe at 5:53 AM on March 23, 2006


Hmm. I clicked on the first link (Город наш!) and at the top of the page was:

Hrust_ray! Прекратите распространение негативной информации про Милинкевича. Она не соответствует действительности. Она вредит общему делу. Воспринимайте меня как голос штаба, если угодно.
... Почему вы не можете проявлять инициативу, сохраняя единство борцов?

Which is to say:

Hrust_ray! Stop spreading negative information about Milinkevich. It doesn't correspond to reality. It hurts the common cause. Take me as the voice of headquarters, if you like.
...Why can't you show initiative while preserving the unity of the fighters?


Here comes the new boss...
posted by languagehat at 6:05 AM on March 23, 2006


But who is going to win Belarussian Idol?

Seriously, though, this is a gripping topic. Thanks for the links.
posted by Fezboy! at 7:02 AM on March 23, 2006


We need our own Blue revolution.

Unfortunately, we need Blue leaders first.
posted by empath at 7:12 AM on March 23, 2006


Hmm, Rep. John Shimkus says election in Belarus was fradulent. I wonder what else he says. Because clearly, a person like him would never think to push some sort of an agenda.
Insomnia, dude, before fighting for democracy, freedom and voting rights in some foreign country, how about fixing things in your own?
posted by c13 at 7:20 AM on March 23, 2006


"Hmm, Rep. John Shimkus says election in Belarus was fradulent. I wonder what else he says."

Cheap and cynical, c13. Shimkus wasn't the only US Rep. there. There was a Democrat too, and numerous international observers.

"The 19th March presidential election did not meet the required international standards for free and fair elections," said Alcee Hastings, a special coordinator for an Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer mission."

Gee, I wonder what else he says...
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:09 AM on March 23, 2006


Here are the OCSE preliminary conclusions (pdf) about the election, btw.
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:14 AM on March 23, 2006


I don't think it necessarily will happen either. It's very dicey and dangerous, though saying 200 at dawn is kind of silly, considering there were about 10,000 there that same night.
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:22 AM on March 23, 2006


I have a feeling there's going to be allot of blowback from these colour coded revolutions. It's an open secret (*) that American organization and American money has gone a long way towards helping these revolutions.

Russia is getting a little punchy, and starting to push back against NGOs. A recent spy scandal hasn't helped matters. The Exile's Mark Ames has a "plague on both your houses"(**) view of things, which highlights the dangers of NGOs being co-oped.

Of greater worry is the fact that Russia is working with Iran. Not just on nuclear power but also on conventional weapons. Now, Russia probably would have sold Iran weapons anyway. I'm just wondering wether a nervous Russia, ringed by new U.S. bases and pro Western governments isn't apt to start pushing back more overtly than they have been.

(*) Full disclosure Dr. Paul isn't exactly mainstream

(**) There's more to it than The War Nerd
posted by Grimgrin at 9:34 AM on March 23, 2006


Insomnia, dude, before fighting for democracy, freedom and voting rights in some foreign country, how about fixing things in your own?

c13 is right on - I'm not reading the international news anymore until the USA is a perfect utopia. Like Grimgin said, it doesn't really concern us, anyway.
posted by xanthippe at 10:15 AM on March 23, 2006


That is emphatically not what I said xanthippe. I was trying to look at some larger context for the "Denim Revolution" and what it might mean in general for relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Just because I believe in democracy and the right of individuals to political self determination doesn't mean the discussion of this event on my part has to be limited to gushings of unbridled support. And it certainly doesn't mean I'm not allowed to examine the motives and history of the people involved in the moment.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:40 AM on March 23, 2006


Of course I'm cynical. 200 people gathered on a square. That's a Revolution! The city is "ours"!
Even though It should be noted that nobody knows who won the election. , we know it was all fradulent. If someone with anti-Western tendencies wins, it can't possibly be otherwise. No one in their right mind would willingly not want to be America's little friends. They must be just so cowed to elect a guy who kept the country stable for the last decade and haven't let it turn into Ukraine or Georgia.
posted by c13 at 11:08 AM on March 23, 2006


I think Grimgrin has a point, in that USAID and orgs like that are trying to flog an agenda. That said, I don't have too much problem with people funding pro-democracy orgs if the government in charge is so blaintant about trying to rig and steal elections.

What is needed, perhaps, is some kind of respected international body that makes sure such funding goes to help create free, unbiased elections, rather than clearly supporting particular parties.

"Of course I'm cynical. 200 people gathered on a square. That's a Revolution! The city is "ours"!
Even though It should be noted that nobody knows who won the election."


What is this fascination with "200 people"? Let's see how many of you would like to camp outside all night in 15 degree temperatures, lots of wind, no toilets, not enough food, surrounded by the military, etc.? Under such circumstances, having too many people there overnight could be a major liability for them. That said, quoting 200 is hardly representative of what we've seen at other times. Does this look like 200 people to you?

Personally, I think it's likely that the Belarussian leader won the election. That, however, is not the point. The point is that the election was clearly improper.

It's telling that the Minsk community I cited is for all people in Minsk, regardless of political orientation. It has about 1000 members, and yet it's full of widespread, popular outrage over this election, with only some very minimal dissent from pro-government supporters. If the opposition only got six percent of the vote, these people would've been shouted down by now.

So no, it seems to me that they have a right to win or lose a fair, representative, internationally monitored election, without being beaten or arrested by police, without incredibly biased state-controlled media coverage, etc.

They may not have a right to win, but they certainly should have a right to lose fairly.
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:42 AM on March 23, 2006


Here's a blast from the past...

Several hundred protestors camped outside Georgia's parliament for the fourth consecutive day Tuesday as President Eduard Shevardnadze signaled a tougher line on demonstrators calling for his resignation.

Only several hundred? Man... those guys will never get anywhere.
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:48 AM on March 23, 2006


They may not have a right to win, but they certainly should have a right to lose fairly.

Well said.

Another blast from the past: there were only about 55 guys here! Forget about it!
posted by languagehat at 12:09 PM on March 23, 2006


That is emphatically not what I said xanthippe.

Of course - I was being sarcastic in my previous comment. Sorry if that wasn't clear. Actually I thought your observations were very interesting, and i've been scooting ever closer to the edge of my seat every time i read something about this big, tangled mess - which no one seems to be paying too much attention to, either.

Neither would I be surprised if the regime actually had won the popular vote, albeit by a fraction of the margin they reported. I'm very interested to see how the dialogue goes between the Belarussian government and whichever Western diplomats start clamoring for a redo first - thus far, the events are following the script closely enough (that is, fulfilling the implicit predictions of all the recent "Europe's-Last-Dictatorship" rhetoric) that they may as well forget the question of the actual numbers. Yet it would have been absurd of Lukashenko to distort the results in spite of an "honest" win, knowing how closely he's being watched. From where I'm sitting, it all looks a bit surreal - almost like it could be a hastily-scripted sequel to all the other recent "color/theme" revolutions. Let's hope something good comes out of it, though.
posted by xanthippe at 12:18 PM on March 23, 2006


It's telling that the Minsk community I cited is for all people in Minsk, regardless of political orientation. It has about 1000 members, and yet it's full of widespread, popular outrage over this election, with only some very minimal dissent from pro-government supporters. If the opposition only got six percent of the vote, these people would've been shouted down by now.

Have you gone completely insane? Opinions of 1000 people (0.00059% of population of Minsk, and that's not counting the rest of the country) represent widespread popular outrage? One that can't be "shouted down" for all four days since the election?

As far as Georgia goes, some fine democratic, peace loving, prosperous country it has become!
posted by c13 at 12:34 PM on March 23, 2006


"Have you gone completely insane? Opinions of 1000 people (0.00059% of population of Minsk, and that's not counting the rest of the country) represent widespread popular outrage?"

Statistically, yes, it does. 1000+ people out of 10 million is a perfectly acceptable size for a statistical survey.

Now, I would be the first to admit that the audience on that community isn't representative of all Belarussians, and lacks the balance you'd like to have in an official poll. These people are likely to be more computer savvy, metropolitan, wealthier, and more international than most. They'd make a poor random sample of the population, but that just means that the margin of error would increase significantly. Not significantly enough, however, to say that the results meant nothing whatsoever. Clearly, this is representative of a considerable amount of public outrage.

My experience with Russian users on LJ also indicates that they're likely to be considerably older on average than the average LJ demographics for the US, where LJ is more prone to be used by teenagers. See this Wired article if you want a bit of a feel for the kind of community the site has in that part of the world. It's an incredibly strong community and LiveJournal is a very important site for these people. In many ways, its as important to them as OhMyNews is to the South Koreans, as it serves many of the same purposes. It's like the old Russian joke... There is no news in 'Pravda'(a word which means Truth), and no truth in 'Izvestiya'.(which means news.) Sadly, this Soviet-era saying is still relevant today.

It's very telling that out of many, many posts over the past few days, very few of them have been pro-government, or even ones like "Shut up about the election already!", despite the fact that the "official" pro-government vote supposedly outnumbers the opposition by a ratio of nearly fifteen-to-one. That, to me, indicates widespread popular outrage against the government. Maybe not 50% widespread, but certainly a very significant percentage above 6%.

Certainly, there's no way that on MeFi that a 6% ideological minority would completely dominate the site's general message without being shouted down or flooded with dissenting opinions. It just wouldn't happen. So why would you expect something different on an open public community in another country unless there was something very unusual going on here?

I understand you may be in a mood to argue the point, and may especially want to criticise US financial involvement in such elections (which, incidentally, I don't disagree with you about), has it occurred to you that by lauding Belarus' comparatively stable society while dismissing legitimate dissent, you're also turning a blind eye to fair, honest elections, to beatings, to disappearances, murders, political prisoners, etc?

It's not the ends here, it's the means... and I have good reasons to suspect that a lot of Belarussians are chafing under such repressive means, regardless of the successes or failure of the ends.
posted by insomnia_lj at 2:52 PM on March 23, 2006


Dude, I AM Russian. I know what Pravda means. I've read the original. I know exactly what kind of people populate the LJ. I also know that a lot of the ones that don't, also don't want to have anything to do with the West or America or democracy or things like that. Just like we on Metafilter are a minority, the ones on LJ are a minority also. And I do support this minority. But the fact of the matter is, the majority of Belorussians, just like the majority of Russians are very sceptical of the Western world view. They've just got their lives under some sort of control and they are pretty happy about it. They don't want revolutions.
I also know that many of them have much better things to do than to sit in front of a computer and type rebellious messages to their foreign friends.
What I'm saying is this: once upon a time there was an allience of countries that was called CIS. Over some time this allience fell apart, with some countries trying to follow the West, and some countries trying to remain themselves. Now, the ones that chose to remain themselves are doing much better than the ones that aspired to become new Americas.

Sorry if this sounds somewhat incoherent, but I'm intoxicated at the moment.
posted by c13 at 6:08 PM on March 23, 2006


I guess what I'm trying to say is that not all of those "colored" revolutions are good for normal people.
posted by c13 at 6:24 PM on March 23, 2006


Ah, yes, of course dear c13, those pesky revolutions aren't good for "normal people". The normal people here, i presume, equates those who directly benefit from the regime? Or the ones forced into submission by decades of dictatorships under various guises?
I doubt most of the non-Russian speakers of mefi can truly appreciate the hidden meaning you put into the words "some countries trying to follow the West, and some countries trying to remain themselves". Being intoxicated does not excuse this swipe - what these countries used to be is remnants of a dictatorship, and I'm sure it's great to be living under the wise leadership of the former collective farm manager who wins 80% of the vote. This is not a proper mefi comment, but people like you make me sick. Maybe it's cause I'm also a Russian speaker, just not intoxicated enough to justify dictatorships in the name of "otherness".
posted by bokononito at 11:00 PM on March 23, 2006


"I guess what I'm trying to say is that not all of those "colored" revolutions are good for normal people."

I don't deny that this can be the case, but the actual human rights have been quite good and widely appreciated by pretty much everyone.

Freedom of speech, socialized healthcare, and knowledge that you're not going to be left jobless and starving in the street can exist simultaneously. There are a lot of good, well-run countries with efficient governments out there who have all of the above.
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:42 AM on March 24, 2006


people like you make me sick

Bokononito, not only are you not paying attention to the admonition at the bottom of your screen ("...not at other members of the site"), you don't know what you're talking about. Your half-digested random assortment of news stories and sense of righteous outrage at bad foreigners does not trump c13's actual life experience. Maybe if you knew some actual survivors of the USSR you wouldn't be so glib and arrogant.
posted by languagehat at 4:22 AM on March 24, 2006


Being intoxicated does not excuse this swipe -
Of course not. The only reason I've brought up intoxication is as an excuse for the typos.
I'm not advocating for the good all times. What I'm saying is that, just because some country elects a government that does not deify the West, does not mean that the elections are undoubtely forged and everyone is oppressed and is going to be loaded into cattle cars to be shipped off to Siberia.
If you just briefly consider the issue, it will become obvious that America, with the rest of the "West", is trying to prevent Russia from recovering. They don't want it to become the superpower again. And one of the ways to accomplish this is to make sure that Russia is surrounded by hostile countries. Hence all the colored revolutions. It seems strange, doesn't it, that in Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and the rest of the former republics, the bad guys are always friendly to russians and skeptical of the west, and the pro-western ones are always the "beacons of freedom and democracy". Even people like Nazarbaev in Usbekistan.
The West does not give a shit about freedom, democracy or prosperity (especially) of Belorussians. Just like it does not give a shit about Ukranians or Georgians.
Nowthen, I haven't been to Belorus, and I traveled Georgia a long time ago. But my family lives in Russia, and my wife's family lives in Ukraine. So I visit both of these places fairly often. And it takes just one day to figure out in which country people are better off. Belorussians see the difference also, therefore it is not all that suspicious that they might choose to hold off the denim revolution.
Anyways, I should stop ranting less bokononito pukes all over the place.
posted by c13 at 7:31 AM on March 24, 2006


languagehat, given i was raised in moscow, in a family that greatly benefited from the regime, and hear of many events in their political life before it becomes public knowledge, your assertion i don't know what i am talking about is intriguing.

more to the point (c13): i'm not advocating the cause of the West vs. the cause of the East (whatever these might be). The bad guys in the non-Muslim republics surrounding russia are mostly pro-Soviet. No, this is not a typo. They are the Ukrainian / Belorussian / Georgian version of Baathists, who lost or stand to lose the power and are determined to cling to it. Russia to them is a guarantee of their power. Don't make the mistake of thinking it is about the West. The aspiration, sure - many people are sick and tired of the oppression that has always accompanied Russians foreign policy (US foreign policy doesn't stand anywhere close). They want out. But on the other side of the equation, it is mostly about either fear of uncertainty (largely old people left behind by the reform, a population that is neglected no matter what) and about power (the ones who control the media, the military, etc in Belarus). Unlike you, I have been to Belarus, and know firsthand what a depressing ...hole of a place it is. And if before you could justify that by Soviet economics, today the only excuse is the repressive government on the top who clings to power at any cost.

I'm not sure what the last part of your message means. Is it that because Russia is better off economically, Belorussians should have it as their beacon and not Ukraine? If so, the assertion is simply false - the proper comparison would be having Russia vs. having the EU + the US. And we both know which one is better off.

Or is it a comparison of Russia and Ukraine in terms of where they got with the policies they have? In that case, I wonder if you realize that the Ukrainian government up until recently has been pro-Russian..

On a more general note: it's not about the West or its interests - Ukrainians, Belorussians, etc, all care about what's best for them. Yes, there are horrible pro-Western regimes (Nazarbayev and his friends around). Yes there are corrupt pro-Western politicians. The nature of the regime is not defined by being pro-Western or pro-Russian. The choice Belorussians face today is that of an authoritarian and his oppressive regime vs. being able to say what you think, not fear who you talk to, what your kids say in school about what you say at home, etc etc. It seems to me that the choice is clear.
posted by bokononito at 4:03 PM on March 24, 2006


"The choice Belorussians face today is that of an authoritarian and his oppressive regime vs. being able to say what you think, not fear who you talk to, what your kids say in school about what you say at home, etc etc."

Thanks for saying this, bokononito. It feels especially good to hear those words from someone who grew up in Russia.
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:44 PM on March 25, 2006


A few choice pictures from today's protest in Belorussia.






posted by insomnia_lj at 5:48 PM on March 25, 2006


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