Monday, November 9, 2009

Belarus: the battle for recognition, a battle for freedom (part 1)

Minsk is a big, clean city, well lit and beautiful, with impressive buildings: a pleasant city to live in. On the other hand you see posters with militaristic, communist symbols on these big buildings. In front of the “parliament” building there is a big statue of Lenin. If you travel further, you will pass a big yellow building: the headquarters of the Belarusian secret service, still called the KGB here.Further, crossing the river you will see a kind of barn. This is the place where Lenin held his first communist congress in 1898. When you walk further, you will arrive at the Victory Square where a monument with an eternal flame to remember the victims of the Second World War when also many people were killed and 80% of the houses were destroyed.If you go further and leave the city, you will find one of the mass graves where hundreds of thousands of people were killed by this same communist regime. Every year, on the second Sunday in November, a procession is held to remember the victims of this regime. The communist regime still keeps the country in its iron fist through the ruling president Alexander Lukashenka.

In 2004 the president tried to destroy the area to create a new ring road around Minsk but protesters opposed these plans. Belarus is called the last dictatorship in Europe, where people can be persecuted if they organize religious activities outside the official religious institutions and churches, and where priests and pastors were expelled from the country and churches forced to sell their buildings for ridiculously cheap prices. But it is also the country of beautiful buildings and castles, clean cities, friendly people and where Western fast foods and companies are opening up. Minsk is a city with a turbulent past, a difficult present, but (as we hope and pray) with a better future.


That is why the Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD) wanted to organize a second founding congress. Through careful collaboration between the European Union and Belarus, there seemed to be an opening for the BCD to organize a founding congress and to register their party. Therefore on 28 February, a founding congress was held as a first step. But although this congress was organized without big incidents, because of intimidation and the refusal of the Belarusian ministry of “Justice”, the party was prevented from registering. Now they decided to try to organize it for the second time.

However, the authorities refused the permission needed to hire any location in the city which would have made it almost impossible for the party to organize the congress. But when the leadership of the BCD declared that they would organize the congress on the big Kastrychnitskaya square in Minsk if they did not receive permission, they were finally allowed to sign a contract one day before the planned congress on 30 October. The congress could be held at the same location as the first founding congress: in the conference room of the Minsk Tractor Factory.

However, when representatives of the party in the morning of the 31st went to the square to invite the people who did not know that the congress would take place in the Tractor Factory, they found police cars, military and police on motorcycles circling the square, trying to stop the people. It was therefore good that the congress did not take place on the square, especially since the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced via the website Interfax that people would be arrested if the congress took place on the square.

(to be continued)

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