Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a strong belief that dictatorships are more effective management systems in times of crisis, as such systems are able to act decisively and operatively. The case of Belarus is disappointing: when decision-making depends on one deeply incompetent person, the entire state management system is paralyzed and inactive.
We are sharing how Alexander Lukashenko and his officials are fighting COVID-19 in Belarus.
The situation looks similar to fighting the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster on April 26, 1986, in the USSR.
- The Belarusian authorities deny the presence of the SARS-CoV-2coronavirus in Belarus, and instead of a real fight against the virus, we hear idiotic jokes from Belarusian officials. Alexander Lukashenko has publicly stated that “the virus does not exist” because “it is not visible.” By the way, radiation is not visible also, but it is dangerous. Alexander Lukashenko also advised all Belarusians to be treated for coronavirus with a “tractor, vodka and sauna.” Minister of Health Vladimir Karanik suggested that Belarusians be treated for coronavirus “with spring, with love dates and positive emotions.”
- Nevertheless, from March 1, 2020,for the first time in several years, the allowance for burial (funeral) was reduced in Belarusby a significant amount for Belarus – 120.6 Belarusian roubles (almost 50 euros). As it is clear from the previous proposal, in Belarus, after the death of a person, his/her relatives receive a certain amount for the funeral. This amount increased year by year. They reduced it for the first time, and this appears to be informal preparation for mass deaths when the authority decided to save on paying this money for a funeral.
- Doctors sign a paper “on non-disclosure of secrets”, and the KGB and other law enforcement agencies threaten to initiate criminal cases if information about coronavirus patients gets out. Doctors agree to share this information now only anonymously, and cannot be invoked.
- KGB officers intimidate the patients themselvesand their relatives. On March 18, 2020, a woman Tatyana Khuzeeva, 58 years old, died in Vitebsk. She was buried in a closed coffin and prohibited to invite anyone to a funeral. On March 20, 2020, her husband, daughter-in-law and a neighbor gave interviews to independent journalists of several publications, where they complained about the inability to “bury her humanly” and talked about the coronavirus found in a woman, which is why they had to take tests and quarantine. On March 21, 2020, Alexander Lukashenko instructed KGB chairman Valery Vakulchik to “deal roughly with villains who throw up fakes about COVID-19”. In response, all independent media published transcripts of the interview with the relatives of the deceased woman, proving the veracity of the initially presented information. However, the Ministry of Health has publicly stated that the woman did not die of the coronavirus. Then the husband of the deceased suddenly became confused, “forgot” the date of hospitalization of his wife, and “remembered” that the coffin was open after all. Our experience shows that when relatives so abruptly change their testimonies, especially, at the background of Lukashenko’s threats of “to deal roughly”, it means that they’ve already “dealt with” them. There are other unofficial testimonies of people in hospitals about the intimidation of them and their relatives by the KGB.
- The system of counting patients with coronavirus is very similar to the system of counting votes in the Belarusian elections, which means the concealment and falsification of statistics. During the election, members of the commission count silently their packs of ballots and pass on their number to the chairman of the commission. As a result, only the chairman of the commission knows the accumulated number and can correct it in the right direction. Monitoring by observers, in this case, is not possible. Today, the Ministry of Health does not provide complete statistics on COVID-19 diseases by region and city. There are no specific numbers on the department website. Some data is being sent to the telegram channel of the Ministry, and even with a delay of two to three days. And the press releases of the Ministry of Health resemble the tasks of entertaining arithmetic for elementary school, and the exact number of cases is not indicated.
Here, for example, is the text of the press release of the Ministry of Health on March 18, 2020: “According to the current state at 08:00 a.m. today, only 9 patients have clinical features of COVID-19 infection, that is, in fact, they are sick. There are 37 patients with positive laboratory tests but without clinical manifestations of the disease. Five patients have been discharged, three more are being re-examined by the laboratory, and they are preparing for discharge soon. ”
So how many corona-infected patients are there in Belarus as of March 18, 2020?
If you believe the announced figures by the Ministry of Health on this day, then 51 people are sick. If you add up all the mentioned coronavirus patients in this press release – who is sick, who has been discharged, etc. there are 54 of them. There are many such inconsistencies in the press releases of the Ministry of Health.
The Ministry of Health also introduced the new term “essentially sick with a coronavirus”, but did not explain – this means a person is sick with a coronavirus or not.
All these facts indicate that the Ministry of Health of Belarus is not interested in providing open and complete statistics, but is doing everything to maximally confuse and hide the real numbers.
- The authorities do not take tests and make various diagnoses that are not officially associated with coronavirus, so it is difficult to track the exact number of cases. Authorities diagnose SARS, pneumonia, bronchitis, etc. As a result, the coronavirus in Belarus turned into the ” Schrodinger’s coronavirus”: it is, and it is not at the same time. On March 23, 2020, the Ministry of Health confirmed the case of coronavirus in a 58-year-old resident of Zhitkovichi, who had been on sick leave with a diagnosis of SARS before this week, and lost consciousness on March 21, leaving the clinic after consulting a therapist. On March 25, 2020, the Ministry of Health reported that this woman is not sick with coronavirus. At the same time, the woman’s colleagues were forbidden to “communicate with journalists” under the threat of sanctions.
- Coronavirus tests are “getting lost.”Several people from different regions complained that they had a high fever, dry cough and other signs of coronavirus, but the passed tests were “lost” by doctors and there were no results.
- A serious wave of new repressions against video bloggers and journalists who can “unearth something” has in the process.
- On March 18, 2020, there was information about the trial of the author of the YouTube channel MozgOn – the blogger Vladimir Tsyganovich, the trial was held a week earlier, on March 12. Vladimir himself was absent from the trial. He was accused of publishing a video calling everyone worried about rising fuel prices to come to the metropolitan office of the “Belneftekhim” concern. Tsyganovich was convicted in absentia under part 3 of article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus (“violation of the procedure for organizing and holding a mass event repeatedly during the year”) with the sanction of 15 days of administrative arrest. The period of arrest will be considered from the moment of detention.
- On the evening of March 19, 2020, unknown people tried to get into the apartment of the wife and son of the well-known human rights activist and blogger Oleg Zhelnov in Bobruisk. According to neighbours. For half an hour, unknown people knocked on the door and even seemed to try to crack it, but then abandoned this idea. No documents were left in the mailbox or near the door; the purpose of their visit remained unknown.
- On the evening of March 19, 2020, the former political prisoner, the author of the telegram channel on mutual assistance of Belarus during the coronavirus pandemic – Nikolai Dedok was detained. He was accused under article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (“disorderly conduct”) for graffiti at the Minsk hostel. At night, Nikolai was taken to the temporary prisoner cell, where he was before the trial, which took place on the afternoon of March 20 in the court of the Moscow region of Minsk. During the process, it turned out that the indicated graffiti was drawn on a wall of the hostel on February 2, 2020, but Nikolai only arrived in Belarus on February 3. The cameras on the dormitory building did not work at the time of painting graffiti, but the investigation suddenly found a witness who somehow recognized Nikolai, although he was not in the country. The witness did not see the moment of graffiti drawing; she personally did not contact the police in this regard. The police allegedly found it by themselves. The case was opened only on the basis of “witness” statements. The court decided to return the case for revision. According to Nikolai, the motive for administrative prosecution could be his repost of the photo with graffiti on a social network.
- On March 25, 2020, in the suburbs of Minsk, Sergei Satsuk was detained by unidentified men in civilian clothing. He is editor-in-chief of the Belarusian electronic journal «Ежедневник» (Diary), who became famous for his journalistic investigations on mass and all-consuming corruption in the Belarusian Ministry of Health. Two days before the arrest, on March 23, Sergei Satsuk published in the “Diary” the article “Who sows panic around the Coronavirus, president or web-sites and channels?”, the Palace of Culture expressed doubts about the reliability of official statistics on the spread of coronavirus in Belarus. The journalist also spoke about threats from corrupt officials from the Ministry of Health for his journalistic activities. Sergei Satsuk is still in prison.
- On March 30, 2020, the trial of Olga Zhuravskaya begins, she is the Vitebsk YouTube blogger, the editor of the “Permitted to filming” channel, a partner of the “Our House” YouTube channel. She is being prosecuted for a video about the failure of attempts to pass tests for coronavirus in Vitebsk. Olga will be tried according to administrative article 17.1 (“minor hooliganism”). She was never able to pass the coronavirus test, and a video about it gained more than 60,000 views.
- In addition to the KGB, Alexander Lukashenko also involved the policein the fight against coronavirus. On March 13, 2020, Lukashenko met with the Minister of Internal Affairs, Yuri Karaev, and drew special attention to the role of the police in the fight against the spread of coronavirus. “We can’t do without the police, but don’t grab anyone and strain anyone” – Lukashenko said. As our experience shows, this means that they will just “grab and strain.”
- The Belarusian authorities demonstrate unhealthy optimism,which is very reminiscent of the silence regarding the situation with the explosion of the 4th Chernobyl nuclear power unit, when the Soviet authorities did not cancel even the May 1, 1986 demonstration planned to happen within 4 days after the explosion.
- Preparations for the Victory Parade are in full swing. On March 18, 2020, 2 thousand soldiers planned for a foot column arrived in Minsk to prepare for the procession for the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The parade itself is expected to happen onMay 9, 2020.
- On March 19, 2020,the Belarus Football Championship started, and the stadiums are open for fans’ visits.
- On March 14 and 28, 2020,city clean-ups took place in Belarus. Subbotnik (clean-up) is a form of unpaid forced labor called “voluntary”, the term is a leftover from Soviet times. It is impossible to refuse to participate in subbotnik because of sanctions, up to dismissal.
But it seems that the situation with the coronavirus still gets out of control, because:
- On March 17, 2020,in the morning, the Ministry of Education sent out information about postponing the start of school holidays to a week earlier. On the evening of the same day, unexpectedly, the Ministry of Education changed its mind and reversed this decision.
- On March 21, 2020, Orthodox priests carry relics (pieces of the dead body) of the martyr Konstantin Zhdanov to institutions and enterprises of Novopolotsk, the relics are kissed by many people. The purpose is “Relics” should protect Novopolotsk from the coronavirus.
- On March 22, 2020, Orthodox priests sprinkled Minsk with holy water from a helicopter to protect Belarus from the coronavirus. Metropolitan of Minsk and Zaslavsky Pavel, the Patriarchal Exarch of Belarus, personally led this “operation”.
- On March 29, 2020, Alexander Lukashenko ordered to create a vaccine against coronavirus by April 10, 2020, and entrusted this assignment to Alexander Kosints, a physician and assistant to the President of the Republic of Belarus, promising a “medal” for creating the vaccine.
- Unofficially, patients from psychiatric hospitals and other specialized hospitals, as well as specialized departments in hospitals are being discharged en masse. According to doctors, they are preparing for an influx of patients with pneumonia. Including, for example, the presidential countryside home – the complex “Krupenino” near Vitebsk, which is not a hospital, is equipped in a way to be able to serve patients. Doctors, albeit on condition of anonymity, begin to talk about a frighteningly growing number of patients with pneumonia in hospitals and intensive care units, and that this pneumonia is not like the previous ones. In Belarus, with a minimum amount of official information, a lot of rumours are circulating, including the opinion that Lukashenko does not impose quarantine on purpose in order to get rid of pensioners not to pay them pensions (in Belarus, the inheritance pension does not pass to relatives). The mass distribution of this information among Lukashenko’s electorate – pensioners – hit his status hard.
- On March 29, 2020,clubs and discos in Minsk were unofficially closed for two weeks.
- On March 30, 2020,police officers were forbidden to leave the city and their region, i.e. authorities are informally preparing to block cities, especially Vitebsk, where an epidemic is rampant.
In the next two to three weeks, the situation in Belarus will develop in a more interesting way.
If the Belarusian nuclear power plant explodes, then, following the example of the fight against coronavirus, we know the possible reaction of the Belarusian authorities.