On March 9, 2023, all of Alexander Lukashenko’s propaganda news agencies hurried to report that the Belarusian dictator, who will soon mark the 30th anniversary of his bloody rule, approved a draft law on the national home guard and established «the legal basis for the voluntary citizen participation in the enforcement of martial law». It was stated in the Security Council Resolution No 2, which was published on the National Legal Internet Portal on March 6.

Nowadays, minister of Defense, Viktor Khrenin, has to prepare amendments and recommendations within a month and send out this draft law to the various instances before its final approval by the relevant agencies. According to Lukashenko’s plans, the size of the people’s volunteer army will amount to 100-150 thousand, and it is planned that militia units will be established in each district and armed with combat weapons. It is clear that only special categories of citizens will join such people’s volunteer army: those who write denunciations to the KGB about their neighbors for their opposition views, retired law enforcers, former officials, corruptionists and all those who are desperately afraid of Lukashenko leaving due to the possible disclosure of one’s abuses and crimes committed within dictator’s system.

On February 15, 2023, less than a month ago, the Ministry of Justice of Belarus became concerned about the procedure for destroying secret documents and archives in case of war or martial law. Before that, on February 4, 2023, joint Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Health Order was published (and immediately entered into force), amending the instruction on the definition of requirements for the health of citizens related to the performance of military duty. Now the Belarusian army сalls young men with such health problems as excessive body weight (obesity of the 2nd degree), nearsightedness , hemorrhoids without prolapse of the nodes, mild bronchial asthma, some forms of flatfoot and deformities of feet, endocrine system diseases, nutrition disorders, heart and nervous system diseases, as well as with spinal disorders and skin ailments . In general, practically everyone сan be conscripted into the army.

But the most important change in the Belarusian laws took place on February 21, 2023. Lukashenko’s Belarusian pocket parliament voted for harsh punishment, up to and including death penalty, for «violation of requirements for the protection of state secrets», as well as for «intentional illegal transfer of the bearer of state secrets with secrets of the Republic of Belarus or foreign states secrets, transferred to the Republic of Belarus, outside its borders». In simple terms, the death penalty is imposed for desertion and attempted escape from the Belarusian army; any military officer`s try to contact with Belarusian human rights organizations/exiled media or to give them information is also punishable by the death penalty.

Earlier, the press service of the House of Representatives pointed out that the draft law «On Amendment of the Criminal Code» is needed for «deterrence of destructive elements» and «demonstration of a determined fight against high treason». In the understanding of the Belarusian regime, «destructive elements» include human rights defenders, journalists, activists, i.e. all those who want to see democracy and human rights in Belarus.

The new law`s «high treason» is seen as disloyalty to Lukashenko personally or the disclosure of secret documents proving the involvement of either dictator or the Belarusian army in violation of particularly serious articles of the Belarusian Criminal Code, as well as in crimes against humanity. In this connection, we would like to recall the case of Denis Urad, Captain of the Belarussian Armed Forces, who made public the secret order of the Home Affairs Minister of Belarus to the Minister of Defence on «armed forces» involvement in law enforcement activities’ proving that Lukashenko used the Belarussian troops to disperse peaceful protesters during the Belarusian Revolution 2020. The aforementioned military officer was charged with high treason and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Also last year in Belarus, journalist Denis Ivashin was sentenced to 13 years and 1 month in a colony. Ivashin was accused of interference in the activities of the Internal Affairs bodies officer and high treason. The journalist conducted and published a journalistic investigation about the involvement of former staff members of the Ukrainian Berkut that killed Ukrainian civilians, in both the work of the Belarusian security forces and the bloody crackdown on peaceful Belarusians in 2020.

Since 1 March 2022, Our House, jointly with a number of other international pacifist organizations (initially with Connection e.v., then joined by BSV, WRI and others), has been сconducting a campaign No Means No for the Belarusian men’s right to refuse participating in fulfillment of Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin’s militarist ambitions, as well as for the one’s right not to take up arms. To date, since the launch of the campaign, various campaign materials have been viewed by more than 6 million users on the various platforms of Our House.

Over the year, we have accumulated enough reasons to be proud.

Lukashenko believes both in us and our success. Perhaps he believes in us and in the success of our campaign No Means No even more than we believe in ourselves. Hence Lukashenko’s repressive efforts to introduce the death penalty for desertion and to intimidate the military with the worst possible punishments just for trying to make contact.

This is also the fact that the Belarusian conscientious objectors were mentioned at the international level as a social group. Pacifist organizations stopped «losing» sight of Belarus, because before that the problems of Ukrainian and Russian conscientious objectors were heard, while the Belarusians were somehow forgotten.

Today we can already say that the campaign not only has three wings – male, female (feminist) and youth, but it begins to branch on those important pacifist topics that used to be in the invisibility zone, namely:

– Fighting for the imposition of economic sanctions against Belarusian enterprises that manufacture or sell arms and those Belarusian enterprises that fulfil military orders from the Russian Ministry of Defense.

– Monitoring groups, which collect verified facts about the activities and preparations of the Belarusian army for participation in the war in Ukraine.

– The struggle against the militarization of youth and children in Belarus, including military schools and schools, and against the training of child soldiers by the Ministry of Defense of Belarus.

-The situation regarding the rights of Belarusian conscientious objectors and deserters, including the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Belarus for defection.

All these topics were unknown to the international community before our campaign. We were completely invisible and this is what allowed Lukashenko to push so far in his militarist endeavors and dreams.

Belarusians are no longer alone in their struggle for peace and the right to live without weapon in one’s hands. This is perhaps the biggest and most serious achievement of this year.

Because solidarity can do wonders in our world, it is far more powerful than any tanks, missiles and bombs.

Olga Karach