in 2018


Well, it is time to sum up the results of 2018 for “Our House” and for the whole Belarus.

We are often asked whether it has become safer in Belarus and easier to be an active grassroots CSO? Or worse? Or just like previously?

It is very difficult to give an unequivocal answer to this question, as the situation is contradictory. On the one hand, the space for civic participation is objectively expanding, on the other hand, the space for civic participation is objectively shrinking, which is evident from the decrease in the number of civil society participants. The two processes are dynamic and unfold simultaneously, but they go in opposite directions.

But for now let us skip statistics. The year of 2018 was marked by unexpected repressions and unpredictable reactions of the Belarusian authorities regarding legal and permitted activities of citizens.

Thus, we decided to make the TOP 7 of the most absurd repressions in Belarus in 2018, in order better to understand the political context in which Our House and other civil society organizations must work. In 2018, Belarussians were repressed (with fines, detentions, imprisonments) for a dialogue with aliens, for drinking tea at home, for kissing a monument and putting flowers at it, for feeding pigeons, for children’s drawings on the walls in one’s own apartment, for refusing to kill one’s old dog, for demanding that studying be in an official/state language, as well as for many other things that are not prohibited by Belarusian legislation.

As we say in Belarus, it would be very fun if it were not so sad.

The contents of the TOP-7:

1. TOP-1. Repression for an attempt at dialogue with aliens (cosmic creatures) and drinking tea at home.

2. Repression for putting flowers at, kissing and slapping a monument/sculpture.

3. Repression for an unauthorized action that never took place.

4. Repression for feeding pigeons.

5. Repression for trying to study in an official language.

6. Repression for paper boats.

7. Repression for the refusal to kill an old dog and children’s drawings on the walls.

1. Repression for attempt at dialogue with aliens (cosmic creatures) and drinking tea at home.

The background. In 2016, a group of residents of Vitebsk attempted to register the public association “Metagalactic Centre Vitebsk”, primarily to enable communication between Vitebsk residents and extraterrestrial beings (and the space). It is not clear why an official registration of a public organization in Vitebsk was thought to be needed for dialogue with aliens, anyway Vitebsk officials did not like the idea of intergalactic communication, and the enthusiasts of the dialogue with aliens were denied registration. Later, this group succeeded in registering another association: “Time to live”, with declared cultural and educational goals. But Vitebsk officials did not appreciate the beautiful name, they again suspected the founders of an attempt at dialogue with extraterrestrials and cancelled the registration.

In 2018:

On March 15, 2018, which is the Day of the Constitution of Belarus, eight residents of Vitebsk met in a private apartment to chat, have tea and discuss the prospects of intergalactic communication. Before long, five plain-clothes policemen broke into the apartment and detained all the people present there and took them to a District Department of Internal Affairs (ROVD). In the ROVD, the detainees were accused of violating the procedure for organizing mass events (organizing an unauthorized event), and police reports were compiled on them.

On April 19, 2018, the 8 people were charged with administrative offences for “unauthorized tea drinking at home”. The owner of the apartment was fined 250 euros, the rest received warnings. As a police officer explained at the trial: “If you had tried to register and been denied, why then did you meet for drinking tea? Such is my logic.

The case instantly went viral and resulted in a lot of jokes and photoshopped pictures on social media, especially after the police officer came up with the foolish statement about the ban to drink tea at home without an authorization from the authorities. Users jokingly called it a “Mad Tea-Party”, by analogy with the tea-party in the book “Alice in Wonderland.

Walt Disney Alice in Wonderland

For your information: According to the Belarusian legislation, for tea-drinking at home, irregardless of the number of guests, no special permission from the Belarusian authorities is required. There can only be complaints about the noise produced during tea-drinking. However, the police had no complaints about the noise, instead there was a complaint that the tea party was not authorized by the executive committee 5 days before people were going to drink tea together.

2. Repression for putting flowers at, kissing and slapping a monument/sculpture.

The background. In 2016, in Minsk, near the central building of the Ministry of the Interior, to the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian police (militia), a sculpture of a gorodovoy (a street policeman in the Tsarist Russia) was installed. The public was surprised at the fact that the monument was erected in honour of a Soviet militiaman in the uniform of a tsarist law-enforcer, with whom these same Soviet militiamen doggedly fought in the past.

On March 12, 2017, the artist Vyacheslav Kasinerov made a performance: put a noose around the neck of the gorodovoy‘s sculpture. So he protested against thepolice lawlessness and the persecution of participants in peaceful political protests in the country. Kasinerov was detained. He was in risks for imprisonment for up to three years or arrest for up to six months. Ultimately, he served 15 days and was fined 105 Belarusian rubles (about 50 euros) for hooliganism.

On March 23, 2017, a homeless man put a metal chain on the sculpture. The man was detained and ended in 15 days of arrest. The man assured that his actions had no political connotation, and he put the chain just because he, wandering around the city in search of scrap metal, found a chain and, passing by, put it on the sculpture.

In 2018:

On June 28, 2018, three LGBT activists (two of them were female students of the Fortinbras theatre laboratory) brought flowers composed so as to represent the LGBT flag colours to the monument of the gorodovoy, and drew on the asphalt coloured footprints suggesting that the monument was fleeing. The activists were detained by the police (a journalist who came to cover the event was also detained) and spent a night in the Okrestino detention centre.

Belapan MH RFE/RL and social netwrks

On June 29, 2018, each of the activists was punished with a fine of three basic units (73.5 rubles in sum) for putting flowers at the monument (officially: insubordination to lawful demands of police officers”). Thus, putting flowers at the monument cost 12 basic units, which is over 120 euros. A policeman who was the main witness at the trial was not sure at all what exactly the trial was about and contradicted his superior who had drawn up a report on “insubordination”; the former claimed that the punishment was for “violating the rules of the city’s beautification”.

For your information. Putting flowers at a monument is not prohibited by any Belarusian law, neither is drawing coloured footprints on asphalt.

On November 16, 2018, a 16-year-old student of the Minsk Lyceum, passing by the gorodovoy‘s sculpture, slapped it and was immediately detained. The police forced the teenager to apologize to the sculpture and videotaped it, then the video containing the testimony of a policeman and the apology from the youth appeared on the official website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Such treatment of children by the police caused outrage among the public. A spontaneous mass flash mob began on social media: under the hashtag #памятникпрости (monument, forgive me), people posted their photos in which they embraced various monuments and „apologized”. The flash mob led to the dismissal of the press secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Interior Minister Igor Shunevich confessed that videotaping the apologies of the teenager was his idea.

On November 17, 2018, a passer-by put a scarf on the neck of the sculpture in order to warm it up and take a picture. He was detained by police officers, taken to a police station, where he was told that “the sculpture is protected”, “nothing can be hung on it, because it is a monument”, and “it is the face of the Ministry of Internal Affairs”. Police officers copied the data of the man and released.

On November 19, 2018, two girls kissed and hugged the sculpture of the gorodovoy: so they protested against its special status. Police officers held an educational conversation with the girls, they explained that the monument could not be kissed, too.

At the end of the year, in Belarus, there appeared a petition for the demolition of the sculpture (1,600 people have signed the petition as of now).

3. Repression for an unauthorized action that never took place.

On June 1, 2018, civil activist Piotr Markelov, based in Minsk, posted in social media a photo in which he held a poster with the IP address of the website of the Ministry of the Interior, thus protesting against the new repressive amendments to the “Law on Mass Media”. He was detained and the police drew up a report on him with reference to p. 3 of art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus (violation of the procedure for organizing mass events, committed repeatedly within one year). Markelov spent three days in Okrestino detention centre for “organizing the unauthorized action. On June 4, during the court trial it turned out that there was actually no action, and the photo in which Markelov allegedly held the poster had been made in a photo editor. When the original photo and its modified version were demonstrated, the judge ordered that the police report should be subject to revision, and ultimately the report disappeared at all. But 74 hours spent in prison will not disappear.

For your information. The Belarusian law does not prohibits uploading to social media the photos modified in Photoshop.

4. Repression for feeding pigeons.

The background. In Brest, the construction of a plant for the production of lead-acid batteries started. The plant was built in the dangerous vicinity of a dacha settlement, some recreation areas and the regional hospital. Brest residents got outraged by the dangerous construction, 37,000 signatures of citizens were collected, which were submitted to the President Administration.

In 2018:

Since the end of February 2018 up to now (almost a year), every Sunday the residents of Brest have been gathering in the central Freedom Square to “feed pigeons”. This way citizens protest against the construction of the plant for the production of lead-acid batteries that had not been consulted with the residents. Local residents believe that the new enterprise will threaten their health and worsen the ecological situation in the region. Therefore, they go out to feed pigeons every Sunday; they believe that soon there will be no birds in Brest because of the new plant (built in violation of the law at that). Feeding birds provoked mass repressions. The residents who come to feed the birds, as well as bloggers and journalists who covered this innocent event are regularly detained, fined, and imprisoned for 10-15 days. The police constantly carries out searches and tries to intimidate people. However, the Sunday bird-feeding continues.

For your information. Feeding birds on streets is not prohibited by the Belarusian legislation.

5. Repressions for collecting signatures under the petition to make it possible to study in an official language.

Background. There are two official languages in Belarus: Russian and Belarusian, having equal status, which also means that everyone has the right to choose in which language to study.

On February 21, 2018, which is the International Mother Language Day, in a number of Belarusian cities activists organized the collection of signatures in support of the Belarusian language and the opening of a national university where instruction would be in Belarusian (official) language. The initiative resulted in multiple detentions, and the total amount of fines was estimated at about 290 basic units, which is approximately 2,960 euros. All the detainees were accused of participating in an unauthorized mass event under art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code of Belarus.

For your information: Collecting signatures in Belarus is not prohibited, and special permission for such an action is not required.

6. Repression for paper boats.

On November 26, 2018, a dozen Minsk inhabitants put paper ships in front of the Russian Embassy in Minsk to express their support for the detained Ukrainian sailors after the incident in the Kerch Strait.

On December 22, 2018, the Central District Court fined 20 basic units (about 200 euros) Diana Seredyuk (a Novy Chas journalist), her spouse Evgeniy Batura, and activist Svetlana Kovalenko for attending a rally near the Russian Embassy. In sum, paper boats cost civil activists nearly 600 euros.

Activists and politicians who attended the trial to support the journalist came there with paper ships, too (a police officer tried to “steal” one of the ships).

For your information. The Belarusian legislation does not prohibit to put paper boats wherever one wishes. Putting paper boats does not fall under the category of unauthorized actions, and special permission from the authorities is not required.

7. Repression for refusing to kill an old dog and children’s drawings on the walls of an appartment.

Background. A mother of four children refused to finance the system of school corruption. As in many other cases involving children’s rights, the mother’s refusal to engage in corruption backfired soon.

In 2018:

On May 18, 2018, Antonina Shainiuk, the mother of four children from Gomel, received threats from the administration of high school No. 3 where her children studied. The administration threatened the woman to recognize her children as being in a SDS (socially dangerous situation – this is the situation when state bodies can remove children from the family at any time, without trial and notification of the parents, for allegedly poor upbringing and failure to take care of minors). The official ground for the warning was that there were children’s drawings on the walls of Antonina’s apartment and that an old German shepherd, which the children took care of, lived there. The school director urgently demanded that the old dog be put down and gave three days to do it, otherwise the children would be recognized as being in SDS and then taken away.

The mother got indignant and turned to YouTube bloggers. The case received a huge public response in social media. As a result, the school administration was forced to apologize and close the case.

For your information: According to the Belarusian legislation, children’s drawings and the presence of an old dog in one’s appartment are not the grounds for recognizing one’s children as being in a SDS and removing them from the family.

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