19 December 2010 is a turning point in the modern history of Belarus. For the first time we can say with complete confidence that Lukashenko lost the election: the majority of the population voted against the dictator, having supported candidates from the opposition. There should have been a second round of elections.
According to the official protocols of those electoral area commissions, where was genuine observation and the votes were correctly counted (polling stations 1, 6, 8, 9, 27 and 49 in Minsk), democratic candidates together collected 53% of the votes (out of these: Sannikov and Neklyaev together – 34%; Lukashenko – 39%; 8% voted against all candidates). The figures confirm that in a second round a democratic candidate would clearly have won.
Therefore the actions of the dictator, having lost the election, can be clearly understood as illegal.
The Government decided to deal with the victorious majority and had previously prepared for such an event. A peaceful protest against the falsification of election results was brutally broken up by the orchestrated actions of provocateurs and security forces, summoned to Minsk from other areas. The Government did not choose the logical option for such an event – of negotiations with the victorious opposition and its many supporters. It showed unprecedented cruelty to young people, older people and children. Repression with the aim of putting people in fear – arrests, searches and looting of offices of public organizations without charge or trial – is still going on.
By holding the (opposition) leaders illegally in jail, the Government wants to force the opposition to go on the defensive. They are (trying) to force us not to use the achievement of the election campaign. This must not happen. The only correct strategy today is the development of an attack on the regime, along with the millions of citizens who voted against the dictator, the hundreds of thousands who signed for the opposition candidates, the tens of thousands who went on a protest of indefinite length, and thousands of activists who collected signatures and conducted the active campaign.
The task of the opposition is to include all these people in the resistance movement. No one can dispute what the most important goal is: the release of prisoners who are now in prison. Our sacred duty is to show solidarity, not to betray those who led us to victory. After all, the president of Belarus is behind bars; it is he who would have indisputably gained victory in the second round of elections.
There can be no dialogue with the regime, which has taken hostages and set off on the road of state terrorism. Only strong and decisive actions can compel the dictator to release the political prisoners.
Such action could be mass non-violent opposition – “Boycott the dictatorship” – a campaign based upon non-recognition of the Government, refusal to cooperate with it and disobedience to the regime. Against the backdrop of the worsening economic situation and growing dissent, this leads to a complete delegitimisation of the Government in the eyes of Belarusians. Part of the campaign should be a boycott of the coming parliamentary elections.
The Government’s actions after 19 December evoked non-comprehension, even among its supporters. Belarusians have never hated dictatorship so much! Our task is to ensure that the growing opposition to the regime leads to its complete isolation.
This campaign has already begun. In answer to the call by the Government to take money to the banks, people are massively buying up foreign currency. It is not uncommon to refuse to pay illegal fees, (such as) to subscribe to the official press or to attend events which have been organised by state bodies. The “samizdat” has returned to Belarus.
The strong side of such a strategy is the inclusion in the struggle of not only political activists and organizations, but also all supporters of change. Ideological differences do not play a decisive role here. The aim is the liberation of political prisoners and the holding of free elections without Lukashenko; that unites everybody.
The basis of success for the campaign will be the regular and timely promulgation of truthful information to the entire population. The opposition coped with this during the presidential campaign and is able to cope with it further. For this, there is a volunteer network. But that is not all. There are many new means of disseminating information.
People who independently disclose materials from the Internet and distribute them earn considerable esteem.
Information also is transmitted through communication with friends, relatives and colleagues at work. Interesting creative ideas spread like lightning; every day more people understand what “SHOS” means. The task of each of our supporters is to do this systematically, explaining how it is possible to protect one’s rights and how everyone can take part in the boycott of the dictatorship.
Also one must not forget those possibilities of activity which the internet gives: websites, blogs and social networks were well proven at the time of the presidential campaign.
There are hundreds of ways to deliver information: promotion of independent media; sms text messaging; hanging banners; holding “flash mobs”, pickets and meetings; spreading rumours and so on. Each of our supporters will be able to find some suitable means.
We must respond to all the mistakes of the Government at all levels: to explain to people how their rights are being violated and how they can protect them; to deliver information about our activities and future actions. We must convince those who have doubts that the government is illegal – because we did not choose it, because it deceives us and steals our money, and because, after all, it simply cannot cope with the problems facing the country. Therefore, we do not recognize it.
Our next step is a refusal to cooperate with a government which we do not recognize. This measure is also available to all our supporters.
Non-cooperation can manifest itself in the social sphere (the boycott of government activities, pro-government organizations and the media, public censure of civil servants taking part in the repression), the economic sphere (the withdrawal of bank deposits, the mass buying of foreign currency, the rejection of goods and services, the boycott of firms which cooperate with repressive authorities) and the political sphere (boycott of elections).
We all come into daily relations with the state: we regularly go on public transport, communicate with officials and pay taxes. The so-called stability of the regime is based on our tacit cooperation with the authorities. Each social group – students, workers, policemen – to one degree or another is a pillar of the dictatorship.
For some of these it is easier to refuse to cooperate with the authorities; for others it is more complicated. But one must not forget that all these groups are also interconnected through friends and relatives. Therefore, it is sufficient for one support to fall, in order that another may totter. And behind that will be the next…. Thus, through a chain reaction, we will ensure that even the most serious pillar of the regime, the police and security services, will cease to be as they are now. Indeed, this is exactly what we lacked on 19 December last year.
If we do not recognize the Government and are not affiliated with it, why must we obey it?
One of the forms of our civil position should be a refusal to carry out the illegal demands of the authorities. Disobedience – that is when we refuse to pay illegal fees, when we refuse to go to the polls on the orders of a faculty dean or a director of a company, and when we refuse to leave the square in central Minsk as long as no political prisoners are released.
At all stages of the campaign, the role of the most organized part of it, the opposition activists, is to set an example for the rest of society. Only after we ourselves renounce obedience to the regime, will we be able to convince the remaining groups of the population, including those who today, for various reasons, carry out the illegal orders and demands of the dictator.
We started the presidential campaign very late; at first, the opposition was not sufficiently united, and not everyone had a clear vision of the strategy for victory. We now have the opportunity to combine those forces which hold a position of principle in relation to the man who usurped power and took our comrades as hostages. There is more than a year before the parliamentary elections. We have every chance to launch an effective campaign of boycott, isolate the Government and compel it to release the political prisoners immediately and to begin negotiations with the opposition about holding free elections.
Stanislav Shushkevich, the first leader of independent Belarus, Belarusian Social Democratic Party
Evgenii Afnagel, coordinator of the civil campaign “European Belarus”
Viktor Ivashkevich, the organizing committee of the party “Belarusian Movement”
Alexander Kozulin, a presidential candidate in the 2006 elections and a former political prisoner.
Pavel Marinich, co-ordinator of the civil campaign “European Belarus”