Alexandr Lukashenka has achieved his goal. The humanitarian slipperiness on the Belarusian-Polish verge is diverting international sustentation from the state slipperiness in the Republic of Belarus. The images of open-air camps and the video footage of abuses at the thorny wire fence on the EU’s external verge serve their purpose. Any escalation of the situation urgently brought well-nigh by Minsk will distract from the repression of the democratic opposition. Meanwhile, the largest wave of forced migration of Belarusians since the end of the Second World War continues unabated.
On 8 November, migrants from Iraq converged on the verge checkpoint at Kuźnica; the day after, masked representatives of the Belarusian state underdeveloped human rights objector Olga Gorbunova in Minsk. The state prosecutor accuses her of organizing the women’s marches in the late summer of 2020. A couple of days later, freestyle skier Alyaksandra Romanouskaya was underdeveloped without training. The 2019 world champion had signed an unshut letter from athletes protesting police violence without the rigged presidential referendum in August 2020. Gorbunova and Romanouskaya joined the list of 830 political prisoners published by the human rights organization Vyazna in November 2021. Most Vyazna activists have themselves fled to the Lithuanian wanted Vilnius considering they too are stuff persecuted in Belarus.
During the 2020 protests, the Volny Choir sang protest songs at metro stations, the inside post office and monuments in Minsk. Without a tour of Poland in September, most of its members decided not to return to Belarus and instead to seek asylum. The reason for this joint visualization was the increasing frequency of arrests in members’ personal proximity.
Since spring 2021, the Lukashenka regime has increasingly been targetting cultural workers and social activists. From the start, security forces have used facial recognition software to evaluate surveillance videos and images of protesters circulating on the web. But what has reverted are the charges brought. In August 2020, when the protests were at their height, the authorities were handing lanugo penalties of ten or fourteen days, for example for torturous the public peace or participating in an illegal demonstration. Now, sentences of five or twelve years in prison are increasingly common, for offences such as forming a criminal organization or treason. On 11 November, for example, the anarchist objector Mikola Dziadok was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment without stuff tortured in custody.
Walking on the street with a white-red-white flag or subscribing to a Telegram waterworks that has been supposed an extremist group are now grounds for arrest. This is the specimen for Hrodna.life, which until this summer reported on everyday life in the municipality of Hrodna in the northwest of the country. The portal reached 10 to 15 times increasingly readers than the website of the state-run district newspaper Grodenskaya Pravda. Most of its editorial staff are now stuff held in custody and three have fled to the Polish municipality of Białystok, fifty kilometres to the west. Hrodna.life has spoken that it will replace its Telegram waterworks with a new project in order not to endanger readers and the remaining editors.
As in Poland and Lithuania, the dominant topic on social networks in Belarus is currently the situation of the migrants at the EU border. Considering state media spread nothing but propaganda well-nigh the so-called responsibility of the Polish government and prophesy imminent military hostilities on the part of NATO, Belarusian citizens have to create their own picture of reality. Pictures of the Minsk Sports Palace, from which buses momentum to the western border, are shared on Telegram and Facebook.
It is an unshut secret that there is a gathering point for migrants on Komsomolskaya Street. Every evening, minibuses pull up to imbricate the next leg of the Baghdad–Berlin route. The informal stop at Dzerzhinsky Park lies directly opposite the historic KGB building, which still houses the Ministry of State Security, said to have been involved in the coordination of the slipperiness at the Polish-Belarusian border. A nearby grill restaurant has started razzmatazz Halal. According to information making the rounds on the Nexta Telegram channel, which is run from Warsaw, plane a taxi ride from the wanted to Brest is cheaper than the state-run trafficking service.
A media crisis
All this information is fragmentary and cannot be verified without journalistic work on the ground. But the slipperiness on the verge is moreover a media slipperiness partly caused by the simultaneity of a inflowing of mobile phone films from the verge zone and limited possibilities for on-site research. Despite its location at the centre of Europe and its nine million inhabitants, Belarus long became a zone in which only a few journalists are active. Two dozen of them – including the leadership of the biggest internet portal tut.by – have been in prison since the spring of 2021. The self-sustaining Belarusian Association of Journalists, winner of the Sakharov Prize in 2004, was shut lanugo by the courts in August. Most of the remaining reporters have left the country or are looking for work in other industries. Former journalists of tut.by have founded a new media project upalong tabbed Zerkalo, whose pages can only be accessed by people in Belarus via secure VPN tunnels.
The Polish government’s imposition of a state of emergency withal Poland’s verge was a deliberate escalation of the media crisis. Plane within the European Union, media and human rights organizations are now unable to verify the digitally depicted reality, in order to trammels that the security forces are complying with the law. Jarosław Kaczyński is trying to use the escalation for domestic political purposes by depicting a few thousand migrants as a military problem that tangibly threatens Poland’s existence. In this way, he too diverts the international gaze from the slipperiness of the rule of law in Poland and the mismatch between Warsaw and Brussels. The media bombardment from the periphery is moreover distracting sustentation in Poland from the problems at the centre.
The unvarying stream of images of migrants circulated by the printing officers of the verge guards is an struggle to mobilize PiS voters with the message that ‘we have everything under control’. The government thereby hopes to stem the haemorrhage of supporters to smaller rightwing parties. The timing of the slipperiness at the verge suits this purpose perfectly, since it coincides with the start of the fourth wave of the Covid 19 pandemic. Vaccination rates are particularly low among PiS voters, making it likely that remoter restrictions on public life will momentum Kaczynski’s supporters into the stovepipe of anti-vaxxers on the far-right. The response is to stage a defence of national sovereignty versus the intrusion of foreign forces, while removing the pandemic from Polish public debate completely.
A European crisis
But visualization makers in Berlin, Brussels and elsewhere should not be content with pointing the finger at Warsaw. A slipperiness on the Belarusian verge has been looming since June, when Lukashenka escorted the first migrants from the Minsk airport. And the spritz of politic refugees from Belarus has been ongoing for over a year. The majority have been taken in by the two countries whose external confines are now stuff targeted by Lukashenka: Poland and Lithuania.
The exiled members of the Volny Choir are not only supported by the House of Belarusian Solidarity in Warsaw and helpful private citizens. The singers’ applications for madhouse were received within weeks and given upper priority by the Polish migration authorities. When it became well-spoken that the 500 placed for Belarusian students offered via the Kalinowski Programme at the university of Warsaw would not be enough, the government made funds misogynist at short notice for a remoter 200 scholarships.
During the same period, only a few dozen students and plane fewer academics from Belarus were admitted to Germany and supported with scholarships. In the negotiations on a solution to the humanitarian slipperiness at the external verge of the European Union, the question of broad, systematic and sustainable support for political refugees from Belarus by the European Union at large will have to be answered.
An older version of this text was published in German by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 15 November.