Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Locked in a timewarp
"Freedom Day" in Belarus came and went with barely a whimper. Somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people took to the streets of Minsk to mark the anniversary of the creation of the first independent Belarussian state today, but when the officially sanctioned rally was over, only a few hundred hardy souls stayed on to face what they knew was inevitable: riot police and water cannons. A hundred people were arrested by President Alexander Lukashenko's thugs.
It's easy to understand. Lukashenko, the "last dictator in Europe," has made protest almost impossible for those who have jobs to keep and families to feed. In a country where the state provides almost all employment and tolerates no dissent, the equation is simple: you express your displeasure at living in a country that's locked in 1984, you lose your job. If you're a student, you get kicked out of your program.
Still, it's hard to believe how much hope has evaporated since early 2005. Back then, in the heady days after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, it seemed impossible that Lukashenko could maintain his hermit kingdom next door. And yet, two years on, it seems nothing has changed.
For more on what happened today in Belarus, and the names of those detained, check out the website of the Charter 97 human-rights group.
To read some of the reports I did from Minsk for The Globe and Mail, check the Belarus section of my website, markmackinnon.ca