2008 18/10

Alaksiej Łapicki, ŽodzinaThe issue under analysis is still topical, having a definitely practical meaning in the light of the recent events and the post-election resolution by the Council of Europe. The article deals with the issues having an enormous practical significance for the democratization of the society.

Their solution could be a step towards the international community, aimed at the creation of a renewed reputation of Belarus as a sensible and predictable partner, committed to the international standards in the field of civil and political rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular.

Thus, to be or not to be: that is the question!

The freedom of association has been almost ruined by the notorious Decree #2 and the official propaganda – some of Belarusian NGOs are virtually dead, the other still trying to be re-registered…

But can we call the optimism of the latter sound under current circumstances of the ‘royal hunt’ for the independent NGOs and initiatives? Can one establish an NGO or an independent media in today’s Belarus to work under the existing legislation and exercise one’s constitutional rights to the freedom of association and exchange of information?

Can one expect to be re-registered with all the disadvantages of the Belarusian civil society – e.g. the unauthorized human rights center Viasna?

To answer the above-mentioned rethorical questions, one needn’t elaborate on the peculiarities of the Belarusian political and legislative cuisine. With all the negative statistics on the liquidated NGOs, it would not be at all difficult. However, for every victim of the state mass media monopoly and the Soviet-style ideological bureaucracy any independent information is like a gasp of fresh air.

Every human being aspires to truth and justice. Belarusians are generally pragmatic and reasonable. But what is really dangerous is that every one of us is encouraged to join the devotees of the state by certain indecent means.

It is basically done on the fly, making use of our being busy and the habit to generalize the incoming information and keep in memory the most striking and picturesque images – as a result our conscience is manipulated by a large-scale propaganda system. It parasitizes on our natural habits to unite against ‘the global challenges to peace and stability’, to support and believe in ‘the heroic and almighty defenders’ and without a moment’s hesitation and by any means oppose ‘the evil and insidious nation-wide enemies…’

The above-mentioned means are capable of causing a genuine ‘nation-wide surge’, reminiscent of the war-time anti-Fascist resistance. However, in peacetime under the circumstances of the declared democracy and the necessity for the consolidation of public attention on peaceful objectives, the improvement of well-being and the quality of life, mobilizing the public opinion by war-time means (and sometimes biasing it against certain groups of society) seems to say the least a dangerous adventure.

Dividing the people and the state, undermining its unity and purposeful distorting the notions of democracy, adopting them for totalitarian goals means an outrage against the Constitution and malicious substitution of the values lying at the basis of its constitutional structure.

If you are trying to analyze the loads of incoming information approved by the authorities and find a reasonable answer to the question, you will have to sacrifice your precious time to find something alternative, then stop and think. That is right – we ARE capable of thinking and can notice that we are turned into blind advocates of an extremely shady ideology.

Indeed, under current circumstances, one can notice the public opinion being processed to fight the concept of democracy by the state-owned mass media.

Thus, we can find ourselves in a situation when NGOs or oppositional ‘lamebrains’ are reviled by the majority of the nation… This is the official term to describe the opponents of the existing regime, legally used at top level and imitated by the people with the help of the official mass media. However, it is absolutely intolerable to express disregard of your opponent in a civilized debate. It provokes feedback and may result in an endless hostility and opposition… Still, all of us are advocates of peace and order and this is what we should not forget. Otherwise the state will find an enemy for us. Stop looking for enemies in your own country!

On 15 August 2007 the state-owned BT TV channel broadcast another anti-opposition ‘horror show’, featuring a number of representatives of Belarusian NGOs. They were named spies and treated like terrorists guided by the ‘hostile West.’ Meanwhile, the notions of democracy and democratic values were repeatedly profaned by the TV journalists. And this is unfortunately an official point of view!

Bearing the above-mentioned statements in mind, it is not surprising that the Ministry of Justice keeps denying state registration to Belarusian independent NGOs, e.g. the BARTS public association headed by the famous politician Aliaksandr Milinkevich, who ran for the presidency in 2006, was denied registration in 1999 due to the scope of its activities, providing assistance to Belarusian NGOs and distributing information on their activities, in particular.

Can it constitute any danger to the state, looking for its place among the European democracies? How could the distribution of independent information make the authorities so nervous?

The answer is obvious, since the universal ideology, along with the monopoly on truth require constant victims. The weaker the state is, the harsher is the mechanism of control and harassment of the freedom of speech and association…

One cannot help quoting President Lukashenka saying that the KGB and the police ‘are aware of the existence of certain specially trained group ready to come out on streets at any time’ – several thousand ‘lamebrains’ prepared for any destructive actions…

Some would even suggest arresting all the ‘public enemies’ and punish them under the severe law of Belarus… Loyalty again? Endless kindness and self-control of the authorities? In short, the benefits of democracy and liberalism…

Still, such informational provocation in mass media is aimed at adequate and predictable reaction from the public. So isn’t it what Belarusian ideologists want when order another TV show, constantly contributing to the overall paranoia of the public opinion?

Indeed, the reputation of ‘an elected representative of the people’, a saint patron and the father of the nation requires constant incomes and systematic work, especially on the eve of various elections, when the state seems to have a clear advantage over its opponents. Just like on the front! Those working for the authorities on the BT TV channel could not be envied either – would you dare disobey an order from above and fail to achieve the necessary tasks? So there is but one objective – ‘let no one doubt our victory…’

After an ideological brainwashing, it seems quite natural that no enemy would be left unattended. It is doubts that restrict. Who can live without them?

Let us imagine there are no opponents of the regime whatsoever. How then would the state explain its endeavour to have loads of easy wins? In this case, the ideological psychosis uns the risk of being directed at the core of the society, the regime itself.

The unseen opponents of the state would also be ‘a hidden target.’ When fighting for a totalitarian portfolio, the risk should be tiny. In other words, their motto is ‘stability, safety and complete predictability’ – i.e. absolute warranty.

As the Communists used to put it – cadre determines all! And this is absolute truth.

But there should be a genuine competition of programs, capabilities and ideas. There can be no universally accepted regimes and presidents, since a democracy stands for openness to effective election mechanisms. The society, in its turn, should have a possibility to control any branch of power, initiate impeachments, reelect and withdraw deputies and presidents… For an unchangeable politician in a democracy is as unnatural and absurd as a reusable diaper…

Today’s Belarus witnesses a total ideological dictatorship of ‘the men in gray.’ And as it turns out it is them who decide everything for us, by disregarding civil rights and freedoms and creating a reputation of ‘evil and corrupted democrats, NGOs, human rights activists and politicians…’, as well as ‘good, patient, fair and almighty fathers of the country’ – the unchangeable and unopposed leaders.

At the same time, it should be observed that there has emerged a ‘right’ NGO – the so-called governmental NGO – the pro-state party Belaya Rus.

So who makes the state, founding a pro-governmental quasicivil organization Belaya Rus, fight the independent NGOs and initiatives?

Why someone decided to launch a large-scale anti-NGO campaign on the eve of the 2008 parliamentary election?

Will the society be once again made to believe in the effectiveness of another ‘smear campaign?’ Will the majority keep lament over a shortage of votes?

In fact, there is a serious problem of the absence of the optionless and aggressiveness of the official propaganda. It is not just walking the thin ice, it is beyond any rules. Since the existing regime has grown used to reckoning itself as the law. So the problem is about the majority of the people who keep get entrapped by the highly-paid specialists of the ‘invisible front’, analysts and ideological shamans. They still go unpunished at making use of our credulity, lack of knowledge and information, by brainwashing our heads with carefully prepared scenarios of thinking and acting.

Thus, we can see the neurolinguistic programming act and the state ideology create new zombies, stuffed with clear and unquestionable formulas and ideas, and as a result use us against the above-mentioned targets.

These techniques help ‘destroy any enemy’, whatever be its size and strength. So instead of fighting ‘the threats to peace and stability’ the state utilizes a supreme law of the ideological expediency, created by the usurping autocracy.

The victims of the ideological war are the citizens of Belarus, since we are forced to play for the more powerful and aggressive side, which is always aimed at a certain part of the society and keeps trying to preserve its authority through discredit and harassment of its opponents, division of the society and manipulation of the public opinion…

Can one register an independent and effective NGO under current circumstances? And can the people involved in the activity act legally and be sure that it does not undermine the interests of the state?

In terms of practice, it looks absolutely fantastic. But what can the law say to this?

As it turns out, the Belarusian legislation (possibly viewed as the most humane by many), Decree #2 by the President, in particular, or the Criminal Code (Article 193-1) provide for criminal prosecution for membership in an illegal organization.

Then imagine naïve animal-lovers that never bothered to get registered.

So should one be punished in case he or she is going to protect one’s beliefs or rights?

What is the essence of the ‘crime’?

It is absolutely obvious that the implementation of a right cannot be arbitrarily restricted and prosecuted by the law. In terms of the law, such bills that violate the Constitution are worthless and cannot be used, since they have no legal validity.

However, Decree #2 enjoys a full legal effect in today’s Belarus. Let us recollect dozens Young Front members that faced administrative and criminal prosecution for the membership in the youth organization. Still, the Young Front is a patriotic youth organization which has been denied registration for years.

Thus, the rights of the citizens to the freedom of association, conscience and exchange of information are brutally violated…

Decree #2 has formally substituted the registration procedure with an authorizing system.

Meanwhile, the procedure itself has appeared to be a serious ideological obstacle, an administrative sieve for many NGOs, initiated by citizens to attend to varied issues, protect collective interests and express alternative opinions.

They try to follow the law when determine their aims and tasks, which are sometimes totally different from those of the existing regime, and face a wall of unlawfulness instead.

As for the Belarusian Constitution, we cannot but mention its Article 4 which prohibits a unified ideology.

As it appears, a negative historical experience of the ‘one-party centralism’, typical of totalitarian regimes, was adopted by Belarusian legislators. The existing Belarusian Constitution prohibits using this unlawful practice, which was at the basis of the Soviet system of subordination and ideology diktat.

E.g. part 1 of Article 4 states that ‘democracy in the Republic of Belarus shall be exercised on the basis of diversity of political institutions, ideologies and views.

Part 2 of the same article provides that ‘the ideology of political parties, religious or other public associations, social groups may not be made mandatory for citizens.

At the same time, parts 1 and 3 of Article 5 of the Constitution hold it that ‘public associations acting within the framework of the Constitution’ can only be prohibited in case they ‘aim to change the constitutional system by force, or conduct a propaganda of war, social, ethnic, religious and racial hatred.’

Now it is absolutely clear why the state creates the reputation of hostile NGOs – they can be easily destroyed, without investigation and trial.

Why no trial? Who can judge when the enemy is appointed from above? Who can stop the machine and fall from grace with the regime? Who can with his own hands deprive himself of his salary and means of subsistence? Who will investigate all this under the circumstances of an unpunished ideology diktat?

However, the unlawfulness of the practice is obvious. As it appears, both the diktat and the ideology structures are a real threat to peace and stability in Belarus, since it is them who represent a criminal organization that can go unpunished for any illegal acts.

And this is the main basis of the existence of the current totalitarian regime!

So does the human rights center Viasna, which has applied for another registration to the Ministry of Justice, have any chance to obtain an official status under the existing regime?

I think, the question can be answered by anyone, but the answer will be a negative one. Still, everyone wants to believe in a miracle when the state starts correcting its mistakes and move towards the democratic standards of decency and justice. As yet, the regime does not want to see any legal human rights NGOs.

For they will never suppress the boorishness and impunity of state officials, but do their best to protect every individual, whose rights are essential for every progressive civil society.

‘The servants of the people’ should take care of the implementation of state guarantees of compliance with the Constitutional and international law, instead of prolonging their term of office by any means and contributing to the power of the totalitarian regime, as an integral, self-sufficient and invariable value of the country.

Judging by the excessive zeal used by the Ministry of Justice when checking Viasna’s application, one can estimate the gravity of the task to be solved by the state.

Over the past month, the Ministry’s inspectors spoke to every members of Viasna, some of them were asked to confirm their membership in person. The aim of the campaign is obvious – individual contact, search for people’s vulnerable spots and the use of the human factor are the means of finding faults aiming at justifying the possible negative decision.

Let us once again recollect the BT state TV channel, which has been intimidating the people with NGOs and revolutionary democratic changes. The latter were mainly viewed as ‘the puppets of the West’ and ‘terrorists’, which can undermine the peace and stability of Belarus.

The version by BT does have a right to exist, but not in today’s Belarus when the biggest TV channel is under total ideological control and therefore cannot be impartial enough to share independent views. A regime with minimum level of self-respect should not treat its citizens in the following way.

Since, it is the Man and the effective democratic society that reflect the interests of every human being are the invariable values of a progressive society.

Therefore, it is absolutely intolerable to exercise similar harassment of civil activity, initiatives and national patriotism. The civic duty and determination to solve the existing problems constitute a positive potential of the state. Since the executive power by itself cannot attend to every issue. Civil activists, their capabilities and potential are a powerful dynamic force necessary for positive changes. So is there anything to fear at all?

Everyone knows that reforms are ripe and the progress cannot be put off with ‘propaganda spells.’

Meanwhile, what is especially dangerous is when people forming an association cannot solve essential social and political issues. Who can outlaw their activity? Can the executive power track down and punish every one of them, when the Belarusian Constitution (Article 36) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22), mandatory for every subject of the state, clearly and unambiguously assert every citizen’s natural and inherent right to the freedom of association?

Besides, the fundamental law of Belarus states that:

1.      ‘the citizens of the Republic of Belarus shall be guaranteed the right to receive, store and disseminate complete, reliable and timely information of the activities of state bodies and public associations, on political, economic, cultural and international life…’ and ‘the use of information may be restricted by legislation with the purpose to safeguard the honour, dignity, personal and family life of the citizens and the full implementation of their rights.’ – Article 34 of the Constitution;

2.      ‘everyone shall be entitled to freedom of association.’ – Article 36 of the Constitution;

3.      ‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others…’ and ‘no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.’ – Article 22 of the Covenant;

4.      ‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought…’ – Article 18 of the Covenant;

5.      ‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression…’ and ‘this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.’ – Article 19 of the Covenant.

At the same time, it is absolutely obvious that today’s Belarus witnesses a large amount of violations of the above-mentioned rights, including persecution for civil activity.

In terms of the law, any of the restriction of civil and political rights, including persecution is an absolute legal nonsense!

There is no place for similar techniques in a democratic society – the techniques which are not restrictions but a blatant policy of violence. The techniques of discredit and harassment resemble a shameful military operation against the unarmed or imprisoned compatriots, against their inherit freedoms, against the civil society in general, as the basis of free thought and initiative, and eventually the basis of democracy.

One cannot but mention the fact that it is the Constitution the President swears upon, when coming into office as the Protector of the rights and freedoms of every citizen.

Thus, one can state that Belarusian NGOs are critically endangered. Besides, numerous provocations and harassment of their members are becoming systematic. The state is afraid of reforms. Reforms are the death of the existing regime, so its main inner enemy is the active civil stance and initiative.’ The regime does its best to prevent the society from genuine associations. It is afraid of civil solidarity and initiative, educated and free citizens and their willingness to make a conscious choice. It is afraid of changes.

However, democracy is based on the principles of personal freedom to have, share and impart one’s ideas and beliefs, one’s convictions that differ from the official ones, as well to create associations for the sake of protecting one’s interests, rights and freedoms.

Besides, it is obvious that it is the right to association, freedom of thought and exchange of information that are at the basis of the democratic freedoms guaranteed by Articles 3, 4 and 5 of the Belarusian Constitution.

Therefore, violation of these constitutional principles, as well as the principle of diversity of ideas, is a deliberate outrage against the constitutional system of the state to be immediately put an end to and prosecuted under the law.

As a result one can state that today’s Belarus expresses strong disrespect for the truth and the law. However, I am absolutely sure that one day the law of justice and truth will reign in Belarus.

May it be so by the will of God!

May it come true – the dreams aspired by my long-suffering, united and unconquerable people of Belarus!

 

Aliaksei Lapitski,

www.licviny.info

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