There is a process of deBelarusization unfolding in Belarus now that is destroying and prohibiting manifestations of Belarusian culture. The greeting “Long live Belarus”, which is a quote from a poem by a classic of Belarusian literature Yanka Kupala (the poem was written in 1905-1907), has been included by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus into the “list of Nazi symbols and paraphernalia”. The authorities are trying to discredit and criminalize the national slogan, tying it to the activities of those collaborating with invaders during the Second World War.
Police have detained cultural manager Siarhei Makarevich; in Homel the lead singer of a post-punk band VIKT(A)R xOI from Mazyr Krystsina Charankova has been tried for anti-war statements; court has issued a decision on the criminal case of a local historian and a tour guide Ihar Khmara.
The Minsk City Court in a closed session issued a decision on the criminal case of artist Andrei Raptunovich – 4 years of prison under the general regime.
Siarhei Haranin was dismissed from the Academy of Sciences, where he was a leading researcher at the Institute of Literary Studies named after Yanka Kupala. Yanka Kupala Hrodna State University dismissed a candidate of historical sciences, associate professor Sviatlana Silava.
Those arrested on administrative charges are not released after the end of the term – they are tortured with multiple sentences of 15 days each and kept in cruel, inhumane conditions.
I. Criminal politically motivated cases against cultural figures, authors and performers
- On November 4, Siarhei Makarevich, an employee of the “Viartannie”/”Return” charity fund and a cultural manager, was detained on suspicion within a criminal case. Makarevich’s house was searched, and he himself was detained. The charity fund “Viartannie”/”Return” contributed to the development of Belarusian culture, science and education. On October 25, the fund was liquidated by the decision of the Minsk City Court. The head of the Yanushkevich publishing house, with whom Makarevich had worked, commented on the detention of Siarhei Makarevich: “Our excellent partner and loyal associate, Siarhei Makarevich, was arrested. Our books are his merit, especially the Nobel series “Noblesse Oblige”. The activity of the publishing house was based on him, in general, it is with such people, of whom there are few, that great and significant things are done.” Siarhei Makarevich was taken to a detention center in Hrodna.
- On November 5, it became known that the director of UC “Majontak Padarosk” Yury Meliashkevich and CFO Dzmitry Karabach are accused within a criminal case and charged with non-payment of taxes and insurance contributions from the salaries of co-workers. The initiative “Padarosk Estate” restores the Chachots-Bokhvits estate in Padarosk. In 2013 it was bought out by a patron, Pavel Padkarytau.
- On November 10, the Homel Regional Court began consideration of the criminal case against the lead singer of a post-punk band VIKT(A)R xOI from Mazyr Krystsina Charankova, who is accused of “inciting social enmity” according to Part 1 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code for anti-war posts on Instagram. Krystsina Charankova was detained on March 22, 2022.
- On November 10, 2022, the court of Slonim district sentenced a public activist and musician Barys Kuchynski to 3 years without referral to an open correctional institution (“household chemistry”, 5,000 rubles compensation for moral damage to the victim, fine (4,800 rubles). Barys Kuchynski was convicted under the following articles: Art. 369 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (insulting a representative of the government); 1 part 3 Art. 203 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (illegal actions regarding information about private life and personal data) for a like in “Odnoklassniki”/”Classmates” with a mention of the “victim” senior police inspector Viktar Lutchanka.
- On November 10, the Frunzenski District Court of Minsk started considering the criminal case against Uladzislau Pliushchau, a musician, guitarist of “Krambambulia” and Pomidor/off. In August 2022, he was sentenced to 2 years in prison with confiscation of the car, as well as given a fine of 6,400 rubles. Now the musician is charged with three articles of the Criminal Code: Art. 369 (insulting a representative of the authorities); Art. 188 (defamation); Part 3 of Art. 203-1 (unlawful actions regarding information about private life and personal data).
- On November 10, the Miory District Court started a trial in a closed session of a 69-year-old former teacher of the Belarusian language and literature from Miory Ema Stsepulionak, who was detained on September 29, 2021 for commenting on social networks regarding the “Zeltsar case”. She is charged with two articles of the Criminal Code: Art. 368 (insulting Lukashenka) and Art. 369 (insulting a representative of the authorities);
- On November 11, the Minsk City Court behind closed doors handed down a verdict in the criminal case against Vadzim Vasilieu – 12 years of high security prison and a fine of 500 basic units (16,000 Belarusian rubles). He was convicted under six articles of the Criminal Code for allegedly managing the Vitsebsk 97% and Orsha 97% telegram channels. Vadzim Vasilieu is an illuminator and actor. He worked as an illuminator at the Belarusian Theater “Lialka” in Vitsebsk and at the Center of Culture “Vitsebsk”.
- On November 11, the Ivatsevichy District Court ordered to transfer artist Ales Pushkin to the prison regime for a term of one and a half years. On March 30, 2022, the Minsk City Court handed down a sentence in the criminal case of Ales Pushkin – imprisonment for 5 years in a high-security colony by partial addition of sentence: 4.5 years in colony according to Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (rehabilitation of Nazism) and a year of “chemistry” according to Art. 370 of the Criminal Code (mockery of state symbols). Ales Pushkin was detained on March 30, 2021, for placing a portrait of anti-Soviet saboteur Yauhen Zhykhar at an exhibition in Hrodna on March 19 at the Center for Urban Life. In 2019, for the book ”Prison Album” Ales Pushkin became the laureate of the Frantsishak Aliakhnovich award, founded by the Belarusian PEN-Center together with the Radio Liberty – for the best work written in prison.
- On November 11, the Moscow District Court of Minsk issued a decision on the criminal case of a local historian and tour guide Ihar Khmara according to Part 1 of Art. 342 (Active participation in actions that grossly violate public order) of the Criminal Code – 2 years and 6 months of restriction of liberty without referral to an open correctional institution (“home chemistry”). Ihar Khmara was detained on August 2, 2022 during a tour of Minsk.
- The Minsk City Court in a session behind closed doors issued a decision on the criminal case of artist Andrei Raptunovich – 4 years of colony under the general regime. Andrei Raptunovich is an artist at the center of further education in Minsk. Andrey Raptunovich was convicted for plans to go to Ukraine and join Kalinouski’s regiment (Part 1 of Art. 13 Art. 361-3 of the Criminal Code), as well as for registration in the “Pieramoha”/”Victory” plan (Part 3 of Art. 361-1 CC). Arrested on May 16, 2022 and convicted for 14 days according to Part 2 of Art. 19.11 of the Administrative Code (dissemination of extremist materials), he was supposed to be released on May 29, but he was sentenced to another 15 days of arrest under Art. 19.1 of Administrative Code (minor hooliganism) – allegedly, he waved his hands and cursed obscenely. Later, charges were brought under two articles of the Criminal Code: Part 3, Art. 361-1 (participation in extremist formation); Part 1 of Art. 13 art. 361-3 (preparation for the participation of a citizen of the Republic of Belarus on the territory of a foreign state in military operations without the authorization of the state).
- On November 14, a criminal case was initiated against the organization “Klerigata” which was the basis for work of the department of the Union of Poles in Belarus, headed by Angelika Borys. In Hrodna, police searched the apartments of the chairperson of the Union of Poles in Belarus council Irena Valus and of its vice-president Renata Dziemianchuk. The prosecutor’s office of Hrodna region sent an application to the economic court for the liquidation of Klerigata LLC and initiated a criminal case. The reason was the results of the inspection of Hrodna region prosecutor’s office and the Financial Investigation Department of the State Control Commission of the Republic of Belarus in Hrodna region. According to Art. 7 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Public Associations”, the activity of unregistered public associations, unions on the territory of the Republic of Belarus is prohibited.
II. Politically motivated administrative detentions and arrests of cultural figures, authors and performers
- On November 1, it became known that at the end of October 2022 police detained and sentenced to administrative arrest for 10 days Siarhei Haranin, deputy director for scientific work of the Institute of Linguistics named after Yakub Kolas “Center for Research of Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus”. Siarhei Haranin was sentenced for “dissemination of extremist materials” under Art. 19.11 of Administrative Code. Siarhei Haranin was detained during repressive actions at the Academy of Sciences against the participants of a Telegram chat “Scientists against violence”. In November, Siarhei Haranin was released.
- On November 14, Orthodox priest Uladzislau Bahamolnikau was arrested for the sixth time. He officiated at the memorial service for artist Raman Bandarenka, killed during the post-election protests in 2020. Uladzislau Bahamolnikau is a cleric of the Church of the Epiphany in Minsk, the head of the church-historical museum of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, philosophy teacher at the seminary, son of the famous Belarusian archaeologist Uladzimir Bahamolnikau. Uladzislau Bahamolnikau has already served 74 days of administrative arrest in Akrestsina – five consecutive terms. He did not come out again after the end of another term – a new report was drawn up on him and the court ordered him another 14 days of arrest.
- On November 14, after the administrative arrest members of a band from Rahachou “Tor Band” Dzmitry Halavach and Yauhen Burlo, their wives, as well as a photographer Andrei Salava, who shot music videos for the band, were not released. Police officers refuse to say where the detainees are and what they are accused of.
III. Trials and arrests for Belarusian and Ukrainian national symbols
On November 8, it became known about the detention of a Homel citizen Aliaksei Barsukou, who had recently returned from Germany, where he had taken a photo with a white-red-white flag. Aliaksei Barsukou was detained and sentenced to administrative arrest for this picture.
IV. Conditions in prisons
Pavel Mazheika got his term of detention extended until January 1, 2023. Pavel Mazheika is the head of the cultural space “Center for Urban Life” in Hrodna, journalist, coordinator of the publishing initiative “Harodnia Library”, which specialized in publishing books by authors from and about Hrodna. Parcels and packages were restricted to Pavel Mazheika and correspondence is blocked: he is given letters only from his family. Pavel Mazheika was detained in March 2021 together with artist Ales Pushkin, who exhibited a portrait of an anti-Soviet saboteur Yauhen Zhykhar at the Center for Urban Life. Police started a criminal case against Pavel Mazheika and Ales Pushkin “for deliberate actions aimed at the rehabilitation and justification of Nazism.” After 72 hours of detention, Pavel was then released with the wording “there are no more grounds for detention”. On August 30, 2022, Pavel Mazheika was detained in Hrodna and taken to a detention center. On September 2, he was transferred from the pre-trial detention center to the investigation detention center. This may mean that Paul is charged and the measure of restraint is chosen – behind bars.
V. Repression in the book sphere
On November 4, the prosecutor’s office of Brest discovered the facts of an offer to citizens to purchase book editions included in the Republican List of Extremist Materials on the electronic platform bonLibro.by. Prosecutors meant the edition “A Brief History of Belarus IX – XXI” by Anatol Taras. In September 2022, the Kastrychnitski District Court of Vitsebsk recognized it as “extremist” material. According to the facts of distribution, the prosecutor’s office initiated the beginning of the administrative process under Part 2 of Art. 19.11 of the Code of the Republic of Belarus on Administrative Offenses.
VI. Dismissals from state institutions of culture for civil position
- On November 9, it became known that the candidate of historical sciences, associate professor Sviatlana Silava was dismissed from Hrodna State University named after Yanka Kupala. The reason for the dismissal was her absence from the workplace for more than three hours. Sviatlana Silava was absent from work because she had been detained by the police. Sviatlana Silava was detained on October 18, 2022. Then she was accused of “keeping and distributing extremist materials”; on October 21, the teacher was released. The court fined her. Sviatlana Silava has been working at the HrSU since 2000 at the Department of History of Belarus. Researcher of the history of the Orthodox Church from the 18th century to the times of communist totalitarianism.
- On November 12, literary critic Siarhei Haranin wrote on his Facebook page that he had been fired from the Academy of Sciences, where he was a leading researcher at the Yanka Kupala Institute of Literary Studies. At the end of October 2022, Siarhei Haranin, deputy director for scientific work of the Institute of Linguistics named after Yakub Kolas “Center for Research of Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus”, was detained and sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest. Siarhei Haranin was sentenced for “dissemination of extremist materials” under Art. 19.11 of Administrative Code. Siarhei Haranin was detained during repressive actions at the Academy of Sciences against the participants of a Telegram chat “Scientists against violence”. In November, Siarhei Haranin was released.
VII. Liquidation of organizations and foundations that promote culture
On November 14, the prosecutor’s office of Hrodna region sent an application to the Economic Court for the liquidation of Klerigata LLC. The reason for the liquidation is the result of an inspection by the prosecutor’s office of Hrodna region and the Department of Financial Investigations in Hrodna region.
The greeting “Long live Belarus“, which is a quote from a poem by a classic of Belarusian literature Yanka Kupala (the poem was written in 1905-1907), is now included by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus into the “list of Nazi symbols and paraphernalia”, which contains 52 points. The authorities are trying to discredit and criminalize the national slogan, tying it to the activities of collaborators during the Second World War. Now for using the slogan people will be punished with criminal responsibility according to Art.341−1. The accused will face a fine, arrest, restriction of liberty for up to three years or imprisonment for up to four years.