This document contains information about the persecution of people in Belarus for using the national white-red-white symbols – the flag, coat-of-arms “Pahonia” (Pursuit), and any combination of red and white colours. Like the last year’s report, it describes cases of criminal prosecution against those who caused damage to the official state symbol – the red-green flag. With the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 came repressions in Belarus for expressing solidarity with the people of Ukraine, in particular for anti-war statements and the use of the official Ukrainian symbols – the national flag and the coat of arms “Trident/Trebuchet” (and also a combination of blue and yellow colours). We view the abovementioned situations as violating the cultural right to use (non-banned) symbols as a form of free expression.
The report collates data gathered from the following open sources: websites and social media channels of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” (the primary data set); several Belarusian independent media outlets (authorities designated most of them as “extremist”); Belarusian state-run media (mainly, concerning persecution for causing damage to the official state symbols).
NB: For the sake of users’ information safety, we do not provide direct links to the sources of information if accessing them is criminalised under the active regulations in the Republic of Belarus.
I. Violation of the right to use the white-red-white symbols
II. Violation of the right to use Ukrainian symbols
III. Criminal prosecution for desecration of State symbols
IV. Conclusion: public policy on symbols
The white-red-white flag and the Pahonia (Pursuit) coat of arms symbolise the national movement for an independent and democratic Belarus. Around these symbols rallied supporters of change during the 2020 post-election protests in response to the falsified voting results, subsequent unprecedented violence against civilians and lies of state propaganda. The repression machine aims to destroy and discredit these symbols today. Historically, the white-red-white (biel-čyrvona-biely, colloquial BČB) flag and coat-of-arms were the state flag and coat-of-arms during the periods of the Belarusian People’s Republic (1918–1919) and the Republic of Belarus (1991–1995). The 2007 Resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 578 added the Pursuit coat of arms to the intangible historical and cultural heritage list.
In 2022, we recorded 120 cases of persecution of Belarusians for white-red-white symbols. The number is generally less than 335 registered in 2021. However, this fact speaks not about the weakening of repressions against supporters of democratic changes but about the success of the state apparatus in suppressing any form of dissent. It is worth noting that the collected data does not reflect the actual scale of pressure on citizens for the use of BČB (WRW) symbols, as not all facts become known to the public and media, nor could all of them have come to the attention of the PEN monitors. Another difficulty in capturing this type of persecution is that it is not always provable beyond a reasonable doubt whether the symbols were the original cause of the repression in the first place.
In most of the monitored cases symbols, citizens were subjected to administrative prosecution over WRW symbols. However, criminal prosecution also occurred. In many instances, it is only known that the person was “detained“, “summoned to the police“, “forced to paint over [the symbols]”, “recorded a penitential video“, etc. Most often, a person was detained and prosecuted directly for the images of the WRW flag and Pursuit, occasionally – for using items, objects or accessories in white and red colouring.
Administrative prosecution for white-red-white symbols
In most cases, administrative offence reports drawn up for the use of WRW symbols referred to the 30 December 1997 Law of the Republic of Belarus No. 114-3 “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus” under Article 24.23 (1) of the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO) (“Violation of the order of organising or holding mass events”). Sometimes, authorities applied Articles 19.1 (“disorderly conduct”) or 19.11 (“dissemination, production, storage and transportation of information materials calling for extremist activities or promoting such activities”). As for ‘popular’ Article 24.23 of the CAO [Article 23.34 in the old version], the wording “unauthorised picketing” migrated from one offence report to another in all its conceivable and unthinkable forms: picketing by placing a flag in a window / pictures in social media / photos of strangers; by a hat / stickers / a car frame / a scarf / a tattoo / a bag / a calendar sale ad, etc. Below are several examples of such “picketing”.
Persecution for the WRW flag and the coat of arms “Pursuit”
- Flat/private house
Minsk’s Partyzanski District Court sentenced Volha Prakop to seven days of administrative arrest (January) for “unauthorised picketing with a WRW flag placed on the window of a private house“. The Ušačy district court sentenced a resident to 15 days of arrest (January) for a 30X60 cm white-red-white flag tied to a tree trunk in his house’s yard in the village of Čyrsciady. In Ivanava, while searching Andrej Dražyn’s home, the police saw “Pursuit” on the garage gate and told him to paint it over (they came to check on it later). The owner was subsequently arrested for 25 days under two “popular” articles: “picketing” and “disobedience to police demands” (July). A white-red-white flag on the window, posted by a resident after a quarrel with his wife to provoke her arrest, had the opposite effect – the Kobryn court arrested the man himself for ten days (July). Brest’s Leninski district court convicted a woman under Article 24.23 (1) of the CAO (December, result unknown) for “picketing” in her flat by drawing a WRD flag with the emblem “Pursuit” on the wall in one of the rooms. There were also other cases of persecution.
A court in Hrodna ruled to arrest Andrej Sciepanienka for “unauthorised solo picketing” for 15 days. He was detained for wearing a badge with “Pursuit” on his backpack after a KGB-owned gym guard had reported him to the police. Andrej had arrived at the gym to participate in a sports competition (February). Later, he faced charges in a criminal case. A court in Pinsk fined Aliaksandr Ramanovič 3,840 BYN (~€1240) for wearing a badge with the “Pursuit” emblem, “the symbol of the 2020 protests“, as the judge had said (April), on his jacket while walking in the city. A Kobryn man was detained on the street and punished with 12 days of arrest under two administrative offence articles: “unauthorised solo picketing” – for wearing a “Pursuit” sweatshirt, and “distribution of extremist materials” – for the “ACAB” [“All Cops Are Bastards”] tattoo on his neck (May). A teenager was detained in Minsk over the WRW cover on his passport (May), with no information about any consequences available. Thanks to an “indifferent citizen”, a guest of the “Liasnoje” sanatorium in the Viciebsk region saw his vacation end with 15 days of administrative arrest. The reason was a T-shirt with the inscriptions “#BNR100” and “#Let eternal freedom be with us!” he wore one day. Dokšycy District Court ruled to destroy the T-shirt as “having no value” (September). Minsk’s Leninski District Court sent a man to jail for 15 days for “picketing with a Pursuit emblem patch on the cap” (December).
According to the police report, a man “participated in the picket by dispatching a DAF truck and a KOGEL reefer van with a white-red-white flag on it.” Lida District Court fined him 320 BYN (~€100) in January 2022. Later in October, he received yet another fine of 1600 BYN (~€515). In Orša, a resident was arrested for ten days for putting a sticker with “Pursuit” on the boot of his car (May). A Minsk court sentenced Zmicier Kavalenka to 15 days of administrative arrest for “picketing with a frame with ornament on the number plate” – police officers saw a small “Pursuit” on the number plate. They took the car away for expertise (September). A Brest court ruled in September to award a 640 BYN (~€256) to a resident for “unauthorised solo picketing” by placing a “Pursuit” sticker on his car. The police also temporarily took the car from him because of the sticker. Minsk’s Pieršamajski District Court fined Tacciana Piačko 3,200 BYN (~€1,200) over the car number plate frame in “wrong colours“, i.e. the Belarusian ornament (September). The officers of GUBOPiK [Main Department for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption] detained the car’s owner with “obvious traces of unstitched prohibited symbols” on the number plates. They recorded a “penitential video” with him (November).
- Social media
Vilejka District Court found a resident guilty and sentenced him to ten days of arrest for the WRW flag on his avatar in Viber (January). A resident of Baranavičy received seven days for “picketing on his VKontakte page with the photos of people holding white-red-white flags“: police found 14 photos on his page, some of them depicting the “guilty” himself (May). A resident of Viciebsk and a resident of Navapolack received 15 days of administrative arrest for posting in the social network “Vkontakte” (May) two WRW flags on his avatar and a photo with a WRW flag in his hands, correspondingly. A Viciebsk court ruled to arrest Tacciana Matviejeva for eight days for “violating the order of organising or holding a mass event” because a white-red-white frame surrounded her Facebook avatar (August). The Orša District and Town Court ruled “to impose an administrative penalty in the form of administrative arrest for 15 days” on Uladzislaŭ S. for the publication in the social network Instagram of “his photo image with a cloth in his hands, made in shades of white-red-white with the slogan “Žyvie Bielarus” (Long Live Belarus). The court treated it as “participation in a picket, for which there was no appropriate permission from the Orša district executive committee” (September). A resident of Mahiloŭ was detained with the use of force by several armed GUBOPIK and riot police officers in a barber shop “for reposting and distributing the WRW flag in his social networks“. As a detainee, Arkadzi H. appeared in a video posted on the Telegram channel run by security services (October).
At the end of July, at the Viva Braslav festival, one of the campers, Michail Tarloŭski, was detained for “extremist” tattoos – the symbol of anarchism (the letter “A” in a circle) and the coat of arms “Pursuit”. A “penitential video” was recorded with Michail. The consequences are not known to us. In September, a Mahiloŭ court punished Jaŭhien Hanul with a 15-day arrest for tattoos: a fist with WRW ribbon, the coat of arms “Pursuit”, and a portrait of Kastuś Kalinoŭski [a hero of the anti-Russian national liberation movement of the 1860s].
- Belarusian border
In January, a Brest court fined truck driver Aliaksandr Krejdzič 1280 BYN (~€413) for “picketing” on the Belarusian-Polish border with two “Pursiot” stickers on the car window, spotted by customs officers at the “Kazlovičy” checkpoint. In April, the Vierhniadzvinsk district court punished the driver with ten days of arrest for an 8X15 cm “Pursuit” sticker inside the car, reported by a border control officer. In March and April, at least four more drivers went through Brest’s Leninski district court for WRW symbols – pennants or ribbons on car windows. They received fines ranging from 960 to 1,600 BYN (~€280-470).
On 7 January, Illja Dabradziej was detained for having three WRW stripes on his backpack inside Minsk’s Saviecki District Court building, where he came to attend the trial of political prisoner Aliaksandr Ivulin. Partyzanski District Court later punished Illja with ten days of administrative arrest. Vital Borys was detained on 10 March, the day of artist Alieś Puškin’s trial. During security checks at the entrance to the building, guards found in his backpack a passport cover with the “Pursuit” sign. The court later ruled that Vitaly allegedly waved it around and ordered a 15-day arrest for him. 73-year-old artist Alieś Cyrkunoŭ received similar punishment after detention for wearing a small “Pursuit” badge with the inscription “Glory to the Heroes” on his clothes. In September, a citizen of Minsk, detained in the building of courts of Pieršamajski and Saviecki districts of Minsk for a key chain with “Pahonia” on the background of the BČB flag, was sentenced to 14 days of administrative arrest.
- Anti-war manifestations and the Freedom Day
The active phase of the protests with white-red-white flags in the streets mainly remained in 2020–2021. However, even in 2022, at least two events prompted people to express themselves in public despite inevitable repressions: the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine (24 February) and Freedom Day (25 March).
On the morning of 24 February, police detained Volha Barunova, who came out with a white-red-white flag for solo anti-war picketing in Maladziečna. On 26 February, nine people photographed themselves in the woods near Žodzina holding posters “Russian soldier, drop your automatic rifle” and “I/We are against the war “, WRW flags with “Pursuit,” and the white-red emblem of Žodzina. They later posted the picture on a Telegram channel. Two persons were reportedly identified. A Žodzina court found them guilty of “unauthorised picketing” and punished one with 15 days of administrative arrest and the other with a 6,400 BYN (~€2130) fine. In the first days of the war, a group of people with WRW flags and posters with anti-war slogans marched through the streets of Viciebsk. At least one of the participants was punished with 15 days of arrest. According to the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, just in two days – 28 February and 1 March 2022, there were 328 administrative trials, with Article 24.23 (1) of the CAO applied against the detainees for “violating the procedure for organising and holding mass events“. Over 90% of detainees received administrative detention terms. However, no statistics are available on using WRW symbols during anti-war expressions.
On 25 March, on Freedom Day, the 105th anniversary of the proclamation of independence of the Belarusian People’s Republic, 78-year-old Alena Kandraševič came out of her house and sat down on the bench outside the entrance with a white-red-white flag draped over her shoulders. Shortly after, six policemen took her to the local police station, where they drew up a report for picketing without permission from the City Executive Committee. In April, Alena received a letter with the court ruling awarding her a 1,920 BYN (~€660) fine.
Persecution for WRW items and the slogan
“Žyvie Belarus!” (Long Live Belarus!)
In January and early February, a court in the Masty district convicted at least 13 residents for subscribing to and reposting from “extremist” channels, corresponding in chats and personal messages, and possessing materials containing private photos or pictures of unknown people with WRW flags; drawings with white-red-white symbols, balloons and other items; forwarding in messages a variety of WRW stickers with images and slogans. The Masty residents were fined 10,560 BYN (~€3,580). In March 2022, the Biešankovičy district court fined poet, bard and journalist Ryhor Stankievič 2,240 BYN (~€750) for a photo behind the white-red Narodnaja Hramada party flag, posted in an article on Viciebsk “Viasna”. The writer had nothing to do with its publication, and the photo was archived. The image became a legal reason to punish Stankievič for his anti-war appeal, published earlier on beshankovichi.by. In April, Minsk resident Safija S. was sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest for wearing a WRW bracelet on her wrist. Alena Žaryna from Minsk received 15 days of administrative detention in May for WRW curtains on her window in 2020. She faced criminal charges after serving her administrative punishment). In August, a local court ruled to fine a lady from Vaŭkavysk 4960 BYN (~€1910) for “placing a white-red-white bag in the boot of her car for public display and symbols with the same colour ornament on the car panel“. Her car and phone remained in police custody until she fully paid the fine. In September, a Kobryn court arrested a resident for ten days for “acting deliberately and tying a red and white [Polish] scarf on the Suvorov monument bust“. A “concerned citizen” had reported him to the police. The detainee said in court that he had found someone’s scarf on the road and hung it up so that it was easy to find.
On 12 January 2022, Pružany district court sentenced M. to ten days of arrest for the phrases “Vierym, možam, pieramožam!” (We Believe, Can and Win!) and “Žyvie Bielaruś!” (Long Live Belarus!), which he said on the evening of 12 November 2021, having called the emergency number 102 in the Pružany district police department, thus, according to the court ruling, violating public order and comfort of the community (Article 19.1 of the Administrative Code “Disorderly conduct”). In November, Minsk Lieninski District Court punished the author of the classified ad with 15 days of arrest for selling a flip-flap calendar for 2021 Pahonia for 5 rubles on the used goods website kufar.by, considering it “picketing by posting an advertisement for the sale of a calendar with the image of Pahonia and slogans: “Žyvie Bielaruś!”, “Žyvie viečna!”, “Nie spynić! Nie strymać!”. In December, Čyhunačny District Court of Viciebsk sentenced R. to ten days in jail for writing “Žyvie Bielaruś” on the bonnet of a snow-covered car owned by his neighbour – a police officer. The accused had wanted to “cheer him up” in this way.
Criminal prosecution for white-red-white symbols
Detentions for WRW symbols in administrative cases could later be transformed into criminal prosecution, especially if photos from the protests or other evidence of disloyalty to the regime could be found – a widespread practice of persecuting the dissent in Belarus. At the same time, there were cases when criminal charges were applied at once to punish people for symbols, mainly under Article 339 (“Hooliganism”) or Article 341 (“Desecration of buildings and property damage”).
On 1 February 2022, the Minsk District Court ruled to fine Natalia Sliapcova 4,800 BYN (~€1,655) for drawing hearts and writing “Žyvie!” and “Bielaruś” with a red marker in the lift cabin of an apartment building in March–April 2021. In 2021, Natalia was prosecuted for the same crimes. First, she spent 22 days behind bars in May (administrative detention) before receiving three months of house arrest in a criminal case. The material damage included in the charges was the cost of a brush (“not less than three Belarusian roubles“), which a neighbour used of her own will to wash the inscriptions.
On 4 February, Polack District and City Court passed a verdict in the criminal case against Volha Trunova and Sviatlana Firsava. The court sentenced them to 6080 and 6400 BYN (~€2100 and €2200), respectively, for drawing WRW inscriptions and images on the poles, trees, benches and asphalt using spray paint and for posting on social media pictures with the white sheets of paper with a red stripe in November 2020. Before the verdict, the defendants had compensated the village council for the material damage worth 20 BYN.
On 16 June, the Maskoŭski District Court of Brest sentenced Iryna Pryhava to 1.5 years in a penal colony, having accused her of hoisting WRW ribbons and flags on Brest streets. The case included “at least 15 instances” between January and March 2022. She was also charged with making inscriptions on buildings. Some inscriptions fell under Article 368 of the Criminal Code (“Public insult of the President of the Republic of Belarus”). During the trial, Iryna did not admit to having made them. The court also ordered her to pay a fine of 398.20 BYN for forensic expertise.
On 6 September, Baranavičy District Court sentenced Uladzimir Branavicki to one year in a colony for having “placed with exceptional cynicism… homemade cloth items in white-red-white colours 17 times” on power lines in the city and vicinities in January – June 2022. Uladzimir acknowledged the material damage claims worth 1277 BYN from the Baranavičy branch of Brestenergo RUP.
On 23 December, Biarezinski District Court sentenced Piotr Piatruša to six months in prison for having painted “white-red-white stripes” 11 times on various surfaces – power line poles, bus stops and road signs – between February 2021 and September 2022. The defendant paid off 700 BYN in material damage during the preliminary investigation.
In many known cases (it is impossible to give an exact number today), police detained people and checked their phones. If images with symbols were there, they served as evidence and justification for arrest. A new development in 2022 was that the government added items with symbols or in white and red colour from international parcels to the “National List of Extremist Materials“. The items included: information products “applied to a cloth strip and a lighter, containing an image of white-red-white stripes and a rider on a horse with a sword and a shield in his hands“; “applied to a white bracelet with a red stripe in the centre, containing the inscription “LIVE BELARUS! Live forever!” and an image of a rider on a horse with a sword and a shield in his hands; “a patch with an image of white-red-white stripes“; badges and postcards, masks and T-shirts, stickers and calendars, bracelets and mugs, key chains and magnets, etc., etc. It also included the Instagram account “Belarus on the Body” – “Stories of Belarusians with tattoos about 2020“, filled with protest and WRW symbols among others. In November 2022, the government also added the greeting “Žyvie Bielaruś!” and the reply “Žyvie!” to the “List of Nazi organisations, symbols and paraphernalia“.
The monitoring contains 36 [the actual figure is much higher] cases of Belarusians persecuted over Ukrainian symbols – the state flag and coat of arms, and a combination of yellow and blue colours. The information collected is incomplete and does not reflect the actual scale of repressions against those who have used Ukrainian symbols to express their support for the Ukrainian people since the start of military aggression by the Russian Federation on 24 February 2022.
On 27 February, the primary day of the [illegitimate] referendum on changes to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, peaceful assemblies of citizens took place. According to the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, on 27-28 February alone, more than a thousand people were detained for anti-war statements, totalling over two thousand in 2022. During manifestations, protesters utilised Ukrainian symbols along with white-red-white ones. As in the cases of persecution for the WRW, the use of the Ukrainian symbols, as well as the “No to War!” and “Glory to Ukraine!” slogans in most cases fell under Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which deals with “unauthorised picketing”. Punishment in most cases included administrative arrest and, less often, fines. Some examples.
On 27 February, Viciebsk resident Kaciaryna Biekan was detained because she held a bouquet of yellow and blue flowers on Victory Square. The city court punished her with ten days of arrest. Siarhei Khlebadar was detained at a polling station in Polack, where he came wearing a yellow and blue scarf. He received 15 days of administrative detention. Žanna Trafimiec went to Kastryčnickaya Square in Minsk with a poster “Stop the war” and yellow and blue balloons tied to it. She was detained with her granddaughter and taken to the Central District police station. The next day, the court fined Trafimiec 3040 BYN (~€1,050). On 4 March, the history teacher from Babrujsk, Larysa Siekiaržyckaja, “violated the order of organising and holding a mass event” by coming to work with yellow and blue ribbons in her hair, which her colleagues reported to the police. On 31 March, the city court fined Siekiaržyckaja 2,240 BYN (~€680). In late August, it became known that the school had not renewed her contract. Viciebsk activist and distributor of Belarusian books Barys Chamajda was detained on 15 March.
A police officer first noticed a yellow and blue ribbon tied to the table with books and asked to remove it. Later, during a search at the police station, officers found a WRW ribbon and stripes with Ukrainian symbols in his backpack. Chamajda was released 20 days later, on 4 April. Aliaksandr Baran, a priest from Lyntupy, was detained in March for an image on his social media profile, which he had updated back on 24 February, the day Russia started its war against Ukraine. The picture depicted Ukrainian and WRW flags. As a result, he spent six days in temporary detention, after which the court added another four days on 4 April (he was released a few days ahead of schedule). After his release, the priest explained that Christians regard the white-red-white as a sign of the risen Christ, who brings peace. With the Ukrainian flag, he wanted to show that he remembers and loves his Ukrainian friends and relatives. Aliaksandr Baran was punished again in August for not deleting the old posts with the avatars and received another 17 days of administrative arrest. Viačaslaŭ Bukas was detained and arrested two and a half weeks after he placed yellow and blue bulbs at the monument to the victims of unjustified repressions in Babrujsk on 24 August, the Independence Day of Ukraine. On 12 September, the city court punished him with 15 days in jail for “picketing”.
During 2022, we saw people detained or persecuted for keeping a Ukrainian flag on their shoulders; launching yellow and blue balloons; hanging Ukrainian flags in windows; “taking pictures on a bench, displaying yellow and blue colours;” wearing badges showing a yellow field and a blue sky; putting sheets of paper on the window painted in yellow and blue colours; sticking the Trident coat of arms on a car; yellow and blue ribbons on a car; “picketing” with an image of the Ukrainian flag on Instagram; lighting yellow and blue pyrotechnics, etc.
Criminal proceedings were initiated in several cases. The following examples refer to the simultaneous display of Ukrainian and WRW flags. At the end of August, large WRW and Ukrainian flags appeared on the facade of a 19-storey building on Lesia Ukrainka Street in Minsk. In mid-September, five Minsk residents were detained for this. The initial criminal charges against them – malignant hooliganism under Article 339 of the Criminal Code – were upgraded to “Establishing and participating in an extremist formation” (Article 361-1) and “Facilitating extremist activities” (Article 361-4). On 6 April 2023, Dzianis Vorazaŭ, Viačaslaŭ Panciušanka, Volha Cierach and Kaciaryna Zareckaja were sentenced to five years in prison for displaying the national flags of Belarus and Ukraine, Uladzimir Lavor – to 4 years and nine months in a colony. On 8 October, the day Ukrainian forces blew up the Crimean bridge (leading from the Krasnodar region to the annexed Crimea, a group of Minsk residents congratulated the Ukrainian people “with the wonderful news from the Crimean bridge” by hanging the WRW and Ukrainian flags on a power line tower in Minsk. At the end of October, the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported on the progress of the investigation and eventual detention of six Minsk residents. The police detained Ihar Ciaplijeŭ, Ihar Cikač, Viktar Hryńko, Uladzimir Savielijeu, Jury Nesciarenka and Valer Balabieška for hanging the flags. All of them faced criminal charges.
In 2022, criminal prosecution for “disrespectful attitude to the state symbols of the Republic of Belarus” – the red-green flag in the first place – continued in Belarus. In the situation of suppressed post-election protests, repression of dissent, and a total lack of freedom in principle, the emerging stories for a third year about the damage of flags on buildings (primarily committed in a state of alcoholic intoxication) are an indication of citizens’ attitudes towards the authorities.
The monitoring reflects information about 36 [data not claiming to be complete] criminal cases under Article 370 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, “Insult to State Symbols”, which resolved in conviction verdicts in 2022. Seven of those cases also involved Article 339 (“Hooliganism”) or Article 368 (“Public Insult to the President”). This overview does not include cases when citizens were charged under more than two articles of the Criminal Code (including Article 370).
Trials for flags torn from the brackets on the buildings of urban and rural schools, food shops, post offices, Culture Houses, dormitories, executive committees, and other state institutions occurred all over the country during the year. On 18 January, a Babrujsk court sentenced in a closed trial Hleb Liohki and Arciom Pryhažajeŭ to 1.5 years in prison for tearing down the flag from the school building and throwing it on the ground, stomping on it and throwing a cigarette butt on it. In February, Lida residents Jaraslaŭ Hiebień and Mikita Muryn were sentenced to 2.5 years in jail for “insulting and disrespectful attitude to the State flag of Belarus.” They climbed to the roof of the building, broke it from the flagpole, threw the cloth on the ground and bushes and made a video with it “in an indecent manner“. On 15 April, a Brest court ruled to arrest Maksim Chamičuk and Daniil Muraškin for three months for tearing down the flag from a “Hit!” shop in January and breaking the flagpole. The men had not torn it; they had just taken it home. On 15 April, the Homiel district court sentenced Siarhiej Aleinikaŭ and Jan Aliaksiejčykaŭ to one year in prison for tearing down two state flags from the local Culture House and the executive committee in January. Relatives returned one of the flags. The other was found hidden in a tree in the house’s yard owned by one of the men. On 22 April, Mahilioŭ District Court ruled to arrest Ihar Šnejderaŭ for three months for tearing down the flag from the building of the village house of culture in early March, which he took to the garage where he spent that evening in the company of friends. On 10 May, the Žabinka district court sentenced Valiancin Šumik to two years of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility for tearing down the flag from the shop and throwing it over the nearest fence. On 13 December, the Ivacevičy court sentenced Aliaksiej Mihno to one year in a penal colony for climbing on the building of the village council through a drainpipe, removing the official state flag and putting it on the porch (while his friend who put the flag to the wall). There were other prosecutions under Article 370, with many criminal cases involving a group of persons (two or more) “acting in a group of persons by prior collusion“, as it often appeared in the case files.
Belarusians not only tore the red-green flags off the brackets of buildings but also defaced them, set them on fire or compared them with Nazi symbols. For instance, a resident of Salihorsk sprayed motor oil on the flag installed at the entrance to a children’s and youth sports school and damaged the cloth, for which he was sentenced to 1.5 years of an open-type correctional facility. Having left the shop, Dzmitry Matusievič and Viačaslaŭ Liucinski tried to burn the souvenir flag purchased there, which was reported to the police by the shop guard. The Orša city and the district court sentenced them to two years of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility. The Baranavičy district and city court sentenced Vital Halavač to one year of home confinement for a photo of a red-green flag against a Nazi swastika posted on social networks. Zmicier Januškievič was charged under two articles of the Criminal Code, including for an “insulting and blasphemous picture with a swastika, the main colours of which are red and green, which repeat the colours of the flag of the Republic of Belarus” that he posted in Odnoklassniki. The Hrodna court sentenced him to one year in prison.
People convicted under Article 370 (as well as several other “political” articles) late found themselves on the lists of “extremists”, such as the Interior Ministry’s “List of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign citizens and stateless persons involved in extremist activities”. Being on this list means additional restrictions for people while serving their sentence and after release.
There are known cases of persecution for actions with the official state flag against those who expressed their opinion about the events in the country while being outside of Belarus. Thus, on 10 February, the General Prosecutor’s office of the Republic of Belarus instituted criminal proceedings against Borys Filatov, Mayor of the Ukrainian city of Dniepr, charging him under Article 130 of the Criminal Code (“inciting ethnic hatred”) for having changed the flag outside the Dnieper city hall into a white-red-white one in protest against Lukashenka’s anti-Ukrainian statements on 9 February 2022. In May, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case under Article 370 (“Insult to the State Flag”) against a Belarusian man who sprayed paint on the flag of Belarus hanging in the Alley of Flags of the World in the US and placed a sign “Country aggressor” under it. [The police officers who hung up a white-red-white flag were also charged with the offence of “aggressor country”].
The monitoring also contains information about administrative prosecution for “illegal actions towards state symbols of the Republic of Belarus”, the anthem. On 25 June, during the playing of the national anthem before the football match between Neman and BATE, one of the fans did not stand up from his seat, for which he was prosecuted under Article 24.54 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus and received a fine of 480 rubles (~€190).
Screenshots from the story on the state TV channel “Belarus 1”
The white-red-white flag and coat-of-arms “Pursuit”, the flag and coat-of-arms of Ukraine are not prohibited by law in Belarus. For the last three years, the authoritarian regime’s strategy concerning symbols (as one of the areas of repression) has been built on defamation of historical (white-red-white) symbols and attempts to instil respect for state symbols (red-green). Since the end of February 2022, it added persecution of Ukrainian symbols (as a manifestation of solidarity with Ukraine) while publicly displaying signs of Russian military aggression – St. George’s ribbons, the letters Z and V. The Russian “tricolour” and Soviet symbols at official state events are also part of the contemporary political scene in Belarus.
The illegal and inhumane practice of “repentance” videos, encouraged by the authorities and becoming daily, continues. One of the tasks is to discredit the national symbols: the Belarusian flag, the coat of arms “Pursuit”, the slogan “Žyvie Bielarus!” (Long Live Belarus!) In such videos, the detainees apologise under duress for something that is their inalienable right (to use and express themselves): for displaying the white-red-white ribbons inside a car, the “opposition” flag, the cap and stickers found at home during the search; the Belarusian flag with which they travelled abroad and took pictures; the sticker “Pursuit” on the car boot; a video of dancing on the background of the WRW flag; posting photos with alleged “Nazi” symbols on “Odnoklassniki”; participating in the 2020 protests and walking on the road with a WRW flag. They are forced to display their tattoos – a fist with a WRW ribbon, the “Pursuit”, or a portrait of revolutionary Kastuś Kalinoŭski. On videos, they may appear wrapped in a white-red-white flag, having a WRW paper stuck on the forehead or a flag in the hands, stomping on a cap with the “Pursuit” on camera, painting a new picture over a tattoo of the coat of arms right in the office of the “law enforcement” or erasing the WRW flag with a toothpick from the image and replacing it with a white one. Detainees are forced to repent, promise to “study hard“, and say they have “reconsidered their views“. “Pleading guilty” is encouraged. Videos are recorded against the background of the state’s red and green symbols.
Simultaneously with the defamation of ideologically wrong symbols from the regime’s point of view, representatives of the state apparatus are taking a series of steps to instil respect for the other, the “right” ones. For example, since 2021, the government has been campaigning to place a red-green flag on as many public buildings as possible. There have also been reports that district administrations had sent letters demanding that the official flag be hoisted “in full view” on the roofs of residential buildings by property associations and private houses by employees of state-owned enterprises. At the same time, the authorities introduced rituals to honour the state symbols at all levels of education in 2022. In pursuance of the Programme for the Patriotic Education of the Population for 2022-2025, the Ministry of Education developed a document, which sets out that “to improve the work on patriotic education of pupils, to form traditional values, traditions to honour the symbols of state sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus (the State Emblem and the State Flag of the Republic of Belarus)“, it has been ordered to organise permanent events “with obligatory listening (performing)” of the anthem. The government also introduced additional duties for athletes and coaches, namely the mandatory knowledge of the national anthem text (“On Amendments to the Law on Physical Culture and Sports”). The national anthem is not as recognisable to Belarusians as the Mahutny Boža (God Almighty), which has become one of the symbols of the protest.
Parallel to the official (red and green) symbols, the Russian flag can be visible during state holidays and events, as well as Soviet symbols, particularly the flag of the USSR and portraits of Lenin and Stalin. Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, the symbols of Russian aggression – the letters Z and V and the St. George Ribbon – became the latest addition. Thus, on 30 April, a rally titled “Belarus Z for Russia” was held in Minsk. In Buda-Kašaliova, at the celebration of the health day, the team of the police department posed with the letters Z and V, made in the colours of the state flag of Belarus. On 29 June in Babrujsk, local representatives of the town council and town executive committee celebrated the 78th anniversary of Babrujsk’s liberation from the Nazi occupation, taking a joint photo with the guests from Russia, including a Z-symbol, at the end of the event. These are just a few examples of the presence of Russian military symbols, banned in several countries, in the public space of Belarusian cities.
In early January 2022, the region’s coat of arms, which included “Pursuit”, was dismantled on a building in the centre of Viciebsk. The local administration reassured them that it had gone for “modernisation” and would soon return with “minor” changes, which replaced the white background of the coat of arms with a green one. Similarly, the repressive Lukašenka regime is trying to “modernise” Belarus.