The public uprising was met with unprecedented repressions. The EU sanctions and economic problems caused by voluntaristic decisions of authorities are on the horizon.
Unprecedented Levels of Violence and Solidarity
On July 14, the Central Election Commission registered 5 candidates for presidency: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Sergei Cherechnya, Andrey Dmitriev, Anna Kanopatskaya, and Alexander Lukashenko. There are only 25 days left for campaigning.
Viktor Babariko and Valeriy Tsepkalo were not registered, which caused spontaneous protests: in Minsk and throughout Belarus, thousands of people came out to the streets, the demonstration lasted until the late evening despite massive arrests (of about 250 people, including the press) and beatings of the protesters. Some clashes between the protesters and police occurred.
The unregistered candidates’ headquarters united around Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whichcaused great enthusiasm in the society. The pickets of their supporters gathered thousands of people all over the country. Valery Tsepkalo left Belarus with his children, and the Tikhanovsky children left Belarus with their grandmother.
Human rights activists recognized 25 people as political prisoners, and noted an unprecedented level of violence during the election campaign, as well as all-time high discriminatory conditions for participation. Since the announcement of the election campaign, the total number of arbitrary detentions exceeded 1,200. More than $165 thousand were collected to support the victims of the repressions.
“Thousands of people came out to the streets in Minsk and throughout Belarus, despite massive arrests and beatings of the protesters”
Voluntarism and Pressure on Banks
With the elections approaching, the authorities focused their efforts on the short-term purchase of loyalty of the state-owned companies’ and public sector employees. Thus, Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko promises his support to the large enterprises, and Alexander Lukashenko promises large-scale investments and the return to the planned economy. Salaries in budgetary organizations rose to 84% of the national average, which is 7.2% more than a month earlier. The authorities are trying to command private business as well while the president demanded that the private enterprises pay salaries at a level no less than the “top 10 enterprises”.
The government and the National Bank appointed the state representatives to the commercial banks in which the state has a stake. The National Bank recommended that commercial banks reduce “unreasonably high” interest rates on loans. At the same time, since the beginning of the year, the debt of organizations on credits and loans grew by more than 13.2% while the procedure for collecting money from the commercial banks’ debtors becomes more complicated.
Such economic voluntarism could pose a threat to Belarus of increased inflation and a new devaluation of the national currency after the elections.
EU Sanctions are on the Horizon
On July 17, a group of 53 MEPs appealed to the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell and the European Commissioner for Neighborhood and EU Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi with a request to consider the possibility of imposing sanctions against those guilty of violating rights and freedoms in Belarus. The head of the EU Delegation in Minsk Dirk Schuebel also highlighted the EU’s expectations from the upcoming elections and hinted at the possibility of re-imposing sanctions.
In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus stated that “people will make their own choice without any prompts from the “well-wishers” from the outside. Neither the European Union nor any outside party will determine the electoral process in our country”.
On July 17, the heads of the EAEU countries’ governments met in Minsk for the first time after the pandemic outbreak. Trade barriers elimination in the EAEU internal market became one of the most important topics of this meeting. The Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan described this meeting as productive, saying that the parties agreed on the main approaches and made some progress in removing the barriers.
A few days later, the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin stated that he “holds a strong belief” in the potential of the Union Treaty with Belarus but they can discuss energy prices after the roadmaps approval (the 31st of which presupposes political integration unacceptable for Belarus, which became a sticking point back in December, 2019).
Arrests in Minsk
Photo credits: Deutsche Welle