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Jan-Henrik Wiebe

Belarus Elections 2012: Election Weekend in Minsk

This Saturday life goes on like every other day. People are getting married, driving afterwards through the city in their gaudily decorated cars, or just going shopping. In a pizza restaurant where I planned on eating lunch, every seat have been already taken. Luckily, soon a table is free. Many of the guests are dressed like people from middle-class – neither chick nor poor looking. Several questions go through my mind: do they vote? Do they know which candidate they should choose? Or do they not care at all and put their cross in the box with a name of the best dressed future-MP?

Minsk: a few days before the election day, September 2012, author: Jan-Henrik Wiebe, source: belarus-blog.de

Saturday, 22nd September

The blue sky is gone. Big thick clouds are over Minsk and douse the city into greyness. At least it’s not raining. But it’s not a nice day either. This Saturday, one day before the official day of parliamentary elections, which have already started on 18th September. There is also a polling station in a dormitory located right here in my street. “Many soldiers in uniforms have voted early“, said a student who lives there. This long voting period has been especially criticised by the opposition arguing that this would give plenty of time to falsify the results.

Yet is it really necessary? This is quite a different question – the few opposition candidates allowed to participate in the end withdrew their candidacy. They announced that they had not wanted to be the fig leaf of the so called “free elections“. The government has been functioning without any opposition for about last ten years, without actual political power, eagerly passing the laws of long-term President Lukashenko.

That’s why this Saturday life goes on like every other day. People are getting married, driving afterwards through the city in their gaudily decorated cars, or just going shopping.

In a pizza restaurant where I planned on eating lunch every seat have been already taken. Luckily soon a table is free. Many of its guests are dressed like people from middle-class – neither chick nor poor looking. Several questions go through my mind: do they vote? Do they know which candidate they should choose? Or do they not care at all and put their cross in the box with a name of the best dressed candidate?

However, it would make more sense to stay at home and boycott the elections because of the 50 percent threshold required to make elections valid. Otherwise in a district with a lower percent of voters the whole process has to be repeated. Politicians who are already not very popular would suffer a decisive defeat. Yet the opposition also doesn’t have citizens’ trust. They are seen as internally conflicted and unorganised. And no wonder here, with 18 year-long history of oppression.

A real election campaign has never happened. Official posters with all candidates hang on doors of some supermarkets. Big billboards in the city and small ones in the subway and in some stores are drawing attention to the election – that’s all. Advertisements for parties or candidates are nowhere. It is a phenomenon how voters can decide without knowing anything about the candidates.

If no miracle takes place, on Sunday the election commission will announce a high rating of  voters’ participation and none of opposition candidates will make it into the parliament. Eventually, the elections will be called unfair by OSCE observers.

But are people even interested? I don’t really know. Actually, the parliamentary elections are unimportant, it’s voting for a president that counts.

That’s why people just go through their lives – they will spend the evening in a cinema or a theatre, while others who want and can afford it will watch Placebo in the Minsk-Arena (a ticket costs about 30 to 70 Euro) and tomorrow will be no protests. And even in that case, Militsiya will quickly squash them. Journalists who’ll try to report about it will be brutally beaten, just like a few days ago. It won’t come to a revolution. After all, both the economy and people are doing (yet) well enough despite the inflation. People seem to be not disappointed enough with politics.

The photos

Sunday, 23rd September

Today the weather is even worse than on Saturday. The grey clouds are heavier than the day before and it rains. Not much but enough to rather stay at home than go for a walk or to a polling station. Almost no one comes to the one in my street, as students who live in the dormitory report.

In the evening I go out on, towards the October Square. Only a very few people are in the streets. Drizzle wets my face. Most of people at a subway-station look as if they are at work. Is this man with short hair, wearing a dark jacket and looking straight at me, from the KGB or is he just a passerby, waiting for his wife? I don’t know. But why do so many men look like him? Are they all waiting for their wives? I keep on and go around the Palace of the Republic. At its back there are some trucks with riot police. I know those trucks only from pictures and TV, and indeed they look scary. But I’m surprised that the whole city is not full of them.

My next destination is the Parliament, which is not far away. Maybe there are some people who demonstrate. I walk past the huge yet beautiful building belonging to the KGB. Each time I pass it, I remember the German song „Die Gedanken sind frei“ (Thoughts are free). When I arrived in the big square in front of the Parliament I see no one. No Militsiya. No people. No protesters. Only an ever-lasting Lenin is still present.

About the author:

Jan-Henrik Wiebe: born in Lüneburg (Germany) on May 1st 1988.
“I’m making my BA in Political Science and East Slavic Studies in Jena (Germany) and I stay for two semesters in Minsk to study the Russian language and International Relations. I’m writing for the student newspaper of my University and for Totschka-Treff.de, a German-Russian online youth journal”.

A part of the text was previously published on the author’s blog (in German: “Eine Wahl ohne Wahl und Wahlkampf”).

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Born in Lüneburg (Germany) on 1st May 1988. “I'm making my BA in Political Science and East Slavic Studies in Jena (Germany) and I stay for two semesters in Minsk to study the Russian language and International Relations. I'm writing for the student newspaper of my University and for Totschka-Treff.de, a German-Russian online youth journal”.

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