Minsk - up close and personal

When a scene from a bad spy movie becomes reality...

, by Jens-Kristian Lütken

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Minsk - up close and personal

I was eight years old when the Berlin Wall collapsed; it must be my first memory of World politics. Therefore I never expected to be arrested by the KGB, and taken to the HQ in a black Volga. It sounds like the plot to a bad spy movie; however it just happened to me this March in the middle of Europe.

I was in Belarus as an independent election observer, together with a group of Danes and other Europeans we were planning to conduct exit polling. Knowing the situation in Belarus, its not an easy task, but the head of the Belarusian election commission stated that “Exit polling is a normal part of democratic elections”. Therefore we went to Minsk in order to take part in the “democratic elections”, however our visit to Minsk became rather short, the authorities changed their minds, and the independent observers from SILBA were sent out of the country.

The KGB (its still called KGB in Belarus) came to our hotel in Minsk; they asked us whom we were working together with in Belarus, why we were interested in Belarusian elections etc...

Belarus KGB logo

Furthermore they took our computers and USB keys. In Belarus you don’t need a judge in order to do such things, a KGB badge is enough... After this we were taken to an old dark KGB building in the outskirts of Minsk. We spent four hours answering the same questions again. The office was small so the obligatory portrait of Lukashenko seemed even bigger. After four hours we were told to leave Belarus the next day, Wednesday the 15 th of March. The elections were on the 19th so we only observed one day of the elections. In Belarus it’s possible to vote the whole week before the elections day.

One journalist told us on the day where we had to leave that the election result was already known, “the roomers are saying that he will get 78..3% of votes”. The journalist was wrong “Luka” got more than 82%...

After the elections thousands of people gathered in the streets of Minsk, the October Square was full of people. This was the first time in the eleven years of Lukashenka’s rule that so many people had participated in demonstrations.

The EU must show more interest in Belarus, until now the EU has completely ignored the situation in Belarus. Belarus is a part of Europe; in fact it is situated in the geographical centre of the European continent. The EU should give the Belarusian opposition an offer: EU membership if Belarus fulfils the Copenhagen criteria. That will provide the opposition with a clear political alternative to Lukashenka.

EU membership has been the catalysis for democratic transformation in many countries in Eastern Europe - the same could be the case with Belarus.

Jens-Kristian Lütken is a member of JEF-Denmark and was an election observer in Belarus for SILBA, a Danish NGO assisting in developing the new democracies in Eastern Europe.

 City Hall in Minsk, source: Wikimedia
 Belarus KGB logo, source: Axis

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