Commentary — June 22, 2011, 9:19 am

“A perfectly illegal and dangerous action”

The official story behind the story behind the story of the Belarusian non-revolution

In the July issue of Harper’s Magazine, I tell the story of Andrei Vardomatsky, the last independent pollster in Belarus, who became a target during the country’s most recent presidential election. Belarus is an eastern European nation of forests and ghosts that has been ruled since 1994 by an autocratic president called Alexander Lukashenko. On December 19 last year, after the polls had closed, tens of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets of Minsk to protest against his latest, fraudulent election victory. The demonstration—by far the largest of Lukashenko’s reign—brought down the fury of the authorities. Riot police descended, beating protesters indiscriminately. Seven of the nine opposition politicians who dared to stand as candidates against Lukashenko were arrested, along with more than 600 other people. The regime remains convinced it was the victim of an attempt by Western governments to ignite a “color revolution” similar to those that took place in Georgia and Ukraine in 2003 and 2004 (an anxiety that has doubtless been reinforced by the events of the Arab Spring). In trials concluded in recent weeks, candidates and activists have been sentenced to several years in prison for their part in what the government calls “The Conspiracy.”

There is no better, or more alarming, guide to the interpretative thinking of the Belarusian state than its own account of the protest, which was published earlier this year and still features on the government’s official website. This 15,000-word document ran in full in Sovetskaya Belorussiya, the main state newspaper, on January 14, and was translated into English a few days later. It reads as a kind of collage, an assembly of ornate rhetoric (“an absurd notion is being obtruded upon public opinion”) and WikiLeaks-inspired extracts from surveillance reports and documents confiscated from the offices of opposition groups. The different sections describe clandestine meetings in cafés and intercepted conversations on Skype, and include detailed instructions for how best to smuggle funds for the uprising into Belarus.

Some of the people named in the document (including Vardomatsky, the subject of my article) denied to me the accuracy of the authorities’ claims; others admitted that some of the opposition materials are genuine. One Belarusian contact, who has given evidence at several trials arising from the protests, described it as a mosaic of truth and fabrication. He is, as the following distillation suggests, almost certainly right.


From “Behind the scenes of one conspiracy: Some declassified documents on the events of December 19”

The attack of the Government Residence caused indignation in Belarusian society.

The hidden motives of these events are known: foreign analytical centres formed and financed certain pro-radical structures. They made an attempt to overthrow the legal authorities and impose their understanding of “democracy” on society.

It is widely known that the foreign policy, pursued by Belarusian top leadership, is of exceptionally amicable character, it is aimed only at the development of good-neighbourly relations with all countries; and the country’s domestic policy provides steady and progressive advance of Belarusian society. Even the most vehement opponents of the Belarusian authorities, both inside and outside Belarus, have to admit the unique nature and the effectiveness of the Belarusian model of development.

However, the very fact of existence of such an independent state building its policy based on its national interests, causes harsh irritation on the part of some foreign political forces willing to subdue to their interests those post-Soviet states that are not yet under their influence, to which the Republic of Belarus belongs in the current conditions.

[T]he times have changed. Military invasion of a country aimed at overthrowing the ruling authorities is no longer “effective”. Another strategy has been employed – aimed at inspiring an internal political conflict controlled from the outside. A striking example of its implementation is the so-called “colour revolutions” in several post-Soviet countries.

The following technology is used to build up the notorious TV picture which occupies a particular place in the scenarios of “colour revolutions”.

The emotionally warmed-up crowd of young people led by specially trained people takes an influential governmental institution by assault, go inside, smash everything, and hang out victory flags. It is all broadcast over TV real-time and correspondents report that “the regime has fallen”, “the democracy has won”, and the new class has taken over the power.

The events which took place at Independence Square showed that several hundreds of journalists arrived in Minsk from abroad just to get this picture.

Those who financed this venture with the money of European tax-payers were perfectly aware of the fact that the success of the “revolution” would lead to a crisis erupting in the centre of the continent. They also realised there would be bloodshed in Belarus. Yet this was of no concern for them. Their primary goal was to replace Lukashenko, replace him with an obedient figurehead and coldly witness the unnecessary ordeal of a nation consumed by chaos.

At Oktyabrskaya Square in Minsk [presidential candidate] Andrei Sannikov, following the plan previously drafted and approved by foreign experts, makes a dramatic statement: “Lukashenko’s regime is over; we proclaim the Government of National Rescue whose members are the candidates for presidency.” Naturally, what they heard was a blatant lie, yet the statement proclaimed nothing short of an overthrow and many citizens became involved in a perfectly illegal and dangerous action.

At his press conference on December 20 the President instructed the special services to publish the now declassified documents to inform the general public of what had actually happened behind the scenes…

* * *

From the confiscated “Tell the Truth” Strategic Action Plan

“One of the components of the support campaign for the candidate of national confidence should be deliberate production of stimuli for the dissemination of rumours. A well-run rumour campaign forces the authorities to continually look for excuses, which helps create the so-called presumption of guilt and evokes greater mistrust towards the government in the general public.

Suggested rumour cycles:

  • The poor health of Lukashenko and members of his family.
  • Lukashenko gets treatment abroad and spends a lot of money on it.
  • Lukashenko’s money is deposited in foreign banks. This fact should be emphasised, and sums should be constantly increased.

The following rumors are also effective:

  • The country is being sold out on the cheap, clandestine privatization of enterprises is going on at full speed. Officials sell state property to the Arabs and the Chinese for bribes.
  • The nuclear power plant to be constructed will use a Chinese reactor that can be prone to explosion.
  • The nuclear reactor at the nuclear power plant is, in fact, future missiles, and a platform for nuclear blackmail.”
* * *

From an analytical note

  1. Delivery of money to Belarus

The “Courier” will be the major method for the campaign. This variant is the most widespread and the most efficient, in spite of the highest degree of risk.

The best options for couriers are: 1) Elderly people 2) A family with a small child 3) A student 4) A handicapped person.

The courier is unaware of the true purpose of the money, he or she only knows the legend. According to the legend, the money is delivered to Belarus as undeclared cash profit of a business entity.

Pluses: The opportunity to transport large amounts of cash (up to 200,000 USD per trip).
Minuses: Risk of disclosing the courier and loss of money.

* * *

Legalisation of money in Belarus

‘Friend’ – As previously stated, the most effective method in Belarus (taking into account the specific nature of the country) is to give the money to trusted people for keeping.

How this works: when the money arrives in Belarus, it is divided into five or more parts and is given for safekeeping to friends or, even better, to their close relatives. It is allowed to call the ‘Friend’ about the money only one time and to take the whole sum of money at once. Before that a special language used when saying that the money is needed, is discussed. It should not cause suspicions if the communication equipment is bugged. For example, “Let’s have a nice hearty dinner today somewhere away from the city centre”. When we use a ‘Friend’ on several occasions, the phrase is changed each time.

Expenses: a bottle of cognac and a chocolate bar, a Schengen visa issued for a year.

If the operation fails:
the courier should switch off his phone; when asked whose money this is, he should say that a Lithuanian man he met in a restaurant (the Lithuanian sat down at his table) asked him to carry the money and that he had to leave it in an automatic luggage locker at a station. He was paid to carry the money.

* * *

From the materials of the State Frontier Committee

“On December 15 a group of 5 people, residents from the town of Rovno, was detected at the Mokrany checkpoint at the Belarus-Ukraine border. They tried to enter Belarus by car as if with the aim of taking part in a “training workshop”. Then it turned out there was no any workshops of that kind. They had warm clothes, tents, sleeping bags, photo and video equipment. The addresses of their destination points in Belarus turned out to be fake.

Later, a similar group of 4 residents of Ivano-Frankovsk region was denied entry. They all came from the same village and claimed they did not know each other. When questioned, they could not clearly state the aim of their visit and were also going to stay in the country till December 20. Apart from warm clothes they had similar sets of knives, 30 in total.

On December 19 the frontier services on the Belarus-Lithuania border detained a courier (Igor Vladislavovich Semeniako, born in 1986) carrying about 7 thousand doses. The drugs were to be delivered to Minsk on the same day and distributed among the participants of the protest actions.

A group of 7 people was detected at the Mokhro checkpoint on December 13, 2010 trying to transport a smoke flare, an electric shocker, 5 rubber truncheons and one slingshot to Belarus.

On December 17, 2010 Belarusian frontier services denied entry to a Russian mini-van with 12 activists of the radical organisation Oborona (Defence). It was found that the passengers of the vehicle were carrying 2 telescopic metal rods and brass knuckles, a number of weapon-like items made of metal, 6 tents and 14 sleeping bags as well as an official uniform of an officer of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus.

* * *

From an operative note. The chronicle

At 22.05 A.Sannikov called on the protesters to go to the Government Residence and “negotiate with the authorities” and then the crowd moved forward to the central entrance of the building. At 22.21 the protesters managed to open one door and began to get inside, with A. Sannikov crying out, “They have just opened the Government door to us, we have been waiting for it for 16 years. Here there are a lot of journalists, our friends, let us come together, we are making history”.

At 22.30 the law-enforcement bodies started the operation on suppression of the illegal action by separating the crowd and isolating the most active group.

The forces of special divisions of law-enforcement bodies carried out “the cleanup operation” of Independence Square from 23.05 to 23.30.

Share
Single Page
undefined

More from Sam Knight:

From the May 2015 issue

The Day of the Knotweed

Battling Britain’s most destructive invasive plant

From the February 2014 issue

A God More Powerful Than I

Understanding a stalker’s love

From the July 2011 issue

Inside the snow globe

Dodging the secret police with the last pollster in Belarus

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2020

The Old Normal

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Out of Africa

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Waiting for the End of the World

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Harm’s Way

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Fifth Step

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A View to a Krill

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Old Normal·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Addressing the graduating cadets at West Point in May 1942, General George C. Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, reduced the nation’s purpose in the global war it had recently joined to a single emphatic sentence. “We are determined,” he remarked, “that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

At the time Marshall spoke, mere months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. forces had sustained a string of painful setbacks and had yet to win a major battle. Eventual victory over Japan and Germany seemed anything but assured. Yet Marshall was already looking beyond the immediate challenges to define what that victory, when ultimately— and, in his view, inevitably—achieved, was going to signify.

This second world war of the twentieth century, Marshall understood, was going to be immense and immensely destructive. But if vast in scope, it would be limited in duration. The sun would set; the war would end. Today no such expectation exists. Marshall’s successors have come to view armed conflict as an open-ended proposition. The alarming turn in U.S.–Iranian relations is another reminder that war has become normal for the United States.

Article
Waiting for the End of the World·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

1.

A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he.

I rose long before dawn, too thrilled to sleep, and set off to find my tribe. North from Greenville in the dark, past towns with names like Sans Souci and Travelers Rest, over the border into North Carolina, through land so choked by kudzu that the overgrown trees in the dark looked like great creatures petrified in mid-flight. The weirdness of this scene would, by the end of the weekend, show itself to be appropriate: my trip would be all about romanticism, and romanticism is a human collision with place that results, as Baudelaire put it, “neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” My rental car’s engine whined as it climbed the mountains. Day was just breaking when I nosed down a hill to Orchard Lake Campground, where tents were still being erected in the dimness.

Article
The Fifth Step·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Harold Jamieson, once chief engineer of New York City’s sanitation department, enjoyed retirement. He knew from his small circle of friends that some didn’t, so he considered himself lucky. He had an acre of garden in Queens that he shared with several like-minded horticulturists, he had discovered Netflix, and he was making inroads in the books he’d always meant to read. He still missed his wife—a victim of breast cancer five years previous—but aside from that persistent ache, his life was quite full. Before rising every morning, he reminded himself to enjoy the day. At sixty-eight, he liked to think he had a fair amount of road left, but there was no denying it had begun to narrow.

The best part of those days—assuming it wasn’t raining, snowing, or too cold—was the nine-block walk to Central Park after breakfast. Although he carried a cell phone and used an electronic tablet (had grown dependent on it, in fact), he still preferred the print version of the Times. In the park, he would settle on his favorite bench and spend an hour with it, reading the sections back to front, telling himself he was progressing from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Article
Out of Africa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

1. In 2014, Deepti Gurdasani, a genetic epidemiologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, coauthored a paper in Nature on human genetic variation in Africa, from which this image is taken. A recent study had found that DNA from people of European descent made up 96 percent of genetic samples worldwide, reflecting the historical tendency among scientists and doctors to view the male, European body as a global archetype. “There wasn’t very much data available from Africa at all,” Gurdasani told me. To help rectify the imbalance, her research team collected samples from eighteen African ethnolinguistic groups across the continent—such as the Kalenjin of Uganda and the Oromo of Ethiopia—most of whom had not previously been included in genomic research. They analyzed the data using an admixture algorithm, which visualizes the statistical genetic differences among groups by representing them as color clusters. The top chart shows genetic differences among the sampled African populations, in increasing degrees of granularity from top to bottom, and the bottom chart shows how they compare with ethnic groups in the rest of the world. The areas where the colors mix and overlap imply that groups commingled. The Yoruba, for instance, show remarkable homogeneity—their column is almost entirely green and purple—while the Kalenjin seem to have associated with many populations across the continent.

Article
In Harm’s Way·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ten yards was the nearest we could get to the river. Any closer and the smell was too much to bear. The water was a milky gray color, as if mixed with ashes, and the passage of floating trash was ceaseless. Plastic bags and bottles, coffee lids, yogurt cups, flip-flops, and sodden stuffed animals drifted past, coated in yellow scum. Amid the old tires and mattresses dumped on the riverbank, mounds of rank green weeds gave refuge to birds and grasshoppers, which didn’t seem bothered by the fecal stench.

El Río de los Remedios, or the River of Remedies, runs through the city of Ecatepec, a densely populated satellite of Mexico City. Confined mostly to concrete channels, the river serves as the main drainage line for the vast monochrome barrios that surround the capital. That day, I was standing on a stretch of the canal just north of Ecatepec, with a twenty-three-year-old photographer named Reyna Leynez. Reyna was the one who’d told me about the place and what it represents. This ruined river, this open sewer, is said to be one of the largest mass graves in Mexico.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

An Iraqi man complaining on live television about the country’s health services died on air.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Jesus Plus Nothing

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

Subscribe Today