Famous Belarusian actors and artists have added to the popular calls for the authorities to release several leading opposition candidates for president that have been arrested in the last week.
The high-profile World Champion level Belarusian gymnast Melitina Stanyuta called on the government to stop ignoring the law on her Instagram account.
Denis Dudinsky, a well-known TV presenter, spoke out against the arrests of peaceful shoppers queuing to get into the Symabal store earlier this week.
And TV and radio host, journalist, musician and poet Katya Pytleva said a protest song was “boiling up” in her after watching the events of the last week, reported Interfax, which collected the quotes from several celebrities.
“I watched my colleagues, the journalists were detained live, even though they have a work permit, I was worried about those who went out on peaceful walks to show solidarity and ended up in jail, when mothers began to be threatened with the removal of their children only because she decided to support her husband and take advantage of the freedom of speech guaranteed by our constitution,” said Pytleva on social media. “It shouldn’t be like this. I don’t want this present or future for my children… But now being indifferent is tantamount to betraying my country, my people.”
The popular Minsk rapper Bakey shared: “It is very pleasant that everyone has intensified, that now everyone wants to show their civic position, to speak out. And this is wonderful, because when, if not now, we should unite and try to change something. Of course, not the fact that our actions will lead to some kind of positive result, but if you do not try, then nothing will happen.”
The people are angry with Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko’s economic mismanagement that has left Belarus as one of the poorest countries in Europe. But it seems his flagrant disregard of the dangers from the coronavirus (COVID-19) is what has pushed popular sentiment over the top.
The explosion in infections from the coronavirus epidemic continues unabated as the number suffering from the illness broke above the 60,000 mark on June 25 to a total of 60,945 people registered with a positive test for COVID-19, the country’s Ministry of Health reported.
“Over the entire period of the spread of infection in the country, 367 patients died,” the ministry said.
The ministry also reported that 41,448 patients had recovered from coronavirus as of June 25 and had been discharged from hospital.
At a less extreme level, the residents of Minsk have been suffering from another public health problem: very hot weather that arrived on top of the contamination of the water supply in Minsk.
Weather forecasters announced an orange hazard level on the afternoon of June 26 as temperatures topped 31C in Minsk.
After a day of dithering the authorities have now grasped the nettle and are shipping in large amounts of fresh water by truck, but the amounts still fall short of demand.
The cost of bottled water in Minsk has risen 15-fold in the last two days, according to Interfax Belarus, especially in the worst affected areas of the city, the Moscow and Frunze districts, where the problem of stinky water was first reported. Those two districts are home to just under three-quarters of a million people by themselves. In other areas of the city, which has a total population of just under 2mn, the cost of water is up by six to eight times, according to Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade.
“In order to meet the rush [in] demand caused by objective reasons, producers of the republic’s drinking water will increase supplies to Minsk to meet the needs of trade organisations and satisfy the demand of residents of the capital,” Vladimir Koltovich, the infrastructure minister, recommended.
Water is listed as a socially important product and prices can be regulated by the state in times of emergency.
Lukashenko: it’s not my fault
After his day out in Moscow to attend Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 75th Anniversary of V-day parade on June 25, Lukashenko was back in Minsk and returned to lambasting the Russians as being behind all the problems Belarus is facing at the moment.
Having blamed Russia and Poland for meddling in the upcoming elections earlier this week, on Thursday he also blamed Russians for driving up the cost of apartments in Minsk.
“Why do we have expensive apartments in Minsk … Muscovites simply rushed to Belarus. They don’t count money when they buy apartments in Minsk and other cities,” Lukashenko said, as cited by Interfax.
The president added: “we are building a lot of housing for the waiting list.” “The bottom line is to give you apartments. And the rest is just elite housing … Please let Muscovites come.”
Lukashenko explained that Muscovites are attracted to Minsk because of its “calm”, meaning it is a nice place to live, especially if you have children. While Belarus remains a popular holiday destination for lower-income Russians, there are few reports of Russians buying up property in Minsk, or other cities, as those with the money prefer to go to the Baltics.
The Kremlin responded drolly to Lukashenko’s claims saying that Minsk had not provided any proof of interference.
“Probably, some arguments should be provided by the party that [makes the accusations],” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 25, answering journalists’ questions about the possibility of investigating the accusations of the Belarusian side about Russia’s interference in the elections.
“As regards to an investigation: thank God we do not live in Washington,” Peskov deadpanned.
The Kremlin is not taking the accusations seriously and presumably assumes that Lukashenko is casting about for scapegoats and is simply piggy-backing on the hysteria whipped up in Washington over Russia’s electoral machinations in other countries.
But Lukashenko has been backed into a corner and is looking increasingly rattled. Earlier this week he felt the need to deny “a terrible fake” thrown up from Russia, a claim circulating on Telegam channels that one of his sons has $840mn in a Swiss bank account.
A screenshot was posted on Telegram showing the balance of a Swiss bank account with a large amount that had the name of the presidential aide for national security on it, the president’s eldest son.
“Today I was informed (although it was a long time ago, no one reported it) that one of my sons in Switzerland has $840mn. Send a letter there through diplomatic channels: whoever wants to take this money, let him immediately take it,” Lukashenko said on June 25 saying the information was “simply false”.
In the statement Lukashenko returned to his favourite topic of portraying himself as the embodiment of stability. He claimed that Belarus could have adopted shock reforms, but then after “smashing” the system the country would need $1 trillion to rebuild.
“We did not go for changes and reforms in order to break everything down to the bottom, and then, they say, we will build it. We could do it. But for this we need not hundreds of billions of dollars, but maybe a trillion dollars. Such money we do not have, nor does anyone else.”
It is the stability and Lukashenko’s success in sheltering the most vulnerable, the middle aged and old, from the ravages of transition that has been the cornerstone of his appeal. But that appeal is fading rapidly as the economic stagnation of the last few years has undermined the modest quality of life. Those that can leave for work elsewhere have done so.
It is widely assumed that regardless of how popular the various opposition leaders are, after 26 years in office Lukashenko will not simply step aside and he will ensure his victory in the August election.
The problem will be how to legitimise his victory. As part of that effort Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said on June 26 that the government would invite international observers to the presidential elections, taking into account the recommendations of the Ministry of Health.