Banning silence in Belarus will backfire

    People applaud as they participate in a peaceful protest in Minsk, September 21, 2011. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

    Last week, the parliament of Belarus outlawed silent protests, which had sprung up in the country after the government devalued its currency in May. As Reuters reports:

    Amendments to the law approved on Wednesday classify any “mass presence of people in a public place agreed beforehand … aimed at performing actions agreed beforehand or inaction … to express political views or protest,” as picketing which requires official approval.

    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is often described as Europe’s last dictator, said that the protests, which took place at least once a week this summer, were part of a plot to overthrow his government.

    The timing of this move is interesting. With the silent and clapping protests apparently dying down in recent weeks, it’s hard not to see how this move will only backfire—reinvigorating the opposition.

    By banning such actions (or inaction), the government reveals even more clearly how arbitrary its power is and the lack of basic freedoms in the country, which should play perfectly into the opposition’s hands. Moreover, in passing a law that will be so easy to flout and so difficult to enforce, the government may inadvertently have just exposed its own limitations, which will likely inspire many more to take action.

    If pro-democracy activists can find a way to take advantage of this strategic blunder and overreach by the parliament, this new law could be used to great effect as they try to build their ranks.



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