Lithuanians feel the turmoil of non-democratic Belarus elections

  • 2010-12-22
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - The Belarusian presidential election of Dec. 19 turned out to be a scandal. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) does not recognize the presidential elections in Belarus as free and fair. The biggest outrage was provoked by the events on the evening of Dec. 19, when some 15,000 protesters in Minsk were dispersed by the Belarusian police. The opposition managed to get a nice TV picture worldwide by attempting to storm the government headquarters, say the Minsk officials justifying the detention of 639 protesters, including the majority of the opposition presidential candidates. The storming of the government’s headquarters was a provocation of the regime’s agents, say the Belarusian opposition. Several Lithuanian MPs, representing all the political spectrum of Lithuania, went to observe the elections of Dec. 19 in Belarus. All these Lithuanian MPs say that they are in shock from what they have seen in Belarus.

According to the official result, populist strongman Alexander Lukashenko won 79.7 percent of the ballot, while second place winner Andrey Sannikov got 2.4 percent. All nine rivals of President Lukashenko combined received 13 percent of the votes. Lithuanian Liberal Movement MP Petras Austrevicius observed the elections in a Belarusian province close to the Lithuanian border. The popularity of Lukashenko is higher in those provincial areas than in Minsk.

Austrevicius said that the proportion of the votes for Lukashenko and for the opposition candidates was “60-something to 30-something” in that area. He and his colleague, Lithuanian Christian Party MP Rokas Zilinskas, were even invited to count the ballots themselves. However, both MPs pointed out that it is worth bearing in mind that the main fraud in Belarus could be done with votes which were cast before the date of the election (they made up some 20 percent of the vote) - according to Austrevicius, the proportion of those ballots was 90-10 in favor of Lukashenko in the North Belarusian area where he observed the elections. Both Austrevicius and Zilinskas said that the situation of ballot counting was much less transparent in those constituencies where no foreign observers were present.

The biggest shock was experienced by those who observed the Belarusian police action near their hotel in Minsk. “It is an awful feeling when you see young women being beaten,” Andrius Mazuronis, MP of the Order and Justice Party, said.
Lithuanian MPs were beaten as well. “It is good that I got hit with an elbow because that policeman was also holding a stick and a shield in his hands,” Labor MP Mecislovas Zasciurinskas said.

“Edminas Bagdonas, Lithuania’s ambassador in Minsk, is a very brave man. Three young women studying in the European Humanitarian University in Vilnius [it was forced to move from Minsk to Vilnius due to persecution by the Belarusian regime] were beaten near our hotel. Our ambassador together with the Swedish and Hungarian ambassadors came to defend them. I also joined them. The Hungarian ambassador was pushed aside by police while we managed to protect the women with our backs. We got some hits with sticks from Belarusian police. The Lithuanian ambassador took some hits as well. We managed to allow these young women and other people to come into the hotel.

The police were demanding us to give up to them everybody who is not staying in the hotel. Then we said that they are our assistants and we gave them our badges. Bagdonas made a phone call asking the embassy cars to come. The cars arrived and the Belarusians were transported safely by these cars to another quarter in Minsk,” independent MP Andrius Sedzius said.

On Dec. 19, Kazimira Prunskiene, Lithuanian prime minister in 1990 and now a leader of the marginal non-parliamentary People’s Party, which has a rating below 0.1 percent, was speaking on Belarusian TV stating that the elections were quite fair, though she urged the Minsk authorities not to punish protesters who were not involved in violence. “The Mercedes came to our hotel that night and Prunskiene came out of her car. Our ambassador, pointing to the police’s action, shouted to her ‘Prime minister, look! Where is the democracy here?’ but she ran away to the hotel,” Sedzius said.
On the night of Dec. 19, one Lithuanian woman was detained for participating in the protest rally in Minsk. Bagdonas was present in the court during her trial on Dec. 20. The court convicted the Lithuanian citizen with a sentence of 10 days in prison.

“My diplomats asked the Belarusian ambassador in Vilnius to come and explain the incident. We are observing the situation,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said during his briefing on Dec. 20. He also said that while the democratic progress was made in Belarus by allowing the opposition candidates to register for elections and to campaign quite freely, the ballot counting was not transparent.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the Belarusian police’s violence in Minsk. “The president is condemning the not proportional use of violence,” Linas Balsys, spokesman for Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, said on Dec. 20.

“The counting process lacked transparency. The people of Belarus deserved better. And, in particular, I now expect the government to account for the arrests of presidential candidates, journalists and human rights activists,” Tony Lloyd, who leads the short-term OSCE observer mission in Belarus, said about the presidential elections of Dec. 19 during his press conference in Minsk. Lithuania will chair the OSCE in 2011 and it seems that Belarus can be one of the headache-causing issues for Lithuania.