Many remarkable events happened in Belarus in 2019: from political and societal, to cultural and sports. Let’s look at the top 8 episodes from Belarus’ life in 2019.
Advocacy campaign of the year – Brest battery plant
For more than six months, activists and citizens of Brest fought for the suspension of the Brest battery plant. Its construction caused disturbance among citizens because of its emissions, location close to the residential area, and absence of proper public hearings during the construction process. It triggered many protests involving eco-activists and worried residents. Numerous manifestations resulted in administrative punishments, finally leading to the interruption of construction. In June 2019, Brest authorities announced that the construction was suspended until the investigation of the plant’s danger was over. Another dangerous facility in Svetlahorsk continues its operation in spite of numerous legal and civil initiatives to stop the construction. The case of the Brest battery plant has been so far an unprecedented successful engagement of citizens and is definitely the best bottom-up campaign of the year.
Photo. Rally against the construction of the battery factory in Brest, source: DW.
European Games – main sports event of 2019
Around $265m spent on the II European Games resulted in around 35,000 foreigners visiting the country, much fewer than expected. The event that Belarusian authorities had been preparing for more than two years received a lot of criticism but was undoubtedly the most significant country’s sports event in 2019. Foreigners received an opportunity to travel to Belarus without a visa for the whole month (June-July) during the event, and the event’s overall organization was on a pretty high level. However, authorities were reluctant to effectively promote Belarusian culture, language, and heritage.
Photo. 2019 European Games – Opening Ceremony – Dynamo Stadium, Minsk, Belarus – June 21, 2019.General view of the entertainment during the opening ceremony (Reuters)
The documentary by the young Belarusian vlogger NEXTA “Lukashenka, Criminal Records” definitely deserves to be named as the movie scandal of 2019. The documentary reveals many facts about the Belarusian president and the history of Belarusian authoritarianism. The movie caused a heated debate in Belarus and was shared by thousands of people. It has more than 2 million views on YouTube. Later in December, the movie was about to be recognized extremist, which may lead to the criminal case against the author, NEXTA.
“After the ruling comes into force, those who distribute the film will be held as lawbreakers. Therefore, for example, the company in charge of Youtube in the territory of Belarus will probably be forced to restrict access to it. Sharing [the documentary] in social networks will also be regarded as a violation. Of course, no one will be punished for earlier re-posts which had been made before the court order was rendered,” lawyer Maryia Kolesava-Hudzilina told the newspaper Nasha Niva.
Photo. The movie “Lukashenka. Criminal Records”, Belsat
Biggest fraud – Parliamentarian election
In its best tradition, on 17th November, the Belarusian regime conducted another falsified election. Despite the hopes of many opposition candidates, there were no alternative deputies let in the parliament. More than 600 violations were reported by the local election observers, OSCE ODIHR harshly criticized the election. International presence and meeting with EU delegates had a weak effect on the election result.
Civil society protest of the year
The series of protests against the signing of the integration roadmaps with Russia within the Union State agreement took place din November and December. Besides, the campaign “Fresh Wind” has been actively working with informational support and mobilization of people through social media during the whole year. Belarusian diaspora in the US, Hungary, Czechia, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia joined the protests by manifestations in front of Russian and Belarusian embassies in the respective countries. The latest demonstrations, on 20th and 21st December in Minsk, gathered around 1,600 people. More than 15 protest organizers and participants were charged with 5-15 days in prison or fined for participating in the protest for independence.
Photo. A protestor in Minsk, 20th December, source: Tut.by,
Confession of the year
In mid-December, Yuri Garavski, a Belarusian asylum seeker in Europe, confessed to taking part in the murder of three opponents of Lukashenka. A former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, ex-Chairman of the Central Election Commission, and businessman Anatol Krasouski were allegedly killed as they presented a threat to the regime. Garavski told about his participation in a “death squad” and presented numerous pieces of evidence to the DW correspondents. Some doubt whether Garavski told the truth, insisting he might be a puppet of Russia discrediting Lukashenka at the time when Lukashenka hesitated to sign the integration roadmaps.
National revival event of 2019
A solemn reburial of Kastus Kalinouski and his associates, who organized the anti-Tsarist uprising of 1863-1864, gathered hundreds of Belarusians in Vilnius. After the protesters’ remains were found on Gediminas Hill in 2017, it was unclear what would happen with them. In 2019 it was decided that the remains should be buried in Vilnius. On 22 November, Polish and Lithuanian presidents arrived at the ceremony commemorating the victims of Tsarist-regime barbarically buried in Vilnius more than 150 years ago. For many Belarusians, Kalinouski is a symbol of freedom but still remains a forbidden hero in Belarusian official discourse.
Photo: Belarusians during the reburial ceremony in Vilnius. Belsat
IT-achievement of the year
Belarus is to launch a hi-tech university in 2020 with about 180 students during the first year. The decision to open the first and one of a kind IT-university came up in October 2019. Among its founders will be the High Technology Park (HTP), the Belarusian State University, the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics as well as HTP resident companies. The project aims at preventing the brain-drain of young IT specialists from Belarus, who annually succeed in the production of the world’s famous IT-products.