A billboard denouncing the political censorship of the opposition in Belarus. Posted on Flickr by "Kshysieq's".
Known as Europe's last dictatorship, Lukashenko's Belarus was promised better relations with the West if they could demonstrate fair elections on Sunday. They didn't, and YouTubers say they've got the proof.
In return for freer and fairer elections, the EU and the US promised Belarus economic benefits and an ease on sanctions including lifted travel restrictions for the country's leaders. The test came on Sunday, when parliamentary elections were held in the former Soviet republic. But when the results came in, the incentive seemed to have made very little difference. Not one single opposition member managed to secure a place in parliament, with all 110 seats going to loyalists of current president Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994 and considered "Europe's last dictator" by the United States.
Anti-dictatorship protests soon followed in the capital of Minsk, and several videos showing alleged electoral fraud sprung up on YouTube. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) condemned the election as "undemocratic", which they largely blamed on a lack of transparency. Our Observer says it may also have had something to do with the sumptuous tidbits and vast quantities of alcohol on offer at the polling stations, somewhat detracting from the voting itself.
An observer prevented from observing
An Observer banned from getting close to the vote counting. Posted by "Vladimir", who says he was working as a translator for an embassy when he shot the video. He claims that an election observer is being stopped from seeing what the vote counters are doing.
"I saw some people leaving the polling station completely drunk"
Music coming from a polling station in Gomel (southeast).
Homemade cakes and beverages on sale for cheap at another polling station in Gomel.
These celebrations are a Soviet tradition. There are balloons, "Welcome to the Election!" banners, cheap food, champagne and vodka. The members of the local electoral committee make cookies and food and come in dressed for a special occasion. I saw some people leaving the polling station completely drunk after spending a few hours there. For me that was very strange; in Poland we just walk in, mark a cross and leave.
The feeling here is that everyone has been very nice, which is very strange. Although the electoral officers go white in the face when you [international observers] turn up in a polling booth, they have been very nice to us this year. We were all waiting to hear that a journalist or an observer had been arrested. But... nothing. The only thing that happened to me was that officers didn't answer some of my questions.
There was no debate about these elections. There was no true campaigning or discussion. The celebrations are just a trick to make it look nice and bring more people to polls. Official observers were pointing out problems with counting the votes and boosting the "attendance", We were saying, 'you don't see the shit, but you can smell it'."
"In appearance it seemed different... in essence this election was no different from any other"
Ales filmed the protestors, here chanting "Long live Belarus" and "Boycott the dictator" at a demonstration in Oktober Square, Minsk, following the vote on Sunday. To see more see his blog post from Monday
Ales Bondar works for Nasha Niva Online, one of the few independent news sources in Belarus.
In essence this election was no different from any other. There was a lot of talk in the run up to it, and there were fewer arrests and searches, so in appearance it seemed different. But in the end, the situation is exactly the same as before.
The government is trying to get western support at a very cheap price. They're selling rotten apples. Both sides, the West and our government, have now realised that neither are going to achieve what they want quickly, so they're both just making small steps and waiting for the other to do the same. But we do see the negotiations as a positive change; there's not too much repression at the moment.
The protests [see video below] were not that big, to be honest. I think people have become very frustrated and disillusioned with the system. There is a large percentage of people who prefer to boycott by abstention. I think the turnout was probably very low, much more significantly than the government said."