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'European' Police State

Relatives and friends of opposition activists detained in the protests after the elections wait outside a detention centre in Minsk.

Relatives and friends of opposition activists detained in the protests after the elections wait outside a detention centre in Minsk.

The bloody aftermath of the elections and the ensuing government crackdown testifies to the fact that Belarus is not a state governed by law.

Former Chief Justice of Belarus's Constitutional Court, Valery Tsikhinia once called the situation in the country “legalized lawlessness” -- government institutions and their leaders carry out laws in an arbitrary manner, while citizens are bereft of any understandable rules of the game.

This is particularly true in the economic sphere – where it is virtually impossible to work and not violate some law, decree, or regulation. Businesses are compelled to operate within some sort of “gray zone." Consequently, nobody is immune to possible “kompromat,” especially if ordered from above. Only in Belarus are 99 percent of all inspected business entities found to be guilty of some violation and, consequently, sanctioned.

The line between law and lawlessness has become invisible.

In such a situation, everybody is guilty of something; however, not all the guilty are punished. Culpability is designated either by political expediency or sheer happenstance, and all but Belarus's President Alyaksandr Lukashenka are defenseless in this environment. No one is immune to politically-motivated retribution – neither ministers (for example, former agriculture czar Vasil Lyavonau) nor prosecutors (senior investigator Svyatlana Bajkova).

In 2007, Belarus was in second place in terms of number of prisoners per capita. As in Stalin’s times, prison labor is exploited in the construction of grandiose government projects, like the Minsk Arena sports complex. Belarus is also among the countries in the world that have high numbers of children in correctional facilities. The average length of incarceration in the country -- 6.3 years -- is one of the highest in Europe.

In 2009, Lukashenka ordered changes to the law allowing for security services to search and arrest anyone without prosecutorial warrant. Under law, officials of 68 different government agencies have the right to institute administrative charges against citizens, and 27 different government bodies are empowered to review those charges. In 1997, over 4 million Belarusian citizens – more than half the adult population -- were charged with administrative offenses. Since an explosion in downtown Minsk on Independence Day in 2008, every male citizen has been summoned to provide finger prints -- they all instantly were suspected of having committed a crime.

Lukashenka's government has effectively transformed every “meek and tolerant” Belarusian into a criminal. Eurasian Monitoring's sociological surveys of the CIS reveal that more Belarusians -- 23 percent -- fear incarceration than any of their neighbors.

And then there are the repressions against representatives of the political opposition and civil society. Such people have no constitutional protections. They are beyond the pale, fair game.

Yet, it’s not enough simply to say that Belarusians live in a lawless state -- in fact, where they live is in a police state. Evidence of this is the absence of rule of law as a regulator of civil life and the enormous role of the security services. The security services are the most paramount of all government institutions, the chief instrument of power maintenance, the ultimate mechanism of generating societal fear. Eight powerful security apparatuses are empowered to conduct investigations – a hypertrophied reflection of a societal anomaly. They monitor not only the opposition, but are also tasked with sniffing out potential political disloyalty within the ranks of officialdom.

Paradoxically, these powerful security services are strangely impotent in fulfilling what should be their primary job – protecting the populace against crime. The myriad, extant security apparatuses notwithstanding, not a single high-profile crime has ever been solved.

In a 2008 speech addressing members of the security forces, Lukashenka brought forth the following facts:
The crime situation in the country had been deteriorating since 2001. In a six-year period, the level of criminal activity per 100,000 citizens rose by 70 percent. In the same period, the numbers of victims of crime and criminal recidivism doubled.
In spite of their numbers and scope, Belarus’ security services fail to protect the country’s citizens, because they are not concerned with protecting citizens. Instead, the main task of the security services is to defend the government from political opponents. There is simply no time or energy for anything else.

-- Valer Karbalevich

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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