While Belarusians are no strangers to the coercive tactics of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's security services, it's not every day that the rest of us get to eavesdrop on such arm-twisting. But an audio recording that came to the attention of our Belarus Service makes clear that it's just as ham-fisted as you might imagine.
Alyaksandr Mekh (pictured) was a local activist and an engineer for the state gas monopoly, Beltranshaz, when he declared his intention to run for the national parliament in the September 28 elections. Given Mekh's activities in the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), the KGB was soon on the case. Mekh was summoned to a meeting in early June with a Beltranshaz district executive, Uladzimir Halashka, and the KGB's top man in Kobryn, Andrey Basko. Less than four weeks later, Mekh was out of a job and "unemployable."
Here's some of what transpired at that June 4 meeting:
Basko: You're either with us or against us. That's it.
Mekh: What do you mean "with you"? I'm always with the people. I don't know. If you're against me, so you're against. But I'm always with the people.
Basko: Don't make generalizations.
Halashka: You are forcing me to act within the limits of the law. You are forcing me. You should choose between this [parliamentary candidacy] and work.
Halashka: After the elections, nobody in Kobryn will hire you. Do you understand that?
Mekh: I understand.
Basko: Poland will hire him.
Halashka: Yes, Poland will hire him.
Basko: But in Belarus, it's unlikely.
Mekh: What does Poland have to do with it?
Halashka: Because you'll simply be unemployed. You're a smart person. Think about what you're doing. You won't earn anything. How will you feed the family? Nobody will hire you in Kobryn.
Basko: I think you'll forget about me as soon as you leave this room, right?
Mekh: If you insist that I remember you, I'll remember you.
Basko: You know if there's any publication on the Internet -- you know how to do such things -- I'll do everything within the limits of the law....
-- Andy Heil