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Louder Than Words: Anti-Regime Protests Get Creative

Repressive governments the world over employ every instrument under the sun to suppress dissent. But an ingenious hand-clapping campaign in Belarus highlights the creative ways that victims of ruthless crackdowns and government malfeasance are speaking truth to power, and getting their point across.

Whether they're jailing their more defiant citizens for unlawful assembly, hooliganism, tax evasion, loitering, or just doing their jobs, or even forcibly committing them to psychiatric care for "their own good," most repressive governments badger, persecute, or otherwise silence dissenters under even the flimsiest of legal pretexts.

So what's a 21st-century activist to do?

Here are some inventive and entertaining answers that challenge traditional notions of "protest" and testify to the rugged durability of free thought.

Belarus's 'Silent Demonstrations'

Sick and tired of crushing economic hardship and political humiliation at the hands of "Europe's last dictator," Belarusians countered the latest clampdown over a fraudulent presidential election by utterly transforming an everyday gesture of approval. People came out in the thousands in more than 30 cities around the country to do nothing more than clap their hands, setting off a firestorm of state thuggery. Even as audiences put their hands together to welcome President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at carefully orchestrated official events, questions inevitably arose as to whether or not it was "OK" to applaud.

Clapping on July 6 in Minsk.

With Lukashenka's plainclothed security forces frantically descending on applauders weeks into the "silent demonstrations," activists turned to another seemingly innocuous act to register their dissatisfaction, with throngs of people setting their mobile phones to ring at exactly 8:00 p.m. on July 13.

And the lines of protest were further blurred.

'Allahu Akbar!' from Iranian Rooftops

In the bloody aftermath of a June 2009 presidential election that handed a new term to hard-liner Mahmud Ahmadinejad and massive street protests, the Iranian authorities systematically tried to erase all public displays of discontent.

An award-winning photograph by Pietro Masturzo of women shouting on a Tehran rooftop amid the election protests in 2009.

So they looked to the past to try and improve the future, and "God is great!" ("Allahu akbar!") rang from the rooftops in the night. Its history as a pious refrain during Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution lent increased gravity to the movement, emphasizing the disenchantment of Iranians who felt the ruling clerical establishment had betrayed those ideals.

Donkey Suits In Azerbaijan

A satirical video distributed via YouTube mocked government corruption in Azerbaijan after reports that the state had imported two donkeys for tens of thousands of dollars each. In it, an activist dressed in a donkey suit held a mock press conference touting the benefits of being a donkey -- rather than a citizen -- in today's Azerbaijan. Two of the organizers were subsequently convicted of hooliganism over a restaurant assault that looked to most people like a setup.

Moscow's Blue Bucket Brigade

Exasperated Muscovites were driven to action in April 2010 over the wailing sirens and flashing blue lights used -- and seemingly abused -- by government officials to get to their destinations faster than ordinary motorists.

Moscow’s Blue Bucket Brigade
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So, led by retired police officer Aleksei Dozorov and careful to observe traffic laws, protesters affixed upside-down blue toy buckets to the roofs of their cars and cruised en masse around the Russian capital, honking in solidarity.

Dozorov, who along with other drivers was repeatedly stopped by traffic police, was carrying a copy of a court decision overturning a traffic fine for a driver with a blue bucket on top of the car.

Ukraine's Ladies Of Femen

The radical feminists of Femen have taken up countless causes -- from corruption and prostitution laws at home to opposing gender-based driving bans abroad -- with topless or underwear-clad protests since they banded together in 2008, initially with the aim of boosting female representation in the Ukrainian parliament. Their imaginative protests -- which leave little to the imagination -- have discovered that local and international media alike find their charms difficult to resist.

An Iranian security guard drags a Femen protester away from a hall during an Iranian cultural event in Kyiv in November 2010.
-- compiled by Andy Heil

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