The Minsk City Executive Committee has granted an application for permission to stage an annual “Charnobylski Shlyakh” (Path of Chernobyl) demonstration in Minsk on April 26 to mark the 27th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
However, the city government told the organizers that they would have to hold a final rally in People’s Friendship Park in Bangalore Square on the outskirts of Minsk, not at Kurapaty, a Stalin-era massacre site just outside the Minsk Beltway, Alyaksey Yanukevich, chairperson of the Belarusian Popular Front, told BelaPAN.
In addition, the city government changed the time of the demonstration without even consulting the organizing committee, Mr. Yanukevich said. The organizers asked the city authorities to allow demonstrators to gather near the Kastrychnitski movie theater opposite the National Academy of Sciences at noon and march along Khmyalnitskaha Street, Yakub Kolas Street and Lahoyski Trakt Street to Kurapaty for a final rally that would begin at 3 p.m. However, the city government decided that the demonstrators should gather near the Kastrychnitski movie theater at 4 p.m. and march along Independence Square and Surhanava Street to People’s Friendship Park to hold a rally there between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Mr. Yanukevich said.
Officials told the organizing committee that a march to Kurapaty along the proposed route would be in violation of the Mass Events Law, which bans demonstrations within less than 200 meters from subway stations and public buildings, he said.
The organizing committee had applied separately for permission to hold a rally in People’s Friendship Park on April 26. The application was filed by Tatsyana Novikava, leader of an environmental group called Ecodom, in case the Chernobyl anniversary march was banned. The city government so far has provided no reply to her.
In recent years, all Charnobylski Shlyakh demonstrations have started near the National Academy of Sciences and ended with a flower-laying ceremony at the so-called Chernobyl chapel in the area of Bangalore Square. This year, the organizers of the march, namely, Mr. Yanukevich, Maryna Khomich, chairperson of Belarusian Christian Democracy’s youth wing, and Ilya Dabratvor, an activist of an opposition organization called Razam (Together), wanted to change the traditional route and march to Kurapaty. “The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident and the slaughter of Belarusians at Kurapaty in the 1930s and 1940s are two of our greatest national tragedies that should not be separated,” Mr. Yanukevich explained.
The Charnobylski Shlyakh demonstration has been staged by opposition forces in Minsk every year since 1988. A crowd of up to 50,000 took part in the demonstration on the 10th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, with participants overturning cars and clashing with riot police. Dozens were injured and more than 200 were arrested. About 10,000 people took part in the demonstration on the 20th anniversary in 2006. In 2011, the Minsk city government banned a march along Surhanava Street and therefore the demonstration was limited to a rally near Bangalore Square with some 500 people in attendance. Last year’s Charnobylski Shlyakh demonstration drew up to 800 people. At least 10 people were arrested during or following the event, which had been sanctioned by the Minsk City Executive Committee. Six of them, including two journalists, were subsequently sentenced to jail terms.