On December 14, Uladzimir Shantsau, head of Mahiliou region branch of the United Civic Party, notified the city executive committee of his intention to hold a mass event on his own balcony. A week later, he received a denial letter.
The letter reads that Shantsau failed to fulfil the basic requirements of the law ‘On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus’ and therefore, his picketing cannot be okayed since such events are to be held only in specially designated places.
“How did we get here? The police started harassing people for actions in their own apartments! Why do I even have to ask permission from the city authorities to do anything on my own balcony? My balcony is my balcony! Now our reality bears a strong resemblance to that of Animal Farm, the novel by George Orwell. But our country will not be a cattle yard, where anything goes if it is done by the ‘chosen’ people and the rest do not have such a chance,” Shantsau commented on the decision by the city executive committee.
Earlier, the Minsk city police department warned Belarusian citizens against hanging out ‘unregistered symbols’ even on their own windows or balconies, saying that such action may be penalised under administrative law.
According to them, showing ‘unregistered symbols’ is a violation of Art. 10 of the law ‘On Mass Events’; law enforcers consider it as holding a mass event (picketing). To date, the Minsk police have drawn up more than 20 protocols for hanging out white-red-white flags and sent them to court.
In 1991, the white-red-white flag and the emblem Pahonya (Pursuit) were adopted as national symbols of the country. In such a way, the Belarusians paid tribute to the heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Belarusian People’s Republic. Notably, Soviet ideology and historiography had long denied the significant role of the above state formations in the history of Belarus.
However, historical Belarusian symbols were official until the 1995 referendum, when on the tip from Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who is an ardent adherer of the USSR, they were replaced by the Soviet ones: an emblem that bears a close resemblance to that of the BSSR and a red and green flag which was introduced in 1951.
Pro-Lukashenka officials keep linking the white-red-white flag to the opposition. They are not officially banned from public usage, but are treated by the authorities as unregistered symbols, which means that demonstration of them by protesters or sports fans may result in detention and fines.