Triumphal arch, ban on protest: Window dressing in Mahiliou ahead of Putin, Lukashenka arrival

The 5th Forum of Regions of Russia and Belarus has started working in Mahiliou. There will be plenary sessions, a meeting of Putin and Lukashenka as well as many usual statements of brotherhood and integration. Belsat is trying to figure out how the preparation for the event has affected the lives of the hosts – the residents of Mahiliou.

The triumphal arch at the entrance to Mahiliou was opened just in the run-up to the forum. The locals’ opinions vary:

“The arch is beautiful. Mahiliou did need such a highlight.”

“It will attract more tourists. Therefore, there should be such places.”

“The outskirts are abandoned, but the centre of the city is chic. All the money allocated has been spent on Padmikolle neighbourhood. There are no funds for outskirts.”

“I guess millions of dollars have been invested in this useless thing.”

“In the times of the USSR, the authorities held one subbotnik per year; now, we are having a lot of them. And we were forced to give money [for the beautification of the city].”

Indeed, the arch is one of the most controversial facilities in Mahiliou. After all, it cost $2 mln – some of the sum was provided by Mahiliou residents who were voluntold to dole part of their salaries out. Interestingly, all the ‘triumphs’ Mahiliou experienced were contributing to the Great Patriotic War and receiving the Order of Lenin.

“Taxpayers’ money is not spent on the population’s needs, but on window dressing – the city authorities are afraid of the big bosses’ rage and want to please Putin,” Uladzimir Shantsau, Head of the department of the United Civic Party of in Mahiliou region, said.

Moreover, if one leaves the central streets, everything will look different – they will see broken roads and buildings with disheveled balconies. Protesting against showing off and Putin’s visit is forbidden: Shantsau’s application for permission to hold a protest rally was turned down. All the protests are quiet, e.g. sticking anti-Putin leaflets ‘Volodya, Go Home’ on poles.

“I am outraged about the fact of placing Russian tricolors along all avenues, as if we were a colony,” activist Stanislau Paulinkovich said.

But there is also good news! Ahead of Putin’s arrival, the local authorities finally finished the building of Belarusian-Russian University, the most expensive and long-delayed construction project of the city. A series of meetings of the Forum of Regions of Russia and Belarus will be held here.

“Instead of 2 years, it took them 25 years to complete it! In my opinion, the blame lies with Alyaksandr Lukashenka, since his decrees froze construction processes in violation of existing regulations. Hundreds of thousands of students could have started using the facility, it could have adorned the country and the city long time ago,” local trade union activist Alyaksei Paulouski said.

On top of that, there have been reports about the authorities’s order to catch and kill stray cats and dogs in the streets of Mahiliou. The locals have been warned against leaving their pets on their own.

“We have been instructed that there must be order! We did not kill the animals, we catch stray cats and dogs and later euthanize them! If your cat or dog ran away, it is your problem. They should have chips, registration and collars. We do not take away the chipped animals,” Syarhei Kaltunou, head of the animal control department in Mahiliou, said.