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Belarus: Independence Day Clapping Protest (Videos)

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

Streets of several Belarusian towns and cities were flooded with people on Belarus Independence Day on July 3, 2011. People just stood there, clapping.

They showed up for the clapping protest, even though clapping was officially forbidden on that day and the Vkontakte social network group that had coordinated the action had been deleted. As they said, they came not even to protest, but rather to fight the fear inside them.

Clapping – a crime?

As in the previous cases, the Belarusian government has been amazingly creative in its attempts to discourage people from gathering in the streets.

On June 28, Viktor Golovanov, the Belarusian Minister of Justice, said [ru] that the moment a large group of people came to “the square” and started clapping, “their freedom would end and the freedom of those who [...] came to the square to rest or to walk with their children would begin.” “This [clapping] crowd disturbs them [the ordinary people],” he said. He added that the clapping people would be moved to another location.

On July 2, 2011, a video was released [ru], which said that the non-violent protests in Belarus had been planned by the United States and urged Belarusians not to succumb to U.S. propaganda.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QV8FnS9bfqI

Police Twitterer @GUVD_Minsk continued to play a “good cop,” giving advice [ru], sharing pictures [ru], tweeting about getting journalists released [ru], and trying to help [ru] human rights activists.

A Vkontakte group “Against the Orange Revolution in Belarus” [ru], created against the non-violent protests, hasn't been very successful: its audience does not exceed 2,000 members.

A 'girl-tractor' and perhaps the only person in Minsk who was allowed to clap. Photo by Anton Motolko, used with permission.

A 'girl-tractor' and perhaps the only person in Minsk who was allowed to clap. Photo by Anton Motolko, used with permission.

On July 3, a Vkontakte group “Future Movement” (with over 216,000 members) was closed. It was restored only on July 4 (at the moment, only 17,000 members have re-joined the group). Facebook groups (1, 2, 3), which were used as substitutes, didn't have even a small part of the audience of the deleted group. Vkontakte explained [ru] that the group had violated the terms of use and its members had been sending spam to other users.

A truly Kafkian parade vs a clapping action

This year's Independence Day parade wasn't usual, either. Aside from the military parade, it featured the appearance of Alexander Lukashenko with his son Nikolay, who was wearing a military uniform, just like his father. This led some twitterers to conclude that Lukashenko had already found a successor. There were also some grotesque kids with flags that had “God is With Us” written on them, a boy-tractor and a girl-tractor, hockey players on roller blades, and much more (see a complete report at Anton Motolko's blog [ru] and the video of Lukashenko's speech [ru]).

On the same day, a less bizarre, but nonetheless Kafkian events happened at the Minsk Railway Station Square (as well as in other places in Belarus). The police kept its word and detained all the clapping people (videos 1, 2).

The most intense videos, which became actively tweeted and re-tweeted, were the following: 1, 2, 3:

Aside from offline actions, the Belarusian security services have been actively using Internet blocking. For some time, social network LiveJournal was unstable [ru], the uploading speed was intentionally decreased [ru] to 2 megabytes per second.

Summing up

Harsh reactions on the crackdown followed. A Swedish twitterer and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt tweeted:

Independent thought banned on Independence Day in Belarus. They closed down social media. A regime waiting to collapse. #belarus

Pavel Sheremet, a Russian journalist, wrote [ru]:

Лукашенко страшно, очень страшно. Он сходит с ума, когда слышит аплодисменты. Поэтому в воскресенье хлопать президенту не разрешали даже ветеранам.
[...]
Спецслужбы бесятся. Они начали массированную атаку на молодежь еще накануне. Еще в субботу арестовали несколько десятков человек, как им казалось, – организаторов акции.
[...]
Но люди все равно вышли. Тысячи людей по всей стране.

Lukashenko is scared, very scared. He goes crazy when he hears the applause. This is why this weekend even the veterans were not allowed to clap.
[...]
The security services are going crazy as well. They started a massive attack on the young people on the eve of the event. On Saturday, they arrested dozens of people, who, as they thought, were the organizers of the action.
[...]
But still, people came. Thousands of people all over the country.

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