The Battle of the Ribbons

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I pass the fence every day and things keep changing. In the morning, the fence is covered with white-red-white ribbons. The next day the ribbons are not there. Then they reappear. Then they are gone. Local residents put the ribbons up and the authorities take them down. Nearby, the construction of the school has stopped, save a few men doing maintenance work.

These seemingly unrelated events of ribbons and school construction are connected. While the people choose to tie the ribbons themselves, those who take them down are paid by the state. All over Belarus, an army of workers are employed to paint over murals of white-red-white and symbols of an independent Belarus. Cranes are used to take down white-red-white flags on high-rise buildings. It’s not cheap to do all this. Even more expensive are the purchase of men, their uniforms and the heavy vehicles used to break up demonstrations to maintain the status quo of 26 years.

While state expenditure is now diverted into anti-people measures, and away from essential services and public works, the money to pay for it is getting less and less. Because of the economic downturn as a result of Corona Virus, there was less work and therefore fewer tax receipts to the government coffers. Now, a society in a post-election crisis is feeling the strain. The once-growing IT industry is gradually being strangled as a result of the authorities’ attempts to regain its control over the country. Belarusian IT companies are choosing to leave the country. The Government’s unilateral decision to close the internet for a few days in August was damaging to the IT business and there is no guarantee that this will not happen again. These companies that are staying are moving some departments and personnel to more reliable countries. Many of the personnel were involved in protests and their safety remains in question while they are  still in Belarus. In short, the country is haemorrhaging its money making potential.

While the protesters want dialogue, the government refuses. The authorities might feel that not giving so much of an inch is a sign of strength and determination. The Belarusian people are increasingly seeing this refusal to negotiate as a weakness and a sign the authorities are incapable of reacting in any positive way. If a dialogue were to happen, it would probably be something like this:

The people: The economy is failing.

The authorities: That’s because we are trying to supress the demonstrations. If you didn’t demonstrate, we wouldn’t need to spend money trying to stop you.

The people: But we are demonstrating because you falsified the results of the elections

The Authorities: No we didn’t.

At the moment, the various issues all boil down to one thing: whether the President stays or whether he goes. It is difficult to see any creative solution to satisfy both the authorities and the people.

In this situation, the people will continue to put up ribbons and the authorities will continue to take them down until the people run out of white/red ribbons or the authorities run out of money.

‘All these people are political prisoners – they are in prison for our freedom’Saturday Sunday.

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