Hoping for Ukrainian protest success in Belarus | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 15.02.2014
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Hoping for Ukrainian protest success in Belarus

Ukrainians' protests against their government have continued for months. The opposition in Minsk is looking on with its fingers crossed that a similar movement might emerge in Belarus.

When a 25-year-old Belarusian was shot and killed in Kyiv, Belarusians took notice. But it wasn't the first time their gaze turned toward the south in recent months. Clashes between pro-European protestors and government security forces have resonated strongly in Ukraine's neighbor.

The country is well-accustomed to political violence of this sort: In 2010, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko brutally beat back demonstrators who were peacefully protesting election fraud.

Widespread apathy

Alexey Yanukewitsch (Foto: DW)

Alexei Janukevitch complains about widespread apathy in Belarus

In Belarus, when events in Ukraine are discussed, they are discussed at the level of the family, said Alexei Janukevitch, head of the People's Front opposition party in an interview with DW.

"The engagement and commitment from Ukrainians for their country to orient itself towards Europe gives Belarusians increasing hope that like-minded people in this country will also wake up," Janukevitch told DW.

The main problem, he says, is the same as before: apathy. After 20 years of Lukashenko's authoritarian rule, most people have lost hope that change in their country is possible. But events at Kyiv's Independence Square - the Maidan - are now inspiring many, he says.

"Citizens' attitudes in terms of Maidan are very much dependent on which sources of information they use," Janukevitch says. Most of his compatriots watch either state-affiliated television or Russian channels. As a result, they interpret events in Ukraine as hooliganism or an attempt by foreign powers to topple the government.

Anatoly Lebedko (Foto: DW)

Anatoli Lebedko calls the events in Ukraine a revolt against authoritarianism

However, there is also access to independent media, the opposition leader added - particularly via the internet. Through that medium, many Belarusians understand that the fight in Ukraine is also against an authoritarian regime, Janukevitch said.

'Don't overestimate the impact'

Anatoli Lebedko, head of the opposition United Civic Party of Belarus party, notes that the protests in Ukraine started with demands Ukraine's integration course with Europe, but that the movement is now "a battle against authoritarianism." Lebedko believes that Belarusians see the events in Ukraine as a revolt against injustice, corruption, bureaucracy and arbitrariness, and he agrees that a successful revolution could send a signal to neighboring countries.

Sergej Kaliakin (Foto: DW)

Sergey Kalyakin (l) fears repression from the Belarusian government

However, Sergey Kalyakin, leader of the leftist party A Just World, warns against overestimating the impact of the Ukrainian protests on Belarus. The majority of the population has a negative perception of the events in Ukraine, he says: "They go along with what the state media reports, and they emphasize that all sorts of nationalists and criminals are taking part in the protests."

The politician does not rule out democratic Belarusians becoming bolder. But he doesn't believe that a success for the Ukrainian opposition will trigger protests against Lukashenko. The situation in the two countries is very different. "The Ukrainians are much more discontent than the Belarusians. And the fear of repression from the state in Belarus is much bigger than in Ukraine," he said.

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