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Protesters in Belarus are using social media to organize the latest demonstration against the regime. In recent months, some 1,800 people have been arrested during protests initiated by the "Internet revolutionaries."
Protesters oppose President Lukashenko's 16-year rule
On Wednesday, protesters in Belarus staged the seventh protest in recent months against President Alexander Lukashenko's authoritarian regime. Like previous protests, it was peaceful and silent.
During the most recent action last Wednesday, the organizers invited demonstrators to meet in the capital Minsk, as well as several other Belarusian cities.
At 8pm on the dot, they arranged for those assembled to play the well-known symbolic song "We Are Waiting For Change" on their mobile phones. The song is associated with the fall of the Soviet Union and has become increasingly popular in Belarus over recent months.
The regime in Belarus has responded to the protests with a heavy hand.
Vladimir Gorbatsch says modern protests have evolved
As the mobile phones playing the song rang out through Minsk, and some motorists honked their horns in sympathy, security forces arrested a number of participants. Several journalists reporting on the scene also claimed to have been assaulted.
In other cities, planned venues for the protests were closed in advance or blocked by officials in plain clothes. But defiant calls for this Wednesday's event to go ahead have appeared on the protesters website. "The revolution continues: on July 20 in the center of your town," it reads.
"Revolution through Social Networks" is the online community behind the protests. It now boasts almost 27,000 members.
Social networks have played a key role in the action in Belarus, with protesters communicating through the Internet platform Vkontakte, the Russian-language answer to Facebook.
In an open letter to "Citizen Lukashenko," the organizers warned the president, "We are not fighting for a piece of sausage or an extra 20 dollars, but for freedom."
Wjatscheslaw Dianow, a web administrator for the group, is unambiguous about the role of the online community in the protests.
"We are fighting for the freedom of our country," he said. "Our task is to ensure that the Lukashenko regime is removed."
The online activists consider it their duty to galvanize the general public and organize the protest, and they want to reach all sections of society. They hope to move the protest from the virtual world and into reality.
According to Belarus expert Ingo Petz, the fact that these "Internet revolutionaries" are at the forefront of the protest movement is no accident.
In the wake of the government crackdown which followed the presidential elections in December 2010, opposition politicians were arrested, convicted in show trials or forced into exile.
As a result, the political opposition has been silenced. Pelz argues that this has left room for groups like "Revolution through Social Networks" to fulfil the same role.
The opposition parties in Belarus have so far refrained from commenting on the protests, but activist Wjatscheslaw Dianow says he's not concerned.
"It is not important who goes out on the street - opposition politicians, workers or students. The important thing is that they support the form the action is taking: no slogans, no banners and so on," he said.
"We would welcome any sign that the political parties are ready to support this form of protest," he added.
Social media is central to the protests, following a recent trend
Meanwhile, political analyst Vladimir Gorbatsch argues that the social network revolution is part of the zeitgeist. The young generation don't just go to rallies or write protest articles, now they participate in Internet-organized actions like flashmobs.
In spite of the state's heavy crackdown, the Internet revolutionaries are certain that their demands will be met eventually. Wjatscheslaw Dianow is convinced the Lukashenko regime will collapse - sooner or later.
Indeed, in many ways Lukashenko is already backed into a corner. The economy is in a dilapidated condition, the currency has lost more than half its value, inflation has shot up, and unemployment is also on the rise.
"Discontent with the Lukashenko regime will lead to mass protests one day," Dianow predicted.
Experts agree that the most active phase of the protests is yet to come. They predict that by the autumn, the opposition will have decided where they stand on the Internet-revolutionaries.
According to Denis Meljanzow, either the opposition will grab the opportunity to position themselves at the forefront of the protests, or the Internet-led revolution will soon breed a new generation of political leaders.
Author: Birgit Görtz, Galina Petrovskaya, Vladimir Dorokhov / ccp
Editor: Ben Knight