A reader writes:
I returned from Minsk last week, and I can report that the hosting of Junior Eurovision does not herald a new spirit of openness in Belarus. In fact, there are worrying signs that President Lukashenko is tightening the screw on his opponents ahead of the presidential elections in December.
On the day of my arrival, the journalist and opposition activist Oleg Bebeynin was found hanged in his dacha outside Minsk. Nobody suspects suicide.
The suspicions are elucidated in this post on the Charter 97 (the main opposition 'umbrella') website. If these suspicions are well founded, Lukashenko is returning to the tactics used at the turn of the century to neutralise his opponents and neuter the already severely emasculated civil society of Belarus. My friends in Minsk are bracing themselves for a spate of disappearances, poisonings and road traffic accidents in the next few months.
My hosts were members of the Belarus Free Theatre, a collective of actors who have been blacklisted from, or who refuse to cooperate with the National Theatre of Belarus (one of their finest actors now has to sell plastic bags to make a living). Their plays explore subjects that are deemed by the authorities to be unfit for public consumption: drug use, homosexuality, politics. They are unable to perform in public. Instead, they use social media to direct (mostly young) audience members to secret venues such as abandoned houses, forests and underground bars, where they perform for free. The KGB (yes, there's nothing that 'post-Soviet' about Belarus) often attend the performances and film the crowd. Several attendees have been expelled from school or university as a consequence. Just a few days ago, Natalia told me that she had received a death threat via SMS warning her that she would be 'raped with a baseball bat' and involved in a traffic accident with a truck.
Anyway, just thought I'd try to redress the balance a little.