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Kristina Tolok | 11.09.2016

Meet the opposition

September 10 marks the last day of legal campaigning in Belarus. To mark this occasion Press Club Belarus invited twelve candidates from various political affiliations to discuss their ideas. But not all the audience was there to listen.

Photo: Olimpia Argasińska

Dark colours dominate the press room of the Press Club on the sixth floor of a Soviet-style office building in central Minsk. At first glance one might think that this a gathering of old friends. There is laughter, experiences - and business cards - are exchanged.

Only the dominant voice of Aleh Gaidukevich marks the beginning of the discussion. He is the former Head of one of Minsk's Police Departments and now candidate for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is led by his father. Gaidukevich makes sure to distance himself from the crowd of oppositionists: "People don't want to vote for the authorities nor for the radical oppositionists". After other pro-governmental candidates pulled out at the last minute, among them singer Irina Dorofeeva, he is the only member of this group present.

Parliamentarism has to be restored

Three candidates from the BPF Party focus on a variety of topics. Party leader Aliaksei Yanukevich emphasises the pro-western outlook of their party programme, which sees Belarus as a future member of the European Union and NATO. "The main strategic goal for Belarus in terms of safety and social standards should be the Euro-Atlantic community".

Both green party Vice-chairman Dzmitry Kutchuk and independent candidate and film director Yury Khashchevatski emphasize that parliamentarism and the system of checks and balances must be restored otherwise, as Kutchuk notes, "there is nothing to be done in parliament".

Tatyana Karatkevich, former independent presidential candidate, might be the only candidate present with a slight chance of winning in her constituency. She finished second in last year's election and is supported by some of her fellow candidates on stage.

"Keep our people safe"

The youngest candidate present, 26 year-old Maksim Krupeychenko, has a hard time explaining his motivation for running for parliament. Instead he criticises: "Everybody here says: Give us money." When he becomes a deputy, he promises to spend less, because "money is short in this country". An ironic claim, considering that he is the richest candidate in these elections.

Short of time is LDP's Gaidukevich. As he goes to leave early for a concert, a man in the back comes forward insisting on a last question. The atmosphere changes instantly. He accuses Gaidukevich of being responsible for a severe back injury he received from a police attack, shouting: "You are criminal!"

Once the situation cools down, politicians go back to answering questions and ignore the incident until Andrey Dmitriev, independent candidate and one of the leaders of the Tell the Truth movement, stressed: "This is how people are treated in this country, we have to keep them safe!"

Author

Kristina Tolok studies East European Studies in Munich.

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