Long-distance relationship: a Belarusian voting in Germany
Wiktoryja Halkina* is a Belarusian ex-pat in Regensburg, Germany. It will be her first election after she left her homeland. Here or there, everybody in her family faces the old dispute: whom to choose?
In three weeks, all eligible voters among 10 000 000 inhabitants of Belarus and 3 000 000 living abroad are allowed to vote for a president.
Around 600 Belarusians study at the European Humanistic University (EHU) in Vilnius and for some of them the „E“ stands not for elections but for exile. They are a part of a diaspora located in Vilnius, Lithuania, a city already hosting many Belarusian NGOs and other organizations. A high number of Belarusians live also in Poland and Germany.
There is always a reason
Eight years ago Wiktoryja Halkina* decided to move to Germany instead of finishing her history studies in Belarus. First she went to Stuttgart to do a voluntary service.
“To continue my studies in Germany, I first needed to improve my language skills. The conditions for historical research in Belarus are not the best and international exchange is only possible on a very small scale”.
The system of higher education in Belarus is regarded as outdated. Critical research is not welcome and can lead to negative consequences for the researchers, including expulsion.
While doing her MA in Germany, the young Belarusian visited her friends and family at least once a year. After graduation, she continued with a dissertation that gave her the opportunity to visit her homeland more often. Her research project deals with the remembrance of the Second World War in Belarus and can be regarded as a highly politicized topic. The politics of memory in Belarus is considered rather superficial and biased by the local scientific community.
Although she would not declare herself a political animal, she tries to follow the situation and events in the country. This year, she would like to exercise her right to vote abroad. Thus far she has not voted in Germany for the Belarusian presidential elections. However, the events of December 2010, with the obvious fraudulences during elections and tremendous violations of human rights afterwards, have changed her attitude towards the upcoming presidential elections. She is currently trying to find out how it technically works to vote abroad.
“I already did some research on the candidates. Either I vote for none of them or I vote for Karatkevich to support an alternative candidate”.
But she does not sound convinced.
For many Belarusians it is hard to imagine an alternative to Lukashenko. To confirm a candidacy, the politician needs at least 100 000 signatures of Belarusian citizens. Theoretically, there should be places in every town where citizens can sign up to support their candidate. During a journey through the eastern part of Belarus this summer, Wiktoryja noticed that there were about six stands for Lukashenko but not a single one for a oppositional candidate. She felt as if no one else has noticed this in the country that has seen no other president for last 21 years.
“My parents have never voted for Lukashenko. If you want to vote for an alternative candidate, it is not easy. In 2010 my mother was willing to attend a meeting with the oppositional candidate Mikola Statkevich, but the date was set late in the evening in winter time and far away from the city center. Additionally, she had to take into account that the Secret Service would be observing the participants attending the event. In the end she decided not to go”.
The atmosphere in December 2010 was tense, but at the same time, people didn't give up their hopes. Wiktoryja continues:
“My mother even spoke of the change in atmosphere. They had the feeling that something can be altered. That is why people were surprised by the repressions and the mass violation of human rights committed by the government. I was shocked, too”.
Who decides on the future?
The 29-year old is rather pessimistic – especially since the Ukrainian-Russian conflict arose – about the upcoming elections and ballot habits of Belarusians. She believes that people do not feel safe anymore and are afraid of a possible Belarusian-Russian conflict. For the majority of Lukashenko voters, he embodies stability and knows how to deal with Russia. It is a view shared by Wiktoryja’s grandfather. It seems that it somehow depends on a generation. Her grandfather does not have a close connection to his grandchildren – she lives in Germany while her brother stays in Lithuania. He does not realize how much the young generation suffers from the lack of economic development, changes in the educational system and the isolation of their country.
* To protect the identity of our interviewee we changed all the personal information.