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My Quest of the City Council: Playing the rule-changing game

Category: belarus, by Olga Karach
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[Part II of Olga Karach’s adventures in the local election in Belarus]

‘Off with her head!’ the Red Queen shouted at the top of her voice. 
Nobody moved. ‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice, 
(she had grown to her full size by this time.)
‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’ 
At this the whole pack rose up into the air, 
and came flying down upon her.

Two cards from two different packs… Sorry, two members from two different commissions called me on Tuesday and informed me that they cancelled my registration for the coming elections to the City Council. The pretext they found was the distributing of green balloons to children. The balloons were given out outside my election precincts, and naturally they did not carry my name or any other names. Apparently, the commissions were running out of time (the elections are due in five days), so they were ready to declare a violation any action of mine. If not balloons, I could have been banned from the elections for a green scarf.


Vitebsk from 1912. From wiki commons.

The three persons who signed the petitions urging to punish me are not from my precincts. I also strongly doubt that they wrote the petitions themselves, not just signed the ready-made text. One of them is the Chief Manager of Municipality Branch #9 in Vitebsk.The second is a woman named Tatiana Tadeushevna Andreieva living at 68-4 Pravdy Street. As for the third person, we know only the last name (Starikovich) and partially the residence address (76 Moskovski Prospekt). However, in the court we will surely learn the full information about the signers and will publish it.

So now authorities consider me not eligible for the elections. But how much ‘elective’ the elections have become, how much of fair elections is left in this staged cricket game? The pro-governmental candidate, Mr. Bashmetov, has shamelessly been making use of his administrative position. Being the Rector of a government-controlled university, he used its premises for meetings and its faculty for organizing the meetings. The students were forced to go to the meetings, sometimes instead of classes. For high-school graduates Mr. Bashmetov was promising almost free admission to the university, if only he becomes one of the ‘deputies’. To crown it all, with the term exams coming many female students were ‘strongly advised’ to take part in concerts and cheer actions for Mr. Bashmetov’s promotion.

The government-staffed commissions reviewed his slanderous complaints against me practically immediately. At the same time only one out of my six complaints of April 14-20 was reviewed. The resolution signed by Mr. Miadelets, the Chair, read ‘a number of solutions have been found which now satisfy all the parties involved’. Besides the fact that no real solution was found, the resolution definitely implied that I am not a party involved. Needless to mention, the other five complaints of mine have never been reviewed.

‘That’s not a regular rule’, Alice remarked, ‘you invented it just now.’
‘It’s the oldest rule in the book!’ cried the Red Queen.
‘Then it ought to be Number One,’ said Alice.
The Red Queen turned pale, and shut her note-book hastily.

Why the officials are changing even their own rules so hastily? What are they scared of? I have no doubts the reason was the number of my representatives. Suddenly the packs (sorry again, the Commissions) got it right that our team will do everything necessary to properly monitor the counting of votes. Their hopes to reach their own goal set from the top were suddenly jeopardized. Fair elections would definitely mean failures of pro-government candidates.

I am addressing to all citizens who were going to support me: show your attitude to this staged game which officials call ‘elections’. You can do it in two ways:
1. You can just ignore the game. Do not come to the election precinct. Why waste time, if the result is fixed and forged anyway? To give officials an opportunity to give their decisions a label of ‘working people’s will’? To let them reduce social security, to raise taxes and utilities, to do nothing about real needs, and call it ‘fulfilling the working people’s orders’?
2. You can come to the election precinct and cross out all the names, then write ‘For Karach’, and put your ballot into the ballot-box. This way you will show the Red Queen and her packs that you are not a pawn in their games, where rules are being changed at will (maybe even as a result of a schizophrenic reaction). You will show that you are a human, and you demand the right to choice. Both ways are good, though they differ in openness, of course.

My registration was cancelled on Tuesday 6.30pm, just an hour before my speech to voters was to be broadcast over the radio. In my speech I mentioned the recent events in Kirgizia:

‘Now everybody is discussing the uprising in Kirgizia, a bloody and tragic event. However, the authorities make wrong conclusions. They see it as a conspiracy, a revolt, and try to frighten people with it, saying, ‘Look what that opposition is doing!’ But they are hiding the fact that all Kirgiz opposition was jailed just at the very beginning of the tragic events. The real conclusion is that it was a reaction of masses, a bloody and cruel reaction to the long bloody and cruel injustice done by the authorities. The examples of this injustice are numerous and range from forging election results to increased utilities, from huge electricity bills to poor maintenance of municipal property, from underfinanced schools to bumpy roads. The real conclusion is that public opinion does matter. Those who try people’s patience to the extremes and deny people the rights to choice and justice are at serious risk of being ousted.’

On Tuesday the ousted leader of Kirgiz authorities, Mr. Bakiev, was flown to Minsk. Just some years ago the leader of the authorities, Mr. Lukashenko, made advances and exchanged tender kisses with Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milošević. Bakiev ordered the death of 79 people and injuries of about 500. Fortunately, it is less than Hussein or Milošević. But apparently, it was enough for Lukashenko to declare him ‘a dear guest’, and the the leader also said that ‘there is enough room in Belarus for everybody’.

Why do we have to tolerate a mass murderer is our country? Why do we have to pay for a shelter to him? He ordered shooting people who went out into the streets because they could not pay utility bills, because Bakiev’s organized group in power actually drove them to sheer poverty. Lukashenko was very verbose about the necessity to help Bakiev’s small children. Why didn’t he ask Bakiev about the 79 families and the children who were made orphans?

‘The rule is, fair elections tomorrow and fair elections yesterday—
but never fair elections today’, said the Red Queen. 
‘It MUST come sometimes to fair elections today,’ Alice objected.
‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s fair elections every OTHER day: 
today isn’t any OTHER day, as you know.’
(the quote adapted for Belarus)

On Wednesday and Thursday, immediately after the authorities cancelled my registration, our team showered the precincts with leaflets addressed to my voters and calling them to either boycott the elections or cross out all the other candidates which had not been banned, and write ‘For Karach’ on the voting ballot.

The next day we found out that on April 20 the Election Commission ruled to cancel my candidacy and remove my name from the list, the voting ballots in the election precincts still contain my name and my portrait is still placed at the official stand among the other candidates who are not banned. People coming to the election precincts ask ‘So we can vote for Olga Karach, can we not?’, and the Election Commission members answer, ‘Of course you can, no problems, go ahead.’

Again I have to quote one of my favorite characters ‘It is getting curiouser and curiouser’. Are they afraid to enforce their own decision because they fear people’s indignation? Or are they just deceiving people and then they will declare the ballots void? Anyway, now the authorities still keep the right to change any rule any time.

The people from my team yesterday asked me, ‘Olga, so all this is going to be in vain?’ ‘No, it is not in vain and never will be’, I answered, and I can repeat it now. By removing me from the candidates and by changing the rules and shutting their notebooks hastily the Red Queen and her packs of cards exposed their fear. They fear that the rule when they set all the rules will cease to exist, and they will have to fulfill their declared duties, to repair municipal houses, to install playgrounds, to ensure public lighting and transportation. They fear that we will grow to our full size and demand our rights, that we will see that they are just a pack of cards. Poor them can do nothing but being cards in the royal hand, but this skill will be of no demand.

I hope this will happen. I thank every member of my team for the support, and I am grateful to every voter for independent thinking and behavior. I will not let you down.

If the authorities are so much pushing their candidates, using threats, repressions, and forgery, so be it. But those cards must become humans again. When they are elected, we must make them understand the true meaning of being a People’s Deputy. We must make them work for our interests and needs as hard as democratic candidates were going to work, and we will not let them hide in their comfortable offices.
We will make them humans again or replace them.

Olga Karach, member of United Civil Party in Belarus, a chief of Civil Campaign “Our House”

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