Belarus: Two Georgian Youth Activists Remain Jailed In Minsk

Jan Maksymiuk

A EurasiaNet Partner Post from RFE/RL

Giorgi Kandelaki and Luka Tsuladze -- two activists of Georgia's Kmara, an organization that was very instrumental in deposing the Georgian government during the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003 -- were arrested in Minsk on August 24, reportedly because the authenticity of their passports raised official "doubts."

However, the following day a KGB official announced on Belarusian Television that they will be deported from Belarus for meddling in the country's internal affairs. Although they were scheduled to be deported to Georgia on August 26, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported that a Minsk-based court on August 29 sentenced the two Georgians to 15 days in jail each for "petty hooliganism."

"During their stay in the country, they made contacts with representatives of radical, politicized, unregistered structures, such as Zubr, Youth Front, and Limon, and held a number of training seminars on the organization of civil-disobedience actions accompanied by mass unrest, similar to those during the colored revolution in Georgia," the KGB official explained to television viewers on August 25. "They participated in a number of unsanctioned actions to disseminate illegal publications in the city of Minsk and intended to travel to a number of regions of the country with analogous purposes."

On August 26 five members of the Belarusian youth organization Zubr organized a protest in Minsk against the detention of their Georgian colleagues. Carrying the Georgian flag, the Belarusian national white-red-white flag banned during President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rule, and a banner that read "Freedom to the Georgian Brothers!" the five youths marched down Independence Avenue in central Minsk. They were arrested by a riot-police squad some 30 minutes after their demonstration began.

The police released two adolescents of the detained five, while the remaining three -- Natallya Ushko, Alyaksandr Kurbitski, and Alyaksey Lyaukovich -- were immediately sentenced by a court to 10 days in jail each for staging an unsanctioned demonstration.

The Belarusian regime appears to be really concerned with a recent wave of "colored" revolutions in the post-Soviet area and takes every measure to avoid a similar scenario in Belarus next year, when autocratic President Lukashenka is going to run for president for the third time in a row.

In late April Belarusian police arrested five Ukrainian and 14 Russian representatives of youth organizations for their participation in an unsanctioned antigovernment protest together with their Belarusian colleagues in Minsk. The Ukrainians and Russians were handed jail terms varying from five to 15 days. The Russians were subsequently granted early release, following a plea from the Russian ambassador to Belarus. The Ukrainians, despite a similar intervention by the Ukrainian ambassador to Minsk, served their jail terms in full.

As regards the "bad influence" from Georgia, in June Lukashenka issued a decree introducing visas for Georgians visiting Belarus and thus withdrawing Belarus from the CIS agreement of 1992 on visa-free travel. Minsk officially explained the move by the large number of Georgians who allegedly took advantage of the lack of border control between Belarus and Russia by using Belarus as a transit country for illegal entrance into the Russian Federation.

The Georgian parliament immediately came up with an ingenious, "asymmetrical" response, drafting a resolution to ban Lukashenka from entering Georgia. Lukashenka apparently realized that he lost in that propaganda duel -- Minsk banned all Georgians from traveling without visas to Belarus, while Tbilisi banned just him, thus differentiating between the autocratic leader and the people. Therefore, Belarusian Foreign Ministry Syarhey Martynau was given the task of backing off on that unfortunate decision.

Martynau claimed on Belarusian Television that Lukashenka only instructed the Foreign Ministry and law-enforcement agencies to look into the possibility of introducing visas for Georgians, but did not introduce them in actual fact. At the same time, Martynau admitted that Belarus would not hesitate to introduce visas for Georgians should Tbilisi attempt to export "some revolutions or pseudo-revolutions" to Belarus.

Editor's Note: Jan Maksymiuk is a regional analyst with RFE/RL Online, which he joined in 1998.