Belarus election diary: campaign to boycott the elections

The opposition leader's latest stint in jail was because of his involvement in a campaign to boycott the current elections

By Colin Freeman in Minsk

DAY TWO - meeting the opposition

Despite Mr Bell's best efforts, one person who sprinkles a fat bushel of salt on anything that Mr Lukashenko utters is Aliaksandr Atroshchankau, a 27-year-old graduate who is the co-ordinator for "European Belarus", a campaign urging closer links with the European Union.

In Britain, that would scarcely count as subversive activity, but here in Belarus it has been enough to attract the attention of the KGB and police. Aliaksandr was also among the coalition of students and pro-Western types who in 2006 attempted a variant of the Orange Revolution in neighbouring Ukraine, wearing denims to their rallies rather than Orange garments. If the "Denim Revolution" doesn't ring a bell, that's because it was snuffed out before it ever got going: Mr Lukashenko sent in police and troops to break up the crowds, and many ringleaders were arrested.

We meet Aliaksandr in the lobby of my hotel, where he tells me about the various times he has spent in jail (the most recent being in June, which meant, ironically for a pro-European, that he missed watching the entire European Cup). The longest he has ever spent is a fortnight, which is not much compared with some of Mr Lukashenko's opponents, yet it still sounds pretty horrible, despite the claims of some supporters of the regime that opposition activists get themselves jailed as a badge of honour.

"They chuck you in a jail for 'administrative detainees', where there are usually about 20 people in a tiny room with hardly any space to move around," he says.

"You got no exercise, not even for 10 minutes a day, and you're not allowed any visits or food from relatives, and the food gives you diarrhoea."

Even a fortnight inside, he adds, leaves you weak and "half-brain dead".

"You find your mind slowing down to the point where you can't even do half a crossword puzzle."

The reason for Mr Atroshchankau's latest stint in jail was his involvement in a campaign to boycott the current elections, which he claims are a sham to simply make Mr Lukashenko look good. Friends of his have been secretly printing and flyposting eyecatching "boycott" posters across town, which feature images borrowed from Banksy, the London-based urban graffiti artist.

It's fashionable in Britain to consider Banksy as a bit of a sell-out these days, given the price his works fetch at auction. Here, though, he's still seen as a genuinely anti-establishment figure - especially given that anyone caught copying him is likely to get much more than a friendly warning from their local policeman.



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