Belarus election diary: Bureacracy - The opposition's biggest enemy

A number of Belarussian opposition candidates are boycotting the elections, claiming that Mr Lukashenko is still fixing the contest in favour of the government.

By Colin Freeman in Minsk

DAY 3 - Bureacracy: The opposition's biggest enemy

Among them is 24-year-old Anna Egorova of the Young Democrat Party, a liberal, pro-Western group which targets students and young workers (or, if you believe some of the more paranoid figures in the Belarussian government, a CIA-backed outfit bent on corrupting young minds into moral degeneracy).

Anna, who's 24, pulled out along with five other candidates after claiming that the authorities were "deliberately trying to make life difficult".

It wasn't a case of doorknocks from the KGB or threatening phone calls, more just death by red tape. First of all, their attempts to get a manifesto printed were turned down by half a dozen printers, who claimed that because they'd designed it as an edition of their party newspaper, it breached election rules.

Secondly, when Anna asked to do some campaigning on university campus in her constituency, the college authorities told her she'd need a letter of authorisation from the city council.

"We tried to play by the rules of the game but we soon realized it would be unrealistic," she says. "Why should I need to spend several days getting a letter for no reason?"

True, as tale of political persecution go, it is not exactly up there with Alexander Solzenitzyn. But opposition activists both here and in neighbouring Russia claim that is precisely the point: the authorities, they say, have realized that the best way to undermine opposition these days is simply to blizzard them with endless bureaucratic hassles.

Not only are headlines like "Activist founders over incorrect paperwork" unlikely to get a government indicted by the International Criminal Court, it's arguably also a much more effective way of sapping the energy out of opposition movements.

A spell in prison, as activists around the world will often testify, can actually be quite an energising experience, as long it's not too long and as long as you leave intact. It offers the chance to bond with other "dissidents", plenty of time to think about to change the world, and of course tales to tell the grandkids.

But even a few days of fruitless paperchasing, by contrast, simply leaves you demoralized, exhausted and wanting to give up. I should know, having had some experience of Belarussian bureaucracy myself back in 2006, when the foreign affairs ministry proved rather less keen to give me a press visa than they were this time.

After several hours of phone calls and faxes to various officials - most of whom were never there - I was tearing my hair out. And yes, to my shame, I quickly gave up altogether.



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