Geopolitics

In Belarus, Purpose And Method In Hunting Down Demonstrators

Alexander Lukashenko's regime is sending more and more protesters to prison to try to prevent a new mass mobilization.

Police offers arresting a protester during a rally in central Minsk in November 2020
Thomas d'Istria

MINSK — The welcoming committee waiting for Angelina Serzhan when she was released from prison on Feb. 14 was limited to her parents, who were happy ... and worried. The hour of Serzhan's release had been postponed at the last moment. An argument soon broke out between the reunited family. "My father told me that I was responsible because I had worn politically incorrect socks," says the 20-year-old. She had taken part in the demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, who was re-elected on Aug. 9, 2020. She had expected to be arrested one day by the special riot police (OMON), but certainly not because of her socks.

On Jan. 30, police officers put her in a van while she was crossing a park in the capital. The reason? Serzhan, who studies fine arts in Minsk, was wearing white and red socks, the colors of the former flag of the Belarusian People's Republic. This flag became the symbol of the protest movement. At the verdict of her trial, on Skype, she was sentenced to 15 days of detention for "participation in a mass event not authorized by the authorities."

In prison, Angelina did not receive letters from her friends or any news from the outside. She was only allowed to have medicine, sent by her parents. But she quickly befriended her fellow inmates. "I met a lot of interesting people," says the girl. "I exchanged my Instagram account with girls my age and my phone number with older women."

While mass protests have ceased since the fall, Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya, the opposition figurehead in exile in Lithuania, called on Belarusians to take to the streets again on March 25 for Freedom Day. But the regime has stepped up the pressure on the country and is now hunting down opposition figures. Hanna Liubakova, a Belarusian freelance journalist, describes a "toughening of prison sentences' including an increase from 15 to 30 days in prison.

Prison strengthens the determination of the protesters.

With more than 33,000 arrests of protesters since Aug. 9, stays in detention centers have become an important facet of the protest movement. As of March 19, the human rights organization Viasna counted 288 political prisoners. This number keeps growing. "Recently, the Minister of the Interior spoke of more than 2,300 cases of politically motivated detentions," says Liubakova. "If these protesters are sentenced to years in prison, the number of political prisoners will increase."

Igor, 36, has also served time in prison. Igor works at an independent cultural institution and was arrested on his way to join a "solidarity chain" during his lunch break. In the fall, he was held for three days in Minsk's Okrestina prison. This did not deter him from demonstrating again. "People like me who have spent time in Okrestina or other prisons cannot change our minds. It's impossible to give up the fight."

Today, Igor supports those who have been detained, like Anastasia, a colleague who was arrested at her home on the morning of Feb. 18. "Apparently, it was because of the revolutionary flag in her window," he says. "We already knew what was in store for her. In recent weeks, all people arrested for white and red decorations are being detained for 15 days." Anastasia was sentenced to two weeks in prison in Okrestina.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya in exile in Vilnius, Lithuania — Photo: Imago via ZUMA Press

The conditions of detention there are said to be much harsher than elsewhere. One of Igor's neighbors, arrested in early February and sentenced to two weeks in prison, spent her first week "in a cell for six occupied by 24 people," he says. "At one point, the guards washed the floor with chlorine; two girls felt sick and were taken to the hospital. The others could not lie down to sleep."

In Minsk, the residents of the neighborhoods have set up a fund to pay fines. When one of them gets arrested, "calls are immediately made via dozens of chats on Telegram an encrypted messaging application to collect money," says Igor. The neighborhood also organizes to give gifts, send letters or be present when protestors are released. The day Igor's neighbor was released from Jodzina prison, 30 neighbors went to pick her up at the exit with flowers.

The silence of the administration on the arrivals and transfers of prisoners has prompted Belarusians to obtain this information themselves. Volunteers are stationed outside police stations or detention centers. "They put pressure on people they know in police departments and do as much as possible to share information on Telegram. In fact, they are doing the job that police officers are supposed to do," says Igor. The volunteers also advise the families of the detainees. If you are bringing packages, and the guards accept them, the sausage must be pre-cut; the toothpaste taken out of the tube.

While the crackdown spares no one, it is "especially hard" on former members of the security forces, says Sergei. This man, in his 40s, worked "19 years and three months' in a police department in Minsk. On Aug. 11, he submitted his resignation and joined the protest movement. Arrested on Dec. 13, he spent not 15 days in prison, but 37. "I know very well why they gave me such a long sentence; they were trying to build a criminal case against me," says Sergei. However, according to him, prison strengthens the determination of the protesters. "Inside, people are becoming more mature," he says.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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