One doesn’t think of Belarus and conjure up visions of human rights. The former Russian state has received the attention of the often mute U.S. Congress for its limitations on freedom of speech and the right to assemble; Belarus didn’t take too kindly to the criticism. Part of those freedom limitations stems from the annual Charnobylsky Shlyakh (“The Path of Chornobyl”), a march commemorating (and highlighting the still-remaining health effects of) the 1986 nuclear disaster, which is spearheaded by the opposition party Belarusian National Front. And every year, the government threatens to ban the march through Minsk as a means to silence the enemy — so you would think organizers know a thing or two about being oppressed. Apparently not: They’ve banned gays and lesbians from participating in Charnobylsky Shlyakh.
The organization GayBelarus asked Charnobylsky Shlyakh’s leaders to allow them to take part in the organizational committee, but were denied even after threatening to take their complaints to international courts. It seems the Belarusian opposition knows a thing or two about how effective that sort of threat is, and held up their rebuff. Says deputy chairman of the Belarusian opposition party Belarusian National Front Viktor Ivashkevich: “Representatives of the information gay association should file a request with the Minsk city executive committee to hold a separate rally. We shouldn’t mix two totally different actions.”
Ah yes. Separate, but unequal.
Which meant Sunday’s parade, attracting some 1,000 people, went on without the gays. Reports Navyni.by:
The demonstration began with a rally in the square in front of the National Academy of Sciences, the government-authorized assembly place for the event.
[…] Heorhiy Lepin, a member of the founding committee for an organization called Scientists for a Nuclear Free Belarus, said that no proper exploration has been done at the site in the Astravets district near the Lithuanian border that the government has selected for the construction of Belarus` first-ever nuclear power plant. There is a tectonic fault line in the area and the hazardous seismological environment there may lead to the collapse of the plant, Dr. Lepin warned.
After the speeches were over, Mr. Ivashkevich suggested that participants form a line along the opposite side of Independence Avenue, Minsk’s main thoroughfare, so that their flags, banners and signs could be seen by people in passing-by vehicles.
Dozens of black-helmeted, black-uniformed and black-booted riot policemen promptly formed a human wall to keep demonstrators from marching to the city center.
[…] A deputy chief of the Minsk city police department officially warned Mr. Barshchewski against marching along a route other than the authorized one. The police official expressed particular concern about a group of some 100 young people who were banging drums, displaying red and black anarchy flags, and chanting “No to Nuclear Power Plant!”
After a 30-minute peaceful standoff with the riot police, the crowd turned back and set off along the authorized route to a so-called Chernobyl chapel near Bangalore Square some two miles away from the National Academy of Sciences. Members of an opposition youth group called Maladaya Belarus refused to join the marchers, furled their flags and dispersed. “It does not make sense to go to Bangalore Square and march along backyards,” explained Maladaya Belarus leader Artur Finkevich.