Belarus. The conflict between the EU and the dictatorship
in Belarus escalated during the year because of the
suppression of human rights in Belarus. When the EU in
February tightened its sanctions on President Aljaksandr
Lukashenka's regime, Minsk responded with the expulsion of
ambassadors. The EU then protested by withdrawing all EU
ambassadors from Belarus. They did not return until April.
The increased isolation for Belarus meant worse
conditions for the Belarussian economy, which was hard
pressed and in need of loans. However, Minsk had an ally in
Moscow, where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned the
EU's sanctions in the form of an entry ban on Belarusian
politicians and officials, as well as the freezing of assets
of Belarusian companies.
countryaah, Sweden ended up in the fiercest confrontation with the
Lukashenka regime. It started with a Swedish advertising
agency in July conducting a private flight from Lithuania
into Belarus, where 800 teddy bears with regime-critical
messages were dropped. The incident led to the dismissal of
the Belarussian Air Force commander and the Border Guard
commander, as the small aircraft was not stopped.
In August, Sweden's ambassador to Belarus was expelled.
Minsk accused him of having contacts with the opposition,
but judges believed the deportation had to do with the teddy
bear campaign. The EU as well as the US gave their support
In response to the expulsion, Sweden said no to the new
Belarusian ambassador to be installed in Stockholm, and a
couple of diplomats at the embassy must leave Sweden. By
then, Belarus closed its embassy and at the same time
deprived the Swedish diplomats of Minsk of their status.
Lukashenka accused the Swedish embassy of having
participated in the campaign with the teddy bears, and
Belarusian media claimed that Sweden financed disruptive
activities in Belarus and had trained groups at its embassy
to attack the police.
Following the incident with the Swedish plane, the regime
decided to equip the Air Force and upgrade its readiness.
Later, Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov was dismissed and
replaced by Vladimir Makej, who was blacklisted by the EU.
SVT's "Assignment Review" revealed during the year that
TeliaSonera opened its subsidiary's telecommunications
system for the security service in Belarus and gave the
regime access to the mobile users' calls and SMS so that
different thinking could be intercepted and seized. Through
its ownership in Turkish Turkcell, TeliaSonera has indirect
ownership of Belarusian operator Best.
The situation of the Belarusian opposition was difficult.
Former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, who was
sentenced to five years in prison, was reported to have
health problems and to be subject to abuse by guards. His
wife feared for his life. In April, Sannikov was released
following an application for mercy, and in the fall he was
reported to have received political asylum in the UK.
Human rights organizations have appealed to the regime
not to execute the two young men sentenced to death accused
of a bombing of 15 deaths in Minsk in 2011. There were
serious doubts about the police investigation, the trial and
the men's guilt. One of them said he was forced to admit. In
March, the regime announced that Vladislav Kovaljov and
Dmitry Konovalov had been executed.
In September, a number of Belarusian and foreign
journalists were arrested who reported from a protest
meeting held by the opposition in Minsk. Three of the
organizers were jailed, while the journalists were released
Ahead of the September parliamentary elections, several
opposition parties urged voters not to vote, as the
electoral movement was labeled the worst so far in terms of
censorship and police repression during Lukashenka's regime.
Lukashenka himself mocked the opposition, claiming that it
did not dare to meet the voters. Only a few of the
candidates in the election came from the opposition. In
addition, Parliament was virtually powerless as almost all
legislative proposals came from Lukashenka.
The regime and its support groups won all 110 seats in
Parliament. According to international election observers,
led by the OSCE, the electoral movement was governed, the
election not free and the electoral commission biased.
Officially, turnout was nearly 75%, but unofficial reports
spoke of low participation.