Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 26

A well-organized group of fifteen to twenty young people–supporters of the Russian National Unity (RNE) fascist movement of Aleksandr Barkashov–viciously beat up three representatives of the Belarusan democratic opposition on February 5 in downtown Minsk. Some of the attackers wore swastika armbands and other RNE paraphernalia. They were commanded by a more senior, fully uniformed RNE member and had been busy distributing RNE literature before pouncing on their victims. The police failed to intervene.

Andrei Sannikau, coordinator of the Charter-97 initiative (patterned on the Czech Charter-77 civic movement), and journalists Dmitri Bandarenka and Aleh Byabenin were injured in the attack. Sannikau, one of the most prominent opposition leaders, is in charge of external relations. He is a former deputy foreign minister who resigned in 1996 as a protest against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s assumption of dictatorial powers. From the hospital, the victims suggested that citizens would be within their rights to form self-defense groups if the authorities condone fascist violence.

During the last few weeks, RNE supporters have suddenly become active in Minsk, handing out propaganda materials at busy intersections in full view of the authorities. On one occasion, an RNE squad entered the Minsk Press House–where most editorial offices of the state-owned press are located–and went from office to office distributing RNE propaganda. Whether these groups are local recruits of the Russian movement, Russian fascists operating in Belarus, or a mixture of the two is unclear–except perhaps to the authorities (Belapan, February 5-6; Russian TV, February 6-7).

Given that Lukashenka hardly misses an opportunity to condemn the Nazi occupation of Belarus during World War II, his sudden tolerance for the swastika in the center of Minsk may seem surprising. However, he has occasionally expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler’s internal policies. Quite apart from the question of Lukashenka’s ideological preferences, he will probably not be averse to using the RNE as a cat’s paw against the national-democratic opposition.