A powerful political movement has emerged as a meaningful, anti-Lukashenka force, so why aren’t Western capitals and local democracy activists brimming with enthusiasm?
by Alyaksandr Yanusik
MINSK | In February 2010, the normally staid Belarusian political scene, dominated by an authoritarian president and a bickering opposition, was suddenly shaken up, although few knew at the time. A movement called “Tell the Truth,” headed by the renowned writer and poet, Vladimir Niakliaev, emerged that month with the defiant goal of exposing and helping to address pressing social issues. Its activists began with small but heavily advertised efforts, collecting residents’ signatures for renaming streets, meeting with ordinary people to talk about their woes, petitioning authorities to address those problems, and distributing leaflets calling on local officials to account for taxpayers’ money.
In a matter of months the movement grew into a powerful, nationwide organization by enlisting activists and leaders from other political parties and groups. Police raids on the apartments of some 65 Tell the Truth activists and the three-day detention of its leaders in May made headlines and gave the campaign much prominence.
Its leader Niakliaev announced his candidacy in the 19 December presidential election and by October had surged to the second spot in opinion polls with 17 percent, outpacing the eight other declared contenders, though still far behind President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s 48 percent, according to a survey by the Independent Institute of Social, Economic, and Political Studies (IISEPS).
But those successes – and the excitement over the birth of a genuine movement to challenge Lukashenka – has been sullied. For months the campaign has been beset by allegations of exorbitant spending, attempts to buy up activists and media, and speculation over the real source of its funding, with many fingers pointing to Russia. Some even accuse Tell the Truth of being part of a plot by the authorities to destabilize and weaken the opposition.