05.01.22

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From Belarus With Love — Part IX: The End of “Peaceful Coexistence”?

Posted in Europe, Fraud, Patents at 5:43 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Series parts:

  1. From Belarus With Love — Part I: Schizophrenic EPO Policy
  2. From Belarus With Love — Part II: “Techwashing” an Autocratic Regime?
  3. From Belarus With Love — Part III: Apps From the Dictatorship
  4. From Belarus With Love — Part IV: “Software from Minsk” via Gilching and Rijswijk
  5. From Belarus With Love — Part V: From Start-Up to Success Story…
  6. From Belarus With Love — Part VI: “Big Daddy” Hammers the Opposition…
  7. From Belarus With Love — Part VII: The Post-Election Crackdown
  8. From Belarus With Love — Part VIII: “Seoul in the Centre of Pyongyang”
  9. YOU ARE HERE ☞ The End of “Peaceful Coexistence”

Belarusian IT protest banner
The Belarusian IT sector played a significant role in the events of 2020 which ended its “peaceful co-existence” with the country’s autocratic political establishment.

Summary: We continue to explore the affairs of the Belarusian ‘science park’ in Minsk, where EPO President Benoît Battistelli sent parts of the EPO (while António Campinos pretends that the EPO is cutting relations with Belarus)

Sor many years, there was a tacit unwritten contract between the Lukashenko regime and the burgeoning Belarus IT sector: “We do not touch you, and you do not meddle in politics”.

However, this “gentlemen’s agreement” fell apart in 2020 as the IT sector began to play a key role in the collective efforts to challenge “Batka” and his autocratic form of government.

Things kicked off in May 2020 with an announcement by the founder and former head of the HTP, Valery Tsepkalo, that he intended to run for President. IT specialists played an active role in Tsepkalo’s campaign and also in the campaign of another aspiring candidate, Viktar Babaryka.

Valery-Tsepkalo
Valery Tsepkalo founder and former head of the HPT tried to stand against Lukashenko in the 2020 Presidential elections but his nomination was rejected and he was forced into exile.

During the run-up to the election, concerns about voting falsification by the government-controlled Central Electoral Commission inspired a team of 40 volunteers led by Pavel Liber to develop the online platform Golos (“Voice”) as an alternative vote-counting mechanism.

“Liber, a senior director of software engineering at EPAM Systems, had to leave Belarus for Ukraine for his own safety and a number of Golos volunteers ended up in detention.”Together with similar initiatives, such as Babaryka’s Chesniya Lyudzi (Honest People) and Zubr (“Bison”), these activists were able to expose serious discrepancies in the official results and show that Lukashenko’s claimed 80% share of the vote was grossly inflated. Liber, a senior director of software engineering at EPAM Systems, had to leave Belarus for Ukraine for his own safety and a number of Golos volunteers ended up in detention.

Pavel Liber
Pavel Liber, a senior director of software engineering at EPAM Systems, led the team of volunteers behind the online platform Golos which helped to expose serious irregularities in the 2020 Presidential election.

After the election, many IT specialists took part in the mass protest actions. As independent experts, they were not afraid of losing their jobs. They were protesting, not for a crust of bread, but in the name of civil rights and European values and in opposition to the authoritarian state which had deprived them of a genuine right to vote.

“They were protesting, not for a crust of bread, but in the name of civil rights and European values and in opposition to the authoritarian state which had deprived them of a genuine right to vote.”In response, the regime started shutting off the Internet every day at around 7p.m. as the street protests started in order to prevent the crowds from co-ordinating via social media.

As the authorities resorted to brute force measures to crush the protests, some 300 CEOs of IT companies based in Belarus threatened to move their business out of the country if the government did not put a stop to the violent repression and allow for a new election to be held.

The list included CEOs who had been previously been reliably loyal to the regime, such as Arkady Dobkin, the CEO of EPAM Systems, and Viktor Prokopenya, the founder of software development company Viaden Media.

Meanwhile, many IT specialists volunteered for the various solidarity funds set up to help the victims of state violence. A number of solidarity actions were initiated by individuals based at the HTP.

For example, Mikita Mikado, the co-founder of PandaDoc, set up an initiative called ProtectBelarus offering financial aid and re-training in the tech industry for police officers who had decided to disobey orders to beat and torture protesters. In retaliation, the company offices of PandaDoc in Minsk were raided by the police and a number of senior employees were arrested.

“However, the unrestrained brutality of the post-election crackdown meant that the efforts to oust Lukashenko were ultimately doomed to failure. The opposition was crushed and its leaders either ended up in jail or in exile abroad.”Over at EPAM Systems, the senior vice-president, Makism Bogretsov, went on leave from the company to join the National Coordination Council, an opposition structure created by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and her supporters to coordinate a peaceful transfer of power.

For a brief moment, some foreign observers speculated that Lukashenko could be facing a “Ceauşescu moment”, and that he might end up being deposed like the former Romanian tyrant who was toppled amid intense civil unrest back in 1989.

However, the unrestrained brutality of the post-election crackdown meant that the efforts to oust Lukashenko were ultimately doomed to failure. The opposition was crushed and its leaders either ended up in jail or in exile abroad.

In the next part, we will see how the post-election crackdown impacted on the IT sector and led to a massive “brain drain” to other countries in the region.

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