From abroad. Belarusian expats choose their president
To vote or not to vote? Belarusians living abroad are not united in their attitude towards presidential elections. Let’s take a closer look at the diaspora in Poland. Activists, politicians, employees and students – whom would they choose?
Asked about the upcoming elections, Aleś Zarembiuk, co-head of The Belarusian House in Warsaw, cites Polish writer Stanislaw Jerzy Lec: “ I thought that I reached the bottom, but then I heard knocking from downstairs”.
Aleś will not vote. Neither will Vlad Kobets, his co-worker. Together they openly boycott these elections, still calling for free voting and a country without political prisoners. Zmicier Koscin, journalist of Belarusian Radio ‘’Racyja”, also plans to skip the V-day. In reference to the words of former political prisoner and presidential candidate Mikola Statkevicz, he states: ‘’Elections on Belarus do not exist. Voting is pointless”. Many Belarusians in Poland are of the same opinion:
“Voting? What for?”
“It’s a farce that has nothing in common with real elections. Nobody believes in change”.
“Nobody criticizes the president. The only candidate that calls herself opposition has support of a person who betrayed us all in the elections in 2010, collaborating with the regime”. Pavel, University student and IT specialist in a Polish company, is convinced that it does not matter if he votes or not, his name would be used to falsify the results.
“My friend will go for elections for fun. Nobody believes that we can change something. There is no one worthy of my vote”.
Believe in democracy
Yet Yuliya Slutskaya, Director of the Belarus in Focus Information Office activist for independent media development in Belarus, has not abandoned hope. She would vote…
“… if there is a democratic candidate."
“Boycotting elections means that international observers would accept the official results. With a low turnout of citizens who are against the current regime, authorities wouldn’t even have to rig the votes. Lukashenko will win the elections, leading the international opinion to believe that we support him and his leadership”.
Vola Shved, chief editor at the Belarusian TV channel Belsat, decided to vote for Mikola Statkevich – although he is not even registered as a candidate:
“I always have a huge problem with our elections. Despite this nonsensical situation, I feel I just have to go.
“I observed the 2006 elections in Belarusian Embassy in Warsaw. We spent all day asking people about their choice. We counted around 10 supporter of Lukashenko, the rest voted for Alaksandar Milinkievic. But the results announced by the Embassy were totally different… It is hard to say if I vote this year. I think about adding Mikola Statkevich to the list and sign my voice next to his surname. The vote will be invalid, but perhaps someone in the election commission would start to wonder”.
Rough path for citizens abroad
Belarusians living abroad can vote in diplomatic missions of their country. In Poland the offices are located in Warsaw, Bialystok, Gdansk and Biala Podlaska. A potential voter must be registered in the diplomatic mission as a person that stay in Poland permanently and give some personal data, for example – an address. However, many Belarusians go back for elections to their home country. Some of them are convinced that members of election commissions who do not ask for registration documents would somehow use their votes to rig the results (double voting, etc.).
Zmicier Koscin is one of the brave who voted in a Belarusian consulate in Bialystok: “Later I got information that there were 2 registered votes for Uladzimir Nyaklyayew. Me, my wife and her friend – that’s 3 votes, so what happened to the rest? That’s the meaning of voting for a Belarusian president, even here, in Poland”.
Vola Shved comments: “Belarusians living in Poland are divided into 2 groups. The first one lives here because of the job market and don’t visit the home country – I think they are a majority. They are not interested in the situation of Belarus.
“The group seriously interested in the situation in Belarus consists of political migrants. In the most cases they just can’t return. They miss their homeland and they want to stay somehow involved. It’s a very small minority.
“The rest of those still interested in politics question the sense of elections. They are convinced that nobody really counts the votes. However, they may also not vote because it requires registering your address and they are rather wary of doing this”.
Early voting in Belarus starts five days before the official date. The idea is to give a chance to cast their votes to people who may not be able to do this on the V-day. At night ballot boxes are guarded by police and must be destroyed one week after elections end.
Everyone understands that such practices leave authorities free to rig the results.