Preparation for presidential elections and signature collection in the province encounter more problems than in larger towns
Radio Liberty considered the issues “How is signature collection going in the province? What are the problems faced by the members of initiative groups?".
In Vierkhniedzvinsk the authorities did not prevent signature collection during previous election campaigns. That’s why during the last parliamentary elections a thousand and a half signatures were collected easly, said Valiantsina Lapitskaia. Now it is far more complicated, says Ms Lapitskaia: “First, the law enforcement agencies checked all members of the initiative group. People are being pressurized – for example, our signature collector Taisa Barok, of the village Kanchany, lost her job a week after getting it. The reason was participation in the collection of signatures. Generally, the situation in Vierkhniedzvinsk district is not simple. Teachers, school workers, bakery workers, workers of the district electrical network center are forbidden to sign in support of candidates other than the current president. Unfortunately, the authorities are using their administrative resource".
Many people in the province know nothing about alternative candidates because these people do not appear on the Belarusian television, or in any newspapers other than non-governmental ones. “So people in the countryside know very little, if anything. Vierkhniedzvinsk is where people can barely receive two channels, which is the only source of television information for them. They only listen to the Belarusian radio. As regards Milinkievich, the public sector of our district knows this person and we have attempted to raise awareness in the region within the limits allowed by the law. I want to be honest - information is scarce. People ask many questions and we understand that this is not our business – agitation. So, this is the problem in the province. This is not the problem of the people, this is the problem of how the current authorities are acting to conceal information about the alternative candidates and about any reasonable people who are many in Belarus”, she added.
Ryhor Kostusieu, the chair of Mahilou Regional Branch of BPF, visits small towns and villages almost every day. He was very impressed that in the countryside people often do not know who Kazulin, Milinkievich or Fralou are, or how many pretenders there are. The people in the countryside sometimes even do not know that presidential election are due in March. Not only signature collectors face problems but also those who put their signatures in support of a candidate, says Ryhor Kostusieu: “In Bialynichy district they started to “pressurize” signature collectors and even the people who have put their signatures. In Vishou rural Council the chair kept the signature collectors for four hours - she did not want to certify the signatures collected. Then she had to sign it but marked the entire list of the signers (a total of 73 people). And then she said: “from this list about 30 people will refuse from their signatures”. She and the local police officer went to visit the signers, reduced some of them to tears, forcing them to refuse from their signatures in support of Milinkievich.
On 18 January Vital Vasilkou’s car was detained at the instruction issued by the chair of Bialynichy District Executive Committee Illianau. Just because the window of his car had portraits of Milinkievich attached to it - he is a member of the initiative group. The portraits, however, are not there for agitation purposes but as an attempt to explain who Milinkievich is and what he looks like. Mr. Vasilkou was kept in the police station for several hours, he was taken to the chair of the district executive committee, who threatened a violation report and a fine. The procurator and the police chief were instructed to deal with this case. But because there is no law that can be used for punishment, he was released. Another case of pressure applied against Uladzimier Papkou occurred in Kastsiukovichy: his initiative group membership ID was allegedly falsified. He also had to spend several hours in the police, then he was released. There were cases of signature collectors being pressurized in Horki: Kadanchyk, a lecturer of the agricultural academy. He was invited for a talk with his employer and warned: if you continue with signature collection, you will be fired”.