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Happy New Year, Belarusian style...
rusdialog
Well, one thing is for certain - either Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko reads this blog (unlikely) or he really paid attention to how social media whipped up the Duma post-election protests 10 December and 24 December in Moscow (extremely likely, and probably has him somewhat concerned.)

To ring in the New Year, Batka gave his fellow Belarusian citizens a rather dubious present in advance of Orthodox Christmas....yet another layer of internet restrictions, and these quite ominous. According to the BBC:

A new law in Belarus will restrict access to foreign websites and force internet clubs and cafes to report users visiting sites registered abroad. The law, which takes effect on Friday, says anyone selling goods or services to Belarus citizens on the web must use the .by Belarusian domain name. That would make it illegal for firms like Amazon or eBay to sell goods to customers in Belarus.

Note: ebay and Amazon.com sales are not all that common in Belarus - PayPal can't function there, prohibitive shipping costs, etc. That's not such a big deal. But the rest is....

The law says people offering internet services to the public - whether at a cafe, club or in their own home - will face fines if their customers visit foreign websites and such visits are not properly recorded and reported.

Anyone found accessing "extremist" or "pornographic" websites will also be fined, the law says.

The previous post spoke about how the Belarusian authorities have in the past split the middle ground between Russia (which has basically allowed relatively unfettered access to the internet for its citizens, choosing to just hack sites that the government doesn't care for) and China (who blocks significant chunks of the internet off to its citizens), although it has used Chinese censorship software in the past to not only block sites but also hack opposition websites such as Charter 97 and Euroradio.fm. (Charter 97 earlier this afternoon was reporting that the Euroradio.fm site was already blocked in the capital Minsk and doubtlessly elsewhere in the country as well.)

This goes beyond earlier attempts to regulate internet access, and moves closer to the Chinese model. Anyone in Belarus who has a Facebook or Twitter account can count on those two sites being dumped in the "extremist website" column soon  - but what of the Russian language and Russian domain websites such as Odnoklassniki.ru, the Russian Facebook clone which had a large part in spreading the word about the Moscow protests? How does this affect foreign visitors and businessmen accessing the internet in Minsk hotels via wireless or the on-site internet facilities?

Lukashenko, once again, is breaking out his all too familiar routine of cracking down on the poor citizens of the country, now that he (once again) has weathered the storm following the December 2010 presidential election and the subsequent economic crisis that plunged the Belarusian ruble into Zimbabwean territory earlier this year. Prior to the elections, he dangled the all too gullible EU with slight hints of reform (in order to secure badly needed hard currency loans), and post-election, he managed to bring the IMF as well as Chinese and Indian investors (looking to purchase pieces of Beltransgaz and/or Belaruskali) to leverage against a Russian government playing hardball and not willing to once again open up the checkbook to bail Batka out of another economic hash. And in the end, the Kremlin caved in and bailed him out anyway. Crisis averted, again, for one of the ultimate survivors in all of European history. It was only a matter of time after the dust settled that Batka would try to take measures to ensure that the next election goes more smoothly - and he started with the one legitimate voice outside his borders that actually poses a danger to his regime.

Gotta say this about the old boy - he's got more lives than a cat, and his sense of timing is, well, impeccable as always.


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