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Cablegate: Lost Our Lease -- Real Estate As a Means of Regime

VZCZCXRO2966
RR RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSK #0085/01 0391131
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 081131Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MINSK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6881
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1818
RUEHBS/USMISSION USEU 0274
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MINSK 000085

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/08/2018
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL BO
SUBJECT: LOST OUR LEASE -- REAL ESTATE AS A MEANS OF REGIME
PRESSURE ON BELARUS' OPPOSITION

REF: MINSK 079 (AND PREVIOUS)

Classified By: Ambassador Karen Stewart for reason 1.4 (d).

Summary
-------

1. (C) Representatives of the independent media, civil
society and political opposition in Belarus report increasing
pressure from landlords, including astronomical rent
increases or termination of leases. The increasing use of
this old tactic -- often indirect and sometimes buttressed
with arguments about market prices for real estate --
presents both a logistical and a legal threat to the
continued functioning of opposition organizations, which need
a legal address to stay in operation. End summary.

Parties and the Press Face Loss of Premises
-------------------------------------------

2. (C) At briefings held January 25 for visiting EUR/ACE
staff Heather Grant and Noah Krystel, representatives of the
United Democratic Forces (UDF) and the independent press
described how increasing rents and terminated leases threaten
their continued legal operation in Belarus.

3. (C) Vintsuk Vyachorka, First Deputy Chair of the
Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), noted that, as of April 2008,
the rent for BPF's Minsk headquarters is scheduled to
increase 800 per cent or more. Vyachorka added that the
premises, in a government building, had been previously "rent
controlled" since it was let to a non-profit civic
organization; this control had since been withdrawn by the
authorities.

4. (C) Belarusian Social Democratic Party-Gramada (BSDP-G)
Acting Chair Anatoliy Levkovich told Pol/Econ Chief February
5 that his party has lost their office in regional capital
Mogilyov. Levkovich said that BSDP-G had been without a home
there since January 1, when there previous lease ended
without the possibility of renewal. He noted that the search
for new premises -- and a new "legal address" necessary to
function -- was arduous and not guaranteed to succeed.

5. (C) According to the Editor-in-Chief of the independent
weekly "Belarusy i Rynok," Vyacheslav Khodosovskiy, the paper
recently lost its lease to its Minsk office. As with BSDP-G,
the paper was given no opportunity to renew a lease that had
expired. Khodosovskiy opined that the move and other
pressure on the paper and its readers were attempts by the
GOB to keep objective information on the Belarusian economy
out of the hands of citizens in an election year.

Groups Face Logistical, Legal Hurdles
-------------------------------------

6. (C) The loss of office space threatens the existence of
parties, NGOs, and the free press for a host of reasons.
First, the prospect of moving presents groups with real
financial and logistical problems, not the least of which is
finding a landlord willing to be associated with an
organization challenging the regime. Just as importantly,
losing premises introduces legal hurdles as well. The filing
of paperwork to change a legal address gives the regime an
additional opportunity to liquidate a group seen as a
troublemaker. For political parties, the problem is even
more acute, since failure to maintain an office in Minsk and
at least half of Belarus' six regional capitals is grounds
for a national political party to be de-registered.

Comment: Don't Believe Market-Based Excuses
--------------------------------------------

7. (C) One excuse which landlords and the state are wont to
offer for rent increases and the decision not to renew leases
is the skyrocketing cost of real estate in Minsk. "Invisible
hand" arguments would be easier to accept if not for the very
visible hands of the regime and regime cronies that the
monopolistic real estate rules so ably serve.

Comment Cont.
-------------

8. (C) While the Lukashenko regime recently has released
four internationally recognized political prisoners (reftel),
administrative detentions and other forms of harassment --
such as these real estate manipulations -- continue. The
Embassy will continue to closely monitor the many forms of

MINSK 00000085 002 OF 002


the regime's repression as September parliamentary elections
approach.
STEWART

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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