Belarus: Flash-Mobbing in Minsk

White Boats – by Andrei Hrachou

On April 4, a small group of young people gathered at the Svisloch River embankment in Minsk, folded origami paper boats, let them out into the water, and left. Most boats were white, but a few were painted the colors of the banned Belarusian flag, white-red-white.

The gathering was one of the increasingly popular Minsk flash mobs, coordinated through a LiveJournal community, by-mob. Brainchild of LJ user hondurazian, the motivation for it was this (RUS):

Many people detained and sentenced on March 19-23 are already free. But many aren't. We are waiting for them – and we are happy that many are already back! Let's greet our friends and the spring!


Spring, freedom, little white boats – free Belarus! Let's enjoy life!

Initial reaction to this flash mob idea was negative, though (RUS):

slonopotam: Yeah, right, better call it “Let's make the city even dirtier.” There's enough trash lying around after winter.

The comment caused a minor yet impassioned debate on ecology, with a slight political undertone to it (RUS, BEL):

hondurazian: aha! a hundred sheets of paper in the river is a deadly blow to the city's ecology! we're drinking this water! and these jerks are throwing little (poisoned) pieces of paper in it :)

slonopotam: You mean you don't give a damn about what you call ‘ecology’ (though ecology is a science and it doesn't change because of the garbage)? You don't care if the city's dirty or not. The main thing for you is to show your pseudosignificance, isn't it?

oskoltsev: aren't you aware that paper gets utilized easily and is absolutely harmless for the environment, unlike poliethylen? if you aren't, I'm happy to be the first to inform you. greenpeace will not forget you

hondurazian: :-P Don't make false accusations. I'm a rather ecologically-minded person and always throw garbage into garbage containers. The thing is, paper (unlike, say, plastic) in the form of a hundred (two, three, for hundred, or even a thousand) paper boats in the river will NOT harm ecology in any way, because it will eventually dissolve.

And from there, a new flash mob idea has emerged (RUS, BEL) – to hold a volunteer cleanup day, a subbotnik:

libre_ave: Eh, creating a mess again… maybe you'll come up with something useful… a subbotnik, for example!!!

oskoltsev: and lenin with a log… lol

exhumator: Why, that's a good idea! Maybe we'll see the president! He loves subbotniks…

libre_ave: yes but if you do it you have to make sure people see WHO is doing it

mindoug: A very interesting proposal, by the way. An oppositional subbotnik! Let's rid our Motherland of Lukashenko's garbage!


Belarus flash mob community (by-mob) was created March 26, the day after the violent dispersal of the opposition's peaceful rally in Minsk. One of its goals is to “peacefully express one's point of view on what's going on in the country.” Over half a dozen flash mob activities have already been carried out in Minsk.

The one that took place April 3 was a reaction to the words of Minsk mayor Mikhail Pavlov: he threatened to sue organizers of the Oktyabrskaya Square protest to compensate the city for the sewage cleanup expenses incurred after the tent camp had been destroyed. And, according to LJ user minskfm (RUS), to compensate the city was exactly what some 70 flash mobbers tried to do when they showed up at the Central Post Office in Minsk and started filling out money order forms:

Ten minutes before the action begins, there's a [KGB] man with a video camera, shooting everyone at the entrance. There's a fair number of people inside already, filling out forms. Someone thoughtful has already placed sample forms on the tables, with all the info printed on them.

Another [KGB] man with a walky-talky comes over to a girl and asks her “to stop this rubbish.” He attempts to look at what she's writing. She asks him not to bother her, as she's filling out a money order – it's her right. She is entering personal info and he has no right to see it. (Attagirl!) Then the man comes up to a guy and asks him to leave.

People start coming to the cashier's window. Minutes later, there's a line all the way to the entrance door. All in all, 70 people.

A woman from Radio Liberty shows up, tries to interview someone. Another journalist asks someone to explain the situation. A few men who just happened to be there are laughing and ask what's going on, too. Someone tells them it's a ‘flash mob.’ One repeats the word to another, they laugh again, even though neither understands the word's meaning, of course.

A manager woman runs in. There's fear in her eyes, she asks everyone to leave, hysterically, and runs back and forth all across the hall. Desperately, she cries: “What in the world is going on here?!” People standing in the line begin to laugh.

It is decided to make a semicircle out of the line, so that more people could fit inside. Meanwhile, the cashier woman is shocked and perplexed. She refuses to accept money order forms, says what's written on top isn't correct. Shuts her window for a while. Then says that the forms are wrong. […] Those who stood at the beginning of the line, sit down to fill out new forms.

The manager woman is joined by a man in blue uniform, also a post office employee. Neither knows what to do with the crowd. They ask journalists to show their press cards, then tell them to leave the building to avoid problems. Then they try to find out who organized all this. Someone points to the man with a walky-talky))) The man in blue drags him outside!)

Then the line's tail decides to leave the post office for some reason. But some of those at the beginning have filled out the new forms and are trying to pay.

Then it is being decided whether to stay till the last person fills out the form and pays, or to leave. [KGB] men are waiting outside and no one knows what they may do next. That's why it's decided not to take risks and around 6:18 pm everyone leaves.


Aleksandr Lukashenko's third inauguration ceremony is scheduled for April 8. Members of the by-mob community are planning to wear black, the color of mourning, on this day (BEL):

Mass action on April 8
Reason: Lukashenko's coronation.
Location: all cities and towns of Belarus, abroad. Wherever you are, take part.
Time: April 8, Saturday, all day long.
Essence: Go out into the streets, hang black ribbons everywhere, dress in black yourself, carry black balloons. Black user pictures in your LiveJournals. In short, the more black, the better.


  • Lenny

    I am in Boston. How can we help?

  • Flash Mobster use Live Journal to Organize in Belarus

    According to the all-high gurus of the blogosphere (Global Voices, who else?) Belarussian internet users are using Live Journal to organize flash mobs in Minsk to protest the arrest of democracy activists after the recent (unfree and unfair) presidential election.

    However, flash mobbing is not without its detractors. To wit, while some see the small paper boats dispersed during a recent flash mob as evocative symbols of protest, others see them as litter. Said one Live Journal commenter, rather than calling the events flash mobbing, better to call them “Let’s make the city even dirtier.” Read the entire excellent post, by GV Eastern Europe editor Veronica Khokhlova, here.

    categories: redefining democratization_, cool tools_

    technorati tags: Belarus, LiveJournal, flashmob, democracy

  • […] some might argue that the text message-organized Falun Gong sit-ins or the Belarus flash mob protests, which were publicized on Livejournal (and discussed by Shirky on pp. 167-8). […]

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