The website was created by the team of the National Liberation Movement «Para!», whose goal is to hold officials guilty of political repression against the Belarusian people to account. Historically, the name of the movement refers to the Mahiliou Uprising of 1661, symbolising the people’s readiness to take active steps to reclaim their freedom.
At its launch, it contained information on approximately 5,000 individuals related to political repression in Belarus. The database is created based on numerous lists from various civic initiatives, as well as open information sources and OSINT tools. A unique feature of this database is that all data is kept in a structured form, facilitating search, processing, and use of the collected information. The project team has launched a public fundraising campaign to support their work.
Access to the luka.zone portal was restricted in Belarus in June 2023. In July, Telegram accounts of the initiative were included in the national list of extremist materials.
Soon, the creators promise to provide access to the admin panel for all interested democratically-oriented initiatives. This internal solution will provide access to a voluminous indexed database of source materials, simplifying the analysis of crimes and aiding in the preparation of operations against criminals.
The project team’s plans include expanding the list, improving the quality of descriptions, publishing in-depth investigations about those who are included in the database, as well as launching and promoting a software service for international companies that will help restrict access of certain individuals to their services.
Piotr Markielau, a Local Coordinator for ESFL, has been working on the project for over a year. He shared some insights, as well as plans for the future:
- How was the idea of Luka.zone born?
After the escalation of the war in Ukraine, sanctions were imposed on Belarusian citizens by state and private companies. In many cases, these sanctions were indiscriminate, affecting all citizens of Belarus. The world does not know how much Belarusians are suffering after the devastation of the civil sector in 2020. People who were initially repressed in Belarus and had fled to Ukraine, were then forced to flee Ukraine after the outbreak of the war, only to encounter citizenship-based sanctions against them in the EU. These kinds of sanctions only make me angry, as they represent discrimination based on nationality. I don’t have another citizenship. What can I do? Why are we being made victims? Why, instead of being helped, am I being punished? In Belarus, the phrase “you all understand perfectly well” is very popular. I personally don’t understand. I refuse to be a victim. I’m not guilty of anything.
I’ve realized that there’s a lack of tools that would allow for reasonable sanctioning of Belarusians. Those who are noted for structural support of the regime, those involved in repression, should be singled out into a separate group to which maximum sanctions should be applied. Such distinction will make individual sanctions truly effective and create a motivation not to participate in the crimes of Lukashenka’s regime. This is how the idea of the movement “Para!” came about, and we started working on the database of people involved in political repressions.
- What will this project mean for Belarusians inside and outside of Belarus?
Let’s look at the facts. More than 300.000 Belarusians have fled the country due to political repression since 2020. Belarus is currently being “softly annexed” by Russia. People who speak Belarusian are persecuted. Local businesses are intentionally destroyed, Russian companies come to replace them. There are currently around 3000 political prisoners being tortured in prisons and penal colonies across the country. Belarusian territory is a place of arms for the Russian army, and Belarusian military personnel are taking part in the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It’s a national disaster.
Belarusians hardly fundraise enough to support the victims of the regime, let alone trying to affect the root cause of the problem – the Lukashenka machinery that is slowly merging with the Russian state. Many Belarusians are waiting for the “black swan,” a magical something that will solve their problems with little if any of their participation. I think these expectations are not grounded in anything. I believe that without active resistance, the foreign authoritarian regime will not give birth to a healthy democracy. We need to act boldly to save the weak Belarusian nation, and more powerful and developed societies should support us, which could also help them protect themselves. If Belarus becomes a part of Russia, the war will not stop. History has a lot of examples of that.
It’s an unfortunate situation, when having an institutionalized democracy, and for many institutions in the political west it is hard to understand in full the problems Belarusians are facing today. A major part of the funding for the country’s civil and political sector comes from left-leaning foundations or state institutions. On the other hand, there are active people who want to do something for their society. With time these activists feel distrust in the idea of nationalism, which is often not popular among their donors. This is a bad setup for national liberation because fewer people are eager to actively defend their country from invaders. It is a sort of “cargo-cult” in the political realm. Some “healthy nationalism” is good for Belarus. It means that Belarusians should receive all the support they require to defend themselves from Russia. To be able to live on their historic land, speak their language and continue to cherish their age-old culture.
- Tell us more about your involvement in the movement and the project itself.
The luka.zone portal helps users to search by name, phone number, email address, personal identification number or other personal information to identify a person that has contributed to political repressions in Belarus and the war in Ukraine. Imagine, you are a company that decides to avoid contracts with war criminals, or a private entrepreneur in Belarus, who just wants to do business without the blackmail and banditry of state bodies, or anyone else, who deals with Belarusian citizens. This is a tool for you. Use it manually, or build an integration with our list. Dumps of the whole database can be downloaded freely in machine-friendly format.
Our backend-powered admin interface allows partners to explore our extended collection of source records. For every person, we develop a draft incriminating statement, collect photos, social media connections, and other references on the internet. The information is stored in a systematic form, which enables us to conduct various operations on the objects.
I started the project in September last year, and ever since, I was by far the largest investor, having put in more than 10k EUR, as well as hundreds of hours of development work. Despite no success in finding institutional support, I received some private donations and continued my fundraising efforts.
- How can people outside of Belarus support the cause?
One of the most direct ways to support the project is through financial contributions. People can make direct donations to help sustain and expand our efforts.
Human rights and investigative initiatives interested in accessing the admin panel for the voluminous indexed database can express their interest in accessing the platform. Also, contact us if you want to integrate our greylist-belarus API to your system.
Individuals can help by spreading awareness about the project and its goals. Sharing information about the luka.zone portal on social media platforms, forums, and other online communities will help reach a wider audience and draw attention to the issue of political repression in Belarus.
- What are the plans for the future?
Based on the luka.zone database, which we continue to update, we aim to set up the greylist-belarus API, a software solution for companies and individuals. Here is a typical use case scenario.
Upon registration in the system (e.g. a crypto exchange), an automatic request is sent to our server with the available personal data of the user. If matches are found, business owners or dedicated managers will get a notification so that they are able to manually limit access for these persons. This will work particularly well with companies that already conduct Know Your Customer procedures, i.e., are verifying their users by ID.
I hope to bring in more partners so we can expand our operation and actively utilize our database to help bring criminals to accountability in the ongoing war in Ukraine and repression in Belarus.
- What would you like to say to other Local Coordinators and freedom lovers that want to start up liberty-oriented projects in their local communities?
Unite people who support your idea. Help them identify roles within the project they can take pro bono. Leading a project can require a lot of time and effort, so be prepared for that.
Start building trust with the audience. Communicate your ideas, and be consistent. Often trust comes with time as people see how your team reacts to ongoing challenges and persists with its goals.
Do it for fun, not for a salary. Liberty-minded activism is self-expression, not making money. Earning money from what you’re doing in non-profits can still be a valid goal, but mind that much of the supply is consistently getting unmatched in this market.
Find local partners to collaborate with, if you do not have your own resources to proceed with your plans.
Evaluate your actions frequently. The more flexible you are, the bigger comparative advantage you have in times of a rapidly changing environment.