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How IT Technologies Help Belarusians Resist the Usurper

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How IT Technologies Help Belarusians Resist the Usurper

New technological services are emerging in Belarus in response to the needs of the protesters.

In the past few years, the IT industry has been successfully developing in Belarus. So it is not surprising that during the protests against the presidential election results that have been going on for more than 3 months, IT technologies are playing a role, dw.com reports.

"March" against Internet blocking

Belarusians remembered the first three days of protests in August 2020 for the almost total shutdown of the Internet. Then, more than 1.7 million residents of the country installed the Psiphon app, a VPN service for bypassing blockages. However, in the late evening, during the active phase of the protests on August 9-11, even this application did not help. On August 12, the Internet was turned on in Belarus, but the Belarusian authorities still continue to use blocking to counteract protests. Every Sunday, when traditional marches are already taking place in the country, telecom operators report the mobile Internet's disconnection.

To help the protesters coordinate their actions, the enthusiasts have developed the March application - a special offline map on which information important for the demonstrators is schematically indicated: the location of security forces, special equipment, a protest column, and places of detention. The map works without the Internet, is updated via SMS messages, and also sends information to other nearby users via Bluetooth technology.

Minsk resident Mikita says that, during one of the marches, this application helped him escape from the security forces: "During the dispersal, I hid in the entrance and followed the application when the security forces left, and only then I successfully got out." Another demonstrator has a similar experience: "SMS updates do not work for iOS, but if you are in a crowd, the application is updated via Bluetooth. In the absence of the Internet, it is more convenient to open a map and understand what is happening than to call someone and ask," says Siarhei.

The application's creators emphasize that the map only collects public information and does not coordinate the movement themselves. "The application was used by more than 12 thousand people, but we hardly advertised it, and many do not know about us yet," the developers share statistics.

Shop protest of Belarusians

Developments of Belarusian IT specialists allow Belarusians to protest not only on the streets but also in stores. Based on a barcode, the Krama app advises protesters which goods can be bought and which should be boycotted since their producers finance Lukashenka's regime or violate workers' rights to strike.

The founder of the application, Siarhei Kastrama, says that about 160 thousand users have installed the application, who have already checked a little over 760 thousand products. Users who describe pressure on employees or provide documents on violations ask to include a particular company in the boycotted ones.

"At first, I used it all the time for fun, but everything becomes clear pretty quickly, and I remember which company supports the regime and which does not," says the app user Ales Hancharonak. Speaking about the economic boycott, he notes that society has no other ways to fight against the regime - "which means it is my duty to do this."

"Belarusians are ready for a boycott of manufacturers because they see the cynical behavior of the management of these enterprises or the direct interest of the owners in the ongoing violation of the legal framework," Kastrama said. The creator also believes that "Krama" allows you to send a clear signal to the owners or managers of companies that it is not profitable to maintain repression or remain silent.

The main thing in the protest is not technology, but people

New technological services are emerging in Belarus in response to the needs of the protesters. Since about 30 thousand people were detained in three months, several sites have appeared in the country to search for detainees. Relatives can get information in the chatbot of the human rights center Viasna in Telegram, as well as on a special site created by volunteers spiski.live, which gives out all known information about the detainee by the last name. In addition, the protesters need the main symbol of protest - a white-red-white flag, which can be easily ordered through the Nash Stsiah chatbot.

However, the independent IT expert, the author of the "Column of a non-coder" channel, Siarhei Laurynenka, does not consider the technologies that help the protest a unique Belarusian experience and calls it typical for the current century. The effectiveness of technologies, according to the expert, "is directly proportional to the number of people who use them. Apps like March only help well when a lot of people use them," says Laurynenka.

At the same time, the expert notes, the protesters do not have a monopoly on technology, and the authorities are trying to oppose them. "In any case, you need to understand that technology is just a tool. The main thing in the protest is not technology but people, and they will be the determining factor," Laurynenka emphasizes.