Helping Belarusians Break Free from Online Censorship: A Guide for Russian Speakers

Question:

How can Russian speakers assist Belarusian internet users in bypassing the government-imposed censorship?

The original question is from a moderator of r/Belarus, a subreddit dedicated to the discussion of Belarusian politics and culture. The moderator is seeking help from Russian speakers who can provide technical guidance and support to Belarusian internet users who are facing a severe internet blockade by the authoritarian regime. The blockade is aimed at quelling the pro-democracy protests that have erupted across the country. The moderator reports that reddit is one of the few websites that remains accessible in Belarus, but many users are unable to access their email or download VPN software. The moderator is looking for solutions that can help Belarusian internet users overcome these challenges and access the information and communication they need.

Answer:

Belarus is facing a severe internet shutdown as the authoritarian regime of President Aliaksandr Lukashenko tries to suppress the massive pro-democracy protests that have been ongoing since the disputed election in August 2020. According to independent experts, network connectivity in the country has been reduced to 20% of the normal levels, and most websites, including search engines, social media platforms, independent media outlets, and online services, are blocked or inaccessible. The government has blamed the disruption on foreign cyberattacks, but many see it as a deliberate attempt to silence dissent and prevent the coordination of the opposition movement.

As a result, many Belarusian internet users are struggling to access the information and communication they need, and are looking for ways to bypass the censorship and access the global internet. This is where Russian speakers can play a vital role in helping them, as they share a common language and a cultural affinity with the Belarusian people. Russian speakers can provide technical guidance and support to Belarusian internet users by using the following methods:

  • Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network): A VPN is a software that encrypts and redirects the internet traffic of a user through a server in another country, where there is no censorship. This way, the user can access any website or service that is blocked in their own country, and also protect their privacy and security from surveillance and interference. A VPN is one of the most effective and reliable ways to bypass online censorship, but it also requires some technical knowledge and a subscription fee. Russian speakers can help Belarusian internet users by recommending them a good VPN provider, such as NordVPN, and guiding them through the installation and configuration process. They can also share their VPN accounts with them, if possible, or donate to VPN providers that offer free or discounted services to Belarusian users, such as Psiphon.
  • Using a Proxy Server: A proxy server is a website or an app that acts as an intermediary between a user and the internet, allowing them to access blocked websites or services through the proxy server’s IP address. A proxy server is similar to a VPN, but it usually only works for specific websites or services, and it does not encrypt the internet traffic of the user. Therefore, it is less secure and reliable than a VPN, but it is also easier to use and often free. Russian speakers can help Belarusian internet users by providing them with links to proxy servers that work in Belarus, such as Proxify or Hide.me, and explaining how to use them. They can also create their own proxy servers and share them with Belarusian users, using tools such as Glype or PHProxy.
  • Using the Tor Browser: The Tor Browser is a web browser that uses a network of volunteer servers, called nodes, to anonymize and route the internet traffic of a user, making it difficult to trace or block. The Tor Browser can access any website or service on the internet, including those that are blocked or censored in a country, and also protect the privacy and security of the user. However, the Tor Browser is also slower and less stable than a regular web browser, and it may not work well with some websites or services that require scripts, plugins, or cookies. Russian speakers can help Belarusian internet users by downloading and installing the Tor Browser on their devices, and teaching them how to use it. They can also run their own Tor nodes and bridges, which are special nodes that help users connect to the Tor network, using tools such as Tor Relay Configurator or BridgeDB.

By using these methods, Russian speakers can assist Belarusian internet users in bypassing the government-imposed censorship and accessing the information and communication they need. However, they should also be aware of the risks and challenges involved in doing so, such as legal repercussions, technical difficulties, or ethical dilemmas. They should also respect the wishes and preferences of the Belarusian users, and not impose their own views or agendas on them. Ultimately, the goal is to support the Belarusian people in their struggle for democracy and human rights, and to foster a sense of solidarity and friendship between the two nations.

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