Belarus Struggles to Make Sense of April Terror Attack and Country's Future

PHOTO: Belarus Struggles to Make Sense of April Terror Attack and Countrys FuturePlayClark Bentson/ABC News
WATCH Belarus Subway Blast Kills 11

The crowd outside the Oktoberskaya metro station in Minsk silently studies the makeshift tribute to those slain in last week's terror attack.

One young woman silently weeps as she clutched her bouquet of carnations she is preparing to leave. Handwritten prayers, poems and photos of Jesus are tucked amongst the many floral tributes.

The photographs of 12 of the victims, seven men and five women, are surrounded by mounds of flowers and scores candles; their photos resemble snapshots from high school yearbooks of varying ages.

But they are in fact obituary images from those killed in the April 11th attack that has now left 13 dead and more than 200 wounded.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, the man that has ruled the country for 17 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, has declared the case solved.

Five men, spotted in surveillance video from the many cameras that constantly watch the city, have been recognized and caught.

They immediately professed their guilt, not only to the recent attack on Minsk's transport system but also previous attacks in 2008 that had previously been unresolved.

"There is no doubt they did it," states a man at a cafe in Minsk. He, like others who question this authoritarian government, prefers not to be identified.

"But the question," he adds, "is who told them to do it." He shrugs when asked how it is possible that they were caught so quickly.

Like many, he hints that the government itself could have been behind it.

The international media has couched the veracity of the arrests. "Suspects caught" or "bombers confess" has been quoted with appropriate skepticism.

Authorities are still trying to determine the motive.

"Idiots" is what President Lukashenko calls those who think the bombing was a government plot to discredit the opposition and distract Belarusians from a rapidly deteriorating economy.

"Is the situation in the country so critical that I have to resort to desperate measures? It is not critical," Lukashenko retorted on national television.

Economic Pressures and Uncertainty

As the country struggles to make sense of April terror attack, there's also concerns over the uncertainty about the leadership and its economic future.

Finally succumbing to Russian pressure, the Belarus government has recently agreed to enter into a common customs union with Moscow.

From July, lower import duties will be raised to equal those in more powerful Russia.

This has created a consumer rush to bring in expensive foreign items – particularly used Western European automobiles – while taxes are still low.

That in turn has created a huge demand for foreign currency needed for items bought outside the country.

Exchange kiosks throughout the capital have no dollars or Euros to sell. Crowds hover near banks ready to pounce on any currency sold by visiting business people.

At one private market stall, a saleswoman tells a customer in hushed tones that "dollars are ok" despite the strict laws against using only the Belarusian ruble as legal tender. Many fear that a further devaluation is coming.

"It seems to be heading to how it was in the Soviet times," the man at a café said.

Yet, over the weekend in Minsk, it is hard to find a table in any of the many downtown restaurants.

The Hotel Minsk lobby is packed with delegations for a conference and a Lufthansa flight crew struggles through the packed lobby.

Shoppers on Nezavisimosti Avenue, the main boulevard in Minsk, stroll arm in arm past Hugo Boss and Addidas shops.

The long row Stalin period buildings are well kept and at night the street is beautifully illuminated.

On the surface it doesn't seem to be an economy on the verge of collapse.

President Lukashenko acknowledges the country's economic difficulties only indirectly when he blames unnamed foreign forces.

He has demanded that once again Belarus's often harassed opposition figures be questioned about external efforts to destabilize the country.

Leadership Troubles

Belarus has been ostracized by the international community again after last December's flawed presidential elections. Some international sanctions have been applied by the international community in an effort to force out Europe's "last dictator."

Opposition supporters by the hundreds were attacked and some brutally beaten during protests following election results. Seven of the nine candidates who dared run against President Lukashenko remain in prison.

Between the Hotel Minsk and the Gum shopping center, the mustard yellow Stalin palace is home to most feared state security services, the KGB.

The round shaped building out back has been dubbed the American jail because of its resemblance to U.S modern architecture.

The government admits to holding as many as 22 of its most ardent challengers inside the "round house." Reports from those freed from the notorious jail tell of opposition leaders beaten so badly that they cannot walk.

Over drinks in a cramped kitchen not a mile away, young Belarusians are discussing the political detention of a friend of theirs who worked for one of the detained presidential candidates.

"How is it possible?" asked one. "He received four years in jail for working for a candidate?"

The pale ice-blue eyes of a young female journalist suddenly became brilliant with anger. "You don't ask how in this country! It just is. That is the problem."

Two other young women both shake their head. One has been lucky enough to get a job in the Gulf and the other has stayed in Minsk.

"It isn't a place to be now," one says. "I feel suffocated here as soon I return."

The president has used the Oktoberskaya bombing to crack down more on independent media.

His ministers have threatened to restrict access to the internet saying that it contributed to the spread of "false" information and theories following the attack.

At the metro station again one week after the attack crowds gathered once again to bring flowers and pay their respects despite the chilly spring wind.

One handmade drawing showed the metro station with 12 doves – the universal symbol of peace -- flying overhead.

But few on the streets of Minsk this past weekend believe that the coming weeks or months will bring any calm.