Belarus: Staying in the Streets, Protesting a Hi-jacked Presidential Election



August 18, 200,000 protest in Belarus.

Since 1994 Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has been president of Belarus, an Eastern European nation with a population of 9.5 million people. He is widely hated and many call him a “dictator.” He was up for re-election on August 9 and afterwards claimed victory, saying he had won 80 percent of the votes. But the “results” cited by Lukashenko are widely believed to be falsified. That night demonstrators took to the street and have stayed in the streets. August 22 marks two weeks of continuing protests demanding a new election and Lukashenko’s resignation. Forbes described the protests as “joyful, steadfast affairs, in which participants gather or march through the wide streets of the cities or in parks, chanting in unison.” There have been protests in urban, rural, and industrial areas and in just about all of Belarus’ major cities. The ones in the capital city of Minsk have been as large as 100,000 to 200,000. 

The government hoped by brutally coming down on the protests from the very beginning that this upsurge could “nipped in the bud.” The crackdown has been brutal – night after night, cops using tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, batons, water cannons, live ammunition. There have been violent clashes with the police, thousands arrested, many injured, and reports of the death of at least three protesters. But in the face of all this the people have not been intimidated and have come back into the streets, night after night with even more determination. One news article said, “Shocked by violence, Belarusians lose their fear.” Those arrested have been subjected to overcrowded jails, the injured denied medical care, there have been reports of people being beaten and tortured. But the mass arrests and mistreatment of people in jail has not frightened or stopped people from protesting. In fact, this produced a new wave of demonstrations, with people’s resolve even stronger. 

The protesters are of all ages and from many walks of life. There are students, workers, professionals, people in the arts, and more. There have been processions of women wearing white, carrying roses. Workers have gone on strike and joined the protests. Staff at a TV station walked out and joined protesters. An international soccer player, Ilya Shkurin, announced he would not play until Lukashenko stepped down. One protester, Ilona Elyashevich who works for an urban development organization in Minsk said, "We are not afraid. The worst has already happened to us. We want a new government, a new president. We want clear and honest elections." Vlad Dobrovolsky, 28, a marketing professional with an IT company, has been bringing protesters water and food. Handing out supplies in front of a detention center he said the screaming of those being tortured inside was unbearable. A 24-year-old student and choir singer dressed in a traditional Belarusian national costume came out to sing to protesters as a sign of support. 

People have been chanting, "Get out! Get out! Get out!" And they are angry about many things, including how Lukashenko has dismissed the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic, and touted unscientific “cures” like vodka, tractor drives and sauna visits. Protesters have also developed other ways to protest – for example, taking to the streets in smaller groups and in broad daylight, and lining up along roadways chanting and holding signs. On Friday, August 2, after a meeting with the riot police, Lukashenko vowed to crush the protests, saying, “Believe me, in the coming days we’ll solve it.” The next day, the Guardian wrote, “Minsk still feels like a capital city in revolt, with gatherings of flower-waving women standing defiantly at intersections and the honking of horns by motorists providing a constant aural accompaniment.”

It is unclear what will happen now. But what can be said is that a hated ruler in Belarus has not been able to extend his rule with a fraudulent election without setting off massive and sustained protests demanding, GET OUT! GET OUT!

August 22, protests continue day and night. (Twitter: @BenFranklin2018)

Protests spread to factories and rural areas. Here MTZ factory in Minsk, August 18. (Photo: Screen grab @ThomasVLinge)



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