It has been 126 days since Belarussians first poured onto the streets to protest the falsified presidential elections that guaranteed another year under Alexander Lukashenko, who some call the dictator of Belarus. Following daily mass protests, strikes, and police brutality towards protesters and journalists, the future of Belarus is unclear.
The opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is currently exiled in Lithuania for her own safety. She is thought to be the unofficial victor of the 2020 elections but was forced to leave Belarus for her own safety when Lukashenko claimed he won 80% of the vote. She is the wife of Sergei Tikhanovski, who ran for the same election but was arrested in May 2020 by Lukashenko’s regime. She ran in her husband’s place and is now leading the opposition movement from abroad.
Since the daily protests began, Lukashenko threatened to close the western borders and escalated arrests along with police violence. This however has not deterred the Belarussian people from manifesting daily. What started as daily mass demonstrations in Minsk, Grodno, and almost every city and town, has transformed into a new schedule to keep up the spirits and energy of the protesters. Now they gather en masse every Sunday while smaller groups demonstrate during the week. They wave white-red-white flags and chant phrases such as “Lukashenko to the Tribunal,” and “Viva Belarus.”
Police violence against peaceful protesters is on the rise and becoming more and more brutal. A group of people were arrested and detained from 10 to 25 days just for drinking tea and hanging up holiday decorations outside. Belarus’s riot police, OMON, is patrolling the streets and detaining anyone who looks like they are protesting. Journalists are being arrested and targeted by OMON. On twitter, reporter Andrzej Poczobut shares recordings of the police kettling and using flash grenades on demonstrators, 3 more journalists were arrested on Sunday for recording the events. At least five people were killed during the 126 days of protest with many still missing.
Reporters Without Borders states that, “In Belarus, critical journalists and bloggers are threatened and arrested, leading news sites are blocked, access to information is restricted and media diversity is unknown. The state exercises total control over all TV channels.” In light of these restrictions, independent news outlets have turned to communication apps such as Telegram to organize and share information.
Pavel Katarzheuski, member of the Belarussian Left Party “Fair World,” speaks about the current issues that the country is facing. “It has been more than 4 months that students, doctors, teachers, and the entire working people of Belarus have been fighting against the dictatorship. During this time, tens of thousands of people were detained, hundreds suffered from torture, at least 5 were killed by the police and more people were brought to death by other means.”
Katarzheuski provides context to the civil unrest, describing the election as a special operation designed by the regime to reappoint a dictator into a new cadence. Social guarantees, such as parental leave, that have been in place since Belarus was a USSR satellite are being stripped away by Lukashenko. Pavel even recounts his own experience with police brutality, “On August 10, I was detained and spent a day in the police station and 3 days in prison in the city of Zhodzina. For about 12 hours me and the other prisoners laid outside face-down with our hands tied behind our back with no food or water. The police beat us for asking where we were.”
The European Union has condemned the Lukashenko regime’s acts of violence against its citizens and threatened to impose sanctions. In a recent interview with The New Yorker, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on the E.U.,” to impose economic sanctions against major industrial enterprises, such as Naftan, and Belaruskali and Grodno Azot. We are asking for loans to these companies, purchases from them, and supplies of raw materials and spare parts to be temporarily suspended.” Whether the E.U. will follow up with these demands is uncertain.
The Belarussian people are confident that Lukashenko’s regime will eventually fail. Tsikhanouskaya reasons that, “Whether it’s from economic pressure or something else, people will soon stop tolerating him. Yes, people are tired and maybe they will lay low through the winter, because it’s hard to be stomped into the dirt by the security forces and then be taken to jail all cold and wet. But in the spring, it’s going to flare up again.”
Pavel Katarzheuski also believes that come spring Lukashenko will begin his downfall. “We are convinced the days of the regime are numbered. They have no money to maintain their repressive state. When the dictatorship falls, we will again have to fight for democracy and social justice.”
As people keep demonstrating and are met with state sanctioned violence the situation becomes more critical. Katarzhueski further comments,
“Lukashenko really is not the president of Belarus, he is the president of the police, and he will fall.”