Belarus: take a breath before the mass demonstration

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Belarus: take a breath before the mass demonstration


Sunday is said to be the preliminary climax of the protests in Belarus for free elections and the resignation of President Lukashenko. The fear of new violence by the state remains. A picture of the mood from Minsk.


Protesters in Minsk on the Independence Square on August 20th


© picture-alliance/dpa/V. Sharifulin
Protesters in Minsk on the Independence Square on August 20th


In the past few days it has become quieter in Belarus. Whereby calm is actually the wrong expression. Because thousands of people still take to the streets every day, demanding free elections. It has been going on for almost two weeks. Since the election on August 9th, when Alexander Lukashenko was elected as President for his sixth term, according to the electoral authorities, with 80 percent of the vote.

“Get out of here,” “go away,” are the chants of the protesters against Lukashenko. And “every day” – the clear announcement that they will not give in and will continue to demonstrate every day. you carry Flowers in the air as a sign of peaceful protest, wave the white-red-white flags that were the official flags after the country’s independence from the Soviet Union until 1995 and are now used by the opposition.


People demonstrate peacefully and with music for more freedom


© picture-alliance/dpa/V. Sharifulin
People demonstrate peacefully and with music for more freedom


On Friday, the demonstrators formed a human chain in front of Okrestino Prison, as did many last week of the arrested demonstrators brought and brutally mistreated were. The human chain stretched across the capital Minsk to the memorial for the victims of Stalinism – a consciously chosen symbol. The participants held up pictures of injured government critics, held up their fisted hands and showed the victory sign. Passing drivers supported them with a concert of horns.


Human chain across Minsk in solidarity for the victims of police violence


© Getty Images/M. Friedman
Human chain across Minsk in solidarity for the victims of police violence


Despite the various actions, the past few days seemed like a breath of air before the announced large-scale demonstration on Sunday. It could be the biggest Belarus has seen since independence. Oppositionskandidatin Swetlana Tichanowskaja called on people from their exile in Lithuania to take part in the march for freedom and a new Belarus.

How does the state apparatus react?

Participants are expected from all parts of the country. But the concern is that the government will try to prevent these people from reaching Minsk. In the past, among other things, roads to Minsk were closed without an explanation and vehicle documents were checked extensively during roadside checks – everything to stop those arriving. In addition, sites with construction fences were cordoned off because of supposedly spontaneous construction work in order to take away the space for meetings for the opposition.


Always present: police officers on the sidelines of a protest on Thursday in Minsk


© Reuters / V. Fedosenko
Always present: police officers on the sidelines of a protest on Thursday in Minsk


The Violence against demonstrators has however subsided. Most recently, the regime’s intimidation measures have been directed against strike leaders and opposition leaders.

It is true that the black police trucks in which arrested demonstrators are being transported can be seen again and again in the city. But on Independence Square, the central meeting point for the demonstrators in the evening, security forces in protective equipment have hardly been present in the past few days. The demonstrators suspect that plainclothes police and secret services are mingling with the protests.

And yet the mood is more relaxed. While in the past people hardly trusted strangers, they now readily answer questions from foreign journalists. “The only source of state power is the people – Article 3 of the Belarusian Constitution,” says the sign that two women brought to Independence Square on Friday evening.

They protest because they feel they don’t have enough freedom. “We can’t say what we feel. We can’t say what we think,” one of them told Deutsche Welle. “What is happening here now was not possible a week ago. We would all be in jail. Now it is possible, and we want it to be that way every day.” Both believe that the protests are now so successful because the protests are peaceful. That’s why so many people would take part


DW correspondent Nick Connolly talks to protesters on Independence Square


© DW
DW correspondent Nick Connolly talks to protesters on Independence Square


Even if young people are in the majority of the demonstrators in Minsk – it is by far not only the “hipsters in the big cities” or the “spoiled middle class” who take part in the protests, as the regime claimed. Lukashenko tried to discredit the demonstrators, saying that they were being financed from abroad. The demonstrators reacted promptly: “Finally give me my money to participate in the protest,” some wrote on their signs, alluding to this.

Fear of new violence

But not everyone will take part in the demonstration on Sunday, even if they are against Lukashenko. “I won’t be going anywhere in the near future,” said 25-year-old Georgii when asked if he would protest again. DW met him away from the rallies and did not give his last name for security reasons.

His body is still covered in bruises. They come from beatings by the police, as he reports. On election day two weeks ago, he was at the big anti-government demonstration. The next day he was watching a smaller demonstration, stood across the street.

Suddenly the police trucks arrived, security forces picked up people at random, dragged them into the cars and hit them. Georgii spent three days in Okrestino prison. Before they were released, all prisoners were undressed: Anyone who wasn’t beaten blue enough got another beating, says Georgii. He himself was spared.

Although his information cannot be independently verified, it does match the experiences of others.

“This government has shown that it stops at nothing,” says the young man. Georgii attributes the fact that not so many people are being arrested anymore to the fact that the government is only using the time to reposition itself. “I think it’s getting tougher. I don’t think people who are capable of such sadism suddenly change.” Georgii is convinced: There will be a second wave of violence.


This protester believes the government will use violence again - he is on it


© DW
This protester believes the government will use violence again – he is on it


The Belarusian prosecutor Alexander Konjuk has since announced that participation in the protests on Sunday is illegal. Minsk mayor Anatoly Alexandrovich Siwak also called the participation “inadmissible”.

Whether these bans are only intended to intimidate the population or whether the state apparatus will enforce this announcement remains to be seen on Sunday. On Saturday Lukashenko tasked the military with “defending territorial integrity” while visiting a military base in the west of the country.

On Friday the president announced that he would resolve the political crisis in his country “in the coming days”. The question remains how. “The government will of course use violence,” says a young demonstrator with whom DW spoke on Friday evening on Independence Square. “I’m used to it. It’s hard to say, ‘You’re used to it.’ But I’m ready for it. ”

Autor: Nick Connolly (Minsk), Uta Steinwehr

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