For months, people in Belarus have taken to the streets to protest the fraudulent Presidential elections. For months now, the whole world has been watching the Belarusians conduct peaceful actions, while Lukashenko and his retinue are coming up with more and more absurd actions astonishing the whole world by their cruelty and democracy crackdown. According to OSCE’s report under the Moscow Mechanism, a whole list of serious violations has been recorded, from violations of the electoral laws and procedures, to cruelty and torture against Belarusian citizens.
Belarusian protests or the Belarusian revolution?
From a historical perspective, the protests in Belarus are a vivid and exceptional phenomenon in the history of the country. Belarus was hardly ever known for such massive powerful mobilizations, even in the era of the fall of the Soviet Union in the ‘89-90s. Strong aversion towards war and any form of violence is one of the outstanding features of Belarusian mentality that for a long time allowed Lukashenko to stay in power.
Even though Aleksander Lukashenko’s regime tried to undermine the protests since the very beginning, comparing them to Ukrainian Maidan, the rhetoric proved to be wrong. The Belarusian-style “revolution” is not a Ukrainian Maidan with burning tires. This is not an “Arab spring” or the Kremlin’s nightmare “color revolutions”. The protests in Belarus are not about changing the geopolitical orientation, like it was in Ukraine. They are neither anti-, nor pro-Russian. Surveys conducted for many years show that the dominating majority (more than 70% of respondents) support the idea that Belarus should be a sovereign and independent state outside of any alliances. In fact, 98% of demonstrators joined the protests because of electoral fraud, use of violence and political repressions.
And unlike Ukraine where there is political plurality, in Belarus there is no well-structured and strong opposition. Instead, there is something worse for this authoritarian regime: an awakened civil society. Given the circumstances, sooner or later a leader will emerge. However, this issue is not about leadership at the moment, but in the absolute unity of the society, which is equally covering the worker from the Belaz Automobile Plant, the IT freelancer and the soloist of the Minsk Philharmonic Choir. The Belarusian revolution has made everyone’s voice equal and strong “there is neither Jew nor Greek “, nor a proletarian, nor an intellectual. And this is an absolutely unique situation.
Female faces of Belarusians discontent
Belarussian women have played a key role in this uprising. To a certain extent, they became “accidental” heroes of our times. Lukashenka himself unwittingly facilitated women’s accession into the political scene, and in a narrower sense, their participation in the movement. First of all, he miscalculated, thinking that a 37-year old woman, a former teacher and a housewife would not pose a challenge to the system. As a result, the joint headquarters led by the three women managed to mobilize and inspire the Belarusians with faith in the power of their voice, in their right not to obey rude pressure. Secondly, open disregard for women based on patriarchal approach, the cult of using force and coercion, brutal pressure on professional groups in which the majority are women – doctors and teachers, the transcendental violence against protesters angered women and led to the largest protest actions in the history of the country.
Point of no return
Belarusian population have reached a point of no-return, aligning people in their wish to change their leader. One by one, the protests in Belarus brought together all layers of society. In a short time, Lukashenko became a hostage to the social structure that he had preserved all these years, losing even the basis that he thought it’s his main supporter – the “working class”. A widespread wave of strikes in many factories critical to Belarusian economy was an unprecedented event that took the authorities by surprise.
Another unpredictable event was the retirees rally, another pillar of Lukashenko’s electorate. Following the example of women and other workers, they marched through the streets carrying flowers and chanting for Lukashenko, who is 66 years old, to “go away!” and asking rhetorically “How many grandmas should it take to oust one grandpa?”.
Over the past three months of protests, Belarus has changed so much, freeing itself from fear. Another important pillar of this movement are the thousands of students that took to the streets. This happened despite the fact that the state authorities in Belarus are strictly controlling the student life, restricting students’ political activity and promoting and sustaining a climate of fear and unease. Politically active university students face a variety of measures from university’s administration and state authorities: reprimands, warnings, lower grades, expulsions from university and judicial sanctions. However, students are resisting these challenges. Enraged by disobedience, earlier this month Aleksandr Lukashenko has demanded that those students from universities who took part in protests be expelled. He offered to send them to the Belarusian army. In addition, he accused the protesters of terrorism.
It’s worth mentioning that young people have always been the most vibrant part of protest movements in Belarus, whether they are students, young professionals or freelancers. One of these young people, who has been resisting the regime for years, is Ivan Shyla.
“Today all Belarusians are unanimous that we need a new president. And this is amazing. When the elections began, Lukashenka’s positions seemed unshakable and that he could be in power indefinitely. Now it is clear that this is a question of a year” said Ivan.
Over the years, due to his civic activity, he has been politically persecuted and arrested several times. Last time when this happened was on August 30, when he was detained for 6 days. “To better understand our reality, it is important to know these numbers – 20,000 were arrested (on a US scale, that would be 640,000 arrested). These are the biggest repressions in Europe in the last 40 years” declared Ivan.
Surprisingly, when asked what kind of support they expect from the international community, he mentioned that external reactions are to be appreciated, but in the end “the fight for destiny of Belarus should be decided by the great people of Belarus, and only by them”.
The 2020 revolt brought down the Belarusian myth of a submissive nation. The power and motivation shown by the Belarusian people these days, proves that when people become the subject of history and a source of power, any dictatorial or autocratic regimes are powerless. It is now clear that despite such an unprecedented challenge to his rule, Alexander Lukashenko is not ready to give up on power. But knowing that history has a tendency to repeat itself, the fall of the regime is only a matter of time. The question is how far Mr. Lukashenko is willing to go in order to maintain his grip on power.