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How mass protests are held in Belarus

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

The main focus of MECRA's reporting is on Middle East issues. However, we were recently approached by a group of Belarusian journalists seeking to ensure that up to date and accurate information on the protests in their country reaches the outside world.  last week, all major western news outlets were expelled from Belarus - as part of an effort by the regime in that country to shut down the flow of information. This is possibly  a prelude to an effort to violently suppress the protests currently under way following the recent rigged presidential elections.  

We are happy to provide a platform for this report from the frontline of the protests on August 30th.  In keeping with MECRA's Middle East modus operandi, the report is the work of a local journalist with deep knowledge and insight into local conditions.  The writer's name is concealed for their safety. 


Lukashenka's birthday, "gifts" at the Palace of Independence and military equipment - How mass protests are held in Belarus

This week saw the 23rd day of protests in Belarus. For three weeks, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to make their voices heard. We heard their suppressed voices, and saw that the “dissenters” were in the majority.

In the last 26 years, the national currency in Belarus has depreciated 9 times, the economy has fallen into decline, the IT sector has become the only promising one, the public debt has increased every year, while almost all state production has become unprofitable.

There has always been opposition in the country, which was suppressed and repressed in every possible way. Political opponents left as quickly as they appeared: some suddenly “left the game”, some just disappeared. The political regime worked clearly and harmoniously and rarely took a mis-step.

During the 2010 presidential elections, hundreds of people were detained during the dispersal of protests. Opposition leaders were sentenced to years in prison. The ruling power knew how to defeat “dissent.’ Fear became its instrument.

They talked about a prosperous country on TV screens and even made a video project celebrating the status quo called “Country for Life”, clips of which became propaganda ads on state channels.

Bloggers such as Sergei Tikhanovsky, meanwhile, operated their YouTube channels, showing another Belarus - the one that people are used to seeing: with dying, impoverished villages and lawless local officials. In a short time, his videos got hundreds of thousands of views and was widely quoted. Sergei Tikhanovsky actively developed his channel and announced his intention to participate in the presidential elections.

In December 2019, the blogger was detained at an action against integration with Russia in Minsk, while he was broadcasting live. The arrests were repeated later. His wife, as a result, registered herself as a presidential candidate.

For the first time in many years, Belarus saw worthy candidates - the main opponents of Lukashenko - among whom were the chairman of the board of Belgazprombank Viktor Babariko and the former head of the High-Tech Park Valery Tsepkalo. Active election campaigns were conducted, but both were denied registration (criminal cases were opened against Viktor and Eduard Babariko, according to the CEC, Valery Tsepkalo received an insufficient number of signatures).

This was a standard scenario, which the authorities repeated every election: strong candidates one after another dropped out of the election race.

The headquarters of Babariko and Tsepkalo united in support of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, wife of Sergei Tikhanovsky, who promised "fair and transparent elections" if she won. Her candidacy became the only alternative choice that gave hope for change.

The leaders of the joint headquarters, headed by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, urged people to vote on election day to avoid falsification, and send a photo of the ballot for counting to the Golos platform, which was created by Belarusian programmers. And it worked: on election day, people lined up near the polling stations to cast their votes. For the first time in the history of independent Belarus, the turnout was maximum.

The beginning of the protests

The protests in Belarus began after the polling station commissions posted copies of the vote-counting protocols on August 9, with which the Belarusians did not agree. Later, a video appeared about how the results were falsified, including the confessions of the commission members.

For four days the country was left without the Internet. But this did not prevent the protests: all those who cast their votes against Lukashenka took to the streets of the capital. The protesters were brutally dispersed and many detained by the security forces. The riot police used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.

According to official figures from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, during the protests since August 9, more than 7,000 people have been detained, at least 6 have died, and hundreds have been hospitalized.

The detainees were systematically humiliated and tortured by the police and riot police officers. Today, human rights activists have registered the testimony of more than 450 people who were beaten by law enforcement officers. The Investigative Committee has not opened a single criminal case.

What happened during the protests

Since the beginning of the protests, dozens of journalists from the state media have been dismissed, and new ones are now working in their places, who were themselves hurriedly brought in from Russia.

Teachers who refused to sign a protocol (of support for the government) are set to be fired: according to Lukashenka, they “should not be in school”. Parents are currently refusing to take their children to school. A project has been organized that will become an alternative to state educational institutions.

Many companies have partially or completely moved to neighboring states, and offices of international companies are temporarily closed (Viber decided to close their office after a visit from riot police officers and after the company's employees were detained for no reason).

Every day, the Belarusian ruble is weakening against major currencies. Banks are suspending lending to individuals. Terminals periodically do not work due to an interruption, which is systematically activated during protests.

On August 21, the Ministry of Information blocked 75 websites. The list includes independent media and VPN services.

Production in many areas has stopped. More and more striking workers are taking part in protest actions.

More than 500 employees of power structures have already turned to Belarusian IT specialists for support, who promised financial assistance if they go over to the "side of the people."

August 30 - Alexander Lukashenko's birthday

Tens of thousands of Minsk residents came out to “congratulate” the proclaimed president Lukashenka on his 66th birthday. People are carrying “gifts”: one is holding a calculator, one has come with slippers, women are holding flowers.

The main goal of the protesters is the resignation of Lukashenka, the release of all political prisoners and the punishment of those who carried out criminal orders. And if earlier these were rallies for "free and fair elections", now they are "against violence."

Minskers gathered from all over the city, the main meeting place was the Independence Square. When it became obvious that the city center was blocked, the column of protesters moved towards Stella, as in the previous week. People walked with white-red-white flags and placards in their hands and chanted: ‘Sasha, you're fired! We will not forget, we will not forgive!

The bulk of the protesters are young people 25-35 years old, who have their own reasons for joining the protests.

According to Katya, a young female protestor: “If nothing changes, then I will have to leave. I don't want to leave Belarus. If earlier people came out against the regime and unfair elections, now the majority comes out against what he did after the elections. I consider it my duty, because if I do not go out, I have no right to complain later that we live like this. Therefore, whatever I can do, I do. ”

Katya has been working in one of the leading Belarusian IT companies and has been working with the opposition for 5 years (she has been living in Minsk for that period). This year was no exception: since August 9, the young woman has been attending protests every day.

On the way to the Palace of Independence, the way of the column of demonstrators was blocked by the military, police and OMON. In the cordon line - those who were called up for urgent military service.

People want to talk to the authorities. Among them is Tamara, a 69-year-old pensioner.

“I am unhappy with our government and want it to resign. This ‘uncle’, who takes someone else's place, must go. As soon as he leaves, everything will be different. Not saying it will be easier, no. It's like giving birth to a child in agony. And now the birth is taking place. "

Today Tamara came out for the third time. She voted for Tikhanovskaya. Previously, she was not interested in politics, but after living in another country, she changed her views: “Our man is nothing”, she told MECRA.

“I stood in line for 2 hours to cast my vote for Tsepkalo, and it was stolen from me."

The leader of the joint headquarters, Maria Kolesnikova, who also came to support the protest action, turned to the security officials with the words: "Take care of yourself, guys, we will save you!"

In front of the cordon, people put their "gifts". Ivan stands among the girls with placards. He wants to personally “congratulate” Lukashenka on his birthday.

“I stood in line for 2 hours to cast my vote for Tsepkalo, and it was stolen from me. They spat in my face! I want to show that I am also against it. Alexander Grigorievich, go away! "

Ivan’s daughter, son and daughter-in-law attend the protests with him. When asked why his wife doesn’t come also, he jokes: "She runs badly."

Rain began on the August 30th demonstrations, but the protestors did not disperse. People continued to shout: "Come out!"

Yegor, a law student taking part in the protests, does not see any prospects in his future profession:

“As a lawyer, I don't know what the profitability of my profession is. I cannot go to the public sector for obvious reasons, in business, according to Lukashenko, only those who are loyal to the policy of the state will remain. So I go out for justice and to support the formation of a new civil society.”

Strong, brave and unarmed, they still continue to demonstrate and to believe in victory. More and more Belarusians attend the protest actions every day. Political scientists are optimistic, on condition that Russia does not intervene. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the number of those detained in Minsk on August 30 was 140.

Note: Protests in Belarus are exclusively peaceful. Since the beginning of the protests, not a single shop window has been smashed, not a single shop has been burned, garbage collection points and points with first aid equipment have been organized.

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