Against Lukashenko’s iron fist, civic resistance. Nastya Gatalova has restructured his work schedule to be able to be every afternoon in Minsk’s Independence Square.In front of the solemn Government building, a white mass of Soviet architecture, the 23-year-old programmer waves a sign that reads “Free Belarus” in rounded letters. And like her, hundreds of citizens have taken as a reference that fixed appointment in the symbolic square in the center of the Belarusian capital to show Aleksandr Lukashenko that they keep the pulse.
That despite threats that it will quell any protests and persecute the leadersFrom the mobilizations against his regime and electoral fraud, the citizen movement is ready for long-term battle. “It can be a week, a month or more. I am prepared to go out to the streets every day. It is my country; it is my freedom”, the young blonde emphasizes very seriously, wrapped in the white flag with a red stripe that the opposition has taken as a symbol.
But Lukashenko, who has maintained a heavy-handed policy during his more than 26 years in power, not only insists that the elections that have guaranteed him his sixth term were “civic”, but that he increases his order every day against the protests. which according to his speech are being promoted from the outside and are a maneuver by the West to overthrow him.
This Thursday, the Belarusian prosecutor’s office accused the opposition of trying to “seize power”. It opened a criminal case against the coordinating council created this week under the orders of the opposition leader Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, exiled in Lithuania since shortly after the elections when her family felt threatened. This council is an entity that seeks to lead the dialogue towards a democratic transition. However, Lukashenko has closed completely to any discussion.
Now its leaders are under the spotlight: from opposition politicians, artists, union representatives to the Nobel Prize winner for Literature Svetlana Alexievich, a very critical voice for years against the Lukashenko regime. The council, says the Prosecutor’s Office, wants “to harm the national security of Belarus.”
Lukashenko, who once played the buffer between the West and Russia and who had well exploited the charts of Belarus’ geostrategic position, is now more isolated than ever. Neither the opposition nor a large part of the citizenry – as demonstrated in the protests – nor the European Union recognizes the results of the elections, which have triggered the largest mobilizations in the history of Belarus.
And also the biggest campaign of repression, says Oleg Gulak of the Helsinki Committee for civil rights, who fears that Lukashenko will order an even bigger campaign of arrests and abuses. “Their goal is to stifle, appease and silence critical voices in any case,” says Gulak. For now, Lukashenko has promised to “cool down some hotheads” linked to the opposition and, although less than the first days of mobilizations, he has redeployed policemen in the orderly and clean streets of the capital, lined here and there with emblems of Soviet times.
Many in the country’s main cities fear that the scenes of the brutal repression of the protests will be repeated.right after the elections, in which at least three protesters have died. In Minsk, next to the Pushkinskaya metro station, Dasha and Mikola arrange the flowers and offerings that citizens have left in tribute to Alyaksandr Taraykouski, 37, who died on Monday. “There is no justice, with this president there are no human rights or freedom,” says Dasha.
The Interior Ministry assures that Taraykouski was carrying an explosive device and was going to throw it at the police when it exploded. However, witnesses and different videos have revealed that the man, who raised his hands as he advanced towards the security forces, was hit by a gunshot or a stun grenade fired deliberately. It is not the only case. After registering several gunshot wounds,
The local human rights organization Viasna has received at least two hundred requests for legal help in cases of torture, explains one of its leaders, Valentin Stefanovich. In the first four days of the protests, there were some 7,000 arrests and hundreds of wounded by rubber bullets, grenades and truncheons. Dasha and Mikola were also arrested. “And they beat us, they harassed us,” she says. But despite the fear of being arrested, both are clear that this is not the time to stop.
“It has taken a lot for Belarusian society to wake up, there are certain things that are no longer going to change, but we cannot go back”, says Mikola, who prefers not to give her last name. She is afraid of retaliation at work, says the 37-year-old man, who is confident that the opposition coordination council will make progress.
Upping the movement can have an impact, admits political scientist Pavel Úsov of the Belarusian Center for European Studies. Much of the opposition in Belarus is already in jail or, like Tijanóvskaya, in exile. But what moves the gears of the protests against Lukashenko is today, a popular movement rather than an opposition with foundations and structures. Therefore, Úsov hopes that this movement of resistance and dialogue will spread. “But society must set the time frame. If it lasts too long, it will hit the change process,” he says.
In this environment, the pro-government counterpart is also gradually becoming visible. For several days, dozens of people have taken to the streets in different cities in support of the Belarusian leader in demonstrations or events, mostly organized by institutional structures.
This Thursday, dozens of pro-government protesters took a walk through Minsk’s Independence Square where they gently confronted opposition supporters. “I don’t want people to be repressed in my country, they are killed in the protests, they are tortured, in which we cannot elect our political representatives,” says Alexéi Karman, a 22-year-old Bachelor of Arts.
“These people who have come here to support Lukashenko may also want their share of freedom, but that is incompatible with a dictatorship. And we have a president who has been in power for 26 years… I think it is time for a change.