A woman stumbles along a road in tears, exclaiming that she is looking for her husband who’s just been “taken” by the police. She can’t see him anymore and is knocking on the windows or police vans; they just ignore her, rolling their windows down to hear her and then rolling them back up again once she has asked if they have her husband. This was captured by BBC News in the continuing aftermath of the disputed 2020 Belarus presidential election.
Protests had erupted after the incumbent leader Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected with 80% of the vote. He has won every election since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union and is generally seen as simply an extension of the authoritarianism that defined the former regime. Lukashenko was up against outsider Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the only other candidate allowed to stand, as she was initially brushed off by Lukashenko as a non-existent political force. Her husband was a vocal critic of the leader, eventually being imprisoned. She took it upon herself to take his place and mount the dangerous challenge to Lukashenko’s leadership. She gained 10% of the vote, although this figure is heavily disputed within and outside the country.
Since then she has had to flee the country with her children, after all
other opposition leaders apart from Maria Kolesnikova were arrested. All three main
opposition leaders are female, Kolesnikova is the only one remaining. The image of three strong woman and mothers standing against a megalomaniacal autocrat has inspired many other women to take to the streets in peaceful protest. There is little aggression, and instead protests have been pictured overwhelmingly talking calmly to police and soldiers, attempting to articulate the depth of injustice that has been experienced.
It’s brilliant to see dialogue being used, instead of fighting. Pictures and videos of their actions are being shared across social media. Hopefully, the scale of this feeling will be enough to remove the dictator. The employees at the state broadcaster have gone on strike. Lukashenko held a rally at a tractor factory in attempt to symbolise that he still commanded the ardent support of the agrarian and working classes. He was instead booed and heckled off stage.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent how widespread the anti-Lukashenko sentiment is. Yet he still appears to have the support of the military and the police. Furthermore, crucially he is also being backed by Russia and Putin regime. Non-violent protest has its place, but it is ominously clear that Lukashenko will be content to violently supress opposition.
Pressure for a peaceful and democratic resolution is mounting from the international community. Sanctions could be key in ousting Lukashenko. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how foreign states can affect what is ultimately an internal matter. Millions of civilians; as well as the army, remain loyal to Lukashenko. At best, the mass protests that were catalysed by the 2020 Belarussian Election may only lead to Lukashenko’s resignation, and not wholesale democratisation of the country. It is likely that he will be replaced by another Russian puppet, a military general, or perhaps even his son, Viktor. Yet, the dignified and resolute peaceful protests from the public offers a glimmer of hope for a better future for Belarus.
By Tyler England
Picture Source: Wikimedia Commons