On foot and to the din of car horns, as if they were winning a football game, people move to the center of Minsk for the largest protest to date against Alexander Lukashenko. They carry the historic red and white flags of Belarus – an expression of national self-confidence. “Lukashenko is at the end, the only question is how much longer he will fight,” said office clerk Nadezhda on the street on Sunday. On the basis of drone recordings, social networks estimate the protest crowd at 200,000 demonstrators.
Protesters organize through Telegram
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Shortly before that, the ruler Lukashenko had supporters wheeled up in buses from all over the country. Some civil servants said they were forced to pledge allegiance to Lukashenko on their Sunday off. The 65-year-old thanked him deeply in a speech on Independence Square. But the heart of the revolution in Belarus (Belarus) beats a few hundred meters further, where its opponents gather. You can do without a central organization. The sheer anger at Lukashenko, whom they accuse of having faked presidential elections, drives them onto the streets. On its own.
Above all, activists use the messenger Telegram for a lightning-fast dissemination of calls for protest, messages and warnings of dangers and offers of help for the victims. There are also shocking video clips of police violence against demonstrators. Telegram founder Pawel Durow announced on Twitter that he supported the protests. While many Internet sites are blocked again and again, only the network founded by Durow often works – especially without censorship.
Presidential candidate inspires many women to protest
In the mass protests, women in particular stand out again and again. After the police violence ended, they started with peaceful protests – barefoot in white clothes and flowers in hand. They hug the uniformed men in their riot gear where possible. “There isn’t one woman who organizes it,” says Marina Mentissova in one of her many interviews in Minsk. On the contrary, thousands of women across the country have come together through “collective reason” to advocate change peacefully, but also with humor and friendly smiles.
The girls and women are afraid of the state power’s beating, says the mother. “But they are even more afraid to live in a state that will only be struck in the future.” Mentissova, who left her family in Moscow to demonstrate in her homeland, says that the women are mainly inspired by Svetlana Tichanovskaya’s courage. The 37-year-old presidential candidate sees herself as the winner of the election.
Tens of thousands mobilized in the country
The housewife fled to the EU country Lithuania. The mother of two had her children brought there to safety. She is the symbol of the uprising against Lukashenko. Tichanovskaya ran for her husband, blogger Sergei Tichanowski, who was critical of the government. The fact that she was admitted as a candidate was primarily due to Lukashenko’s opinion, which has been widespread again and again, that women cannot be taken seriously politically. She was laughed at by Lukashenko – and described as a poor victim. “It has the power of the drop of water that wears away the stone,” says Mentissova.
Tichanowskaja had run her election campaign with the wife of the IT entrepreneur Valeri Zepkalo, who fled to Russia, and with Maria Kolesnikowa, the campaign manager of the promising presidential candidate Viktor Babariko. Babariko is also in custody – but the trio of women managed to mobilize tens of thousands of people across the country.
Election campaign by three women against Lukashenko
“Lukashenko only ever saw women as companions and gave them hardly any space in public politics,” says the Belarusian analyst Maryna Rakhlei of the German Press Agency. “The election campaign of the three women has shown that they are perceived differently in society: as intelligent and equal fellow citizens who can lead, motivate and inspire.” As a gentle, open and honest woman, Tichanovskaya embodies the opposite of Lukashenko. “He didn’t think they were dangerous – and misjudged himself.”
But after the days with the women almost alone at the front, the protests have now expanded into a revolution. Doctors take to the streets to protest against violence. A school principal condemned the falsifications in the election protocol on Sunday a week ago in a clip. Security forces, some so far, quit the service. But celebrities such as the four-time biathlon Olympic champion Darja Domratschewa and the Nobel Prize winner Swetlana Alexijewitsch show solidarity with the protests.
State television also threatens to strike
Most of all, however, the workers in the state-owned companies become dangerous to Lukashenko. Many are on strike. The stoppage of work has hit the power apparatus, which, like in Soviet times, relies on the state economy. Lukashenko sends government representatives and employees of the presidential administration to the state-owned companies to talk to people. But the employees are very angry: “Lukashenko, uchodi!” – in German: Get out! -, call.
State television has also threatened a strike this Monday. The station management ordered reports on the successes of the grain harvest, while the uprising was raging on the streets outside, the lighting technician Vladimir Ilyich Titajanko complained to journalists. He only speaks for the technical staff, but assume that 90 percent would participate. There are no answers to important questions, says Vladimir: Who will take responsibility for the dead and injured in the protests?
Lukashenko has not yet thought about giving in. He sees his country surrounded by enemies – for example in neighboring Poland – who wanted to overthrow him. He rejects mediation offers as well as offers from his opponents to enter into dialogue. With several appearances over the weekend, he makes it clear again: He will not give up the country. At no cost.