Tens of thousands of Belarusians calling for the authoritarian President to resign marched through the capital on September 20 as the country’s wave of protests entered its seventh week. Hundreds of soldiers blocked off the center of Minsk, deploying water cannons and armored personnel carriers and erecting barbed wire barriers. Protests also took place in several other cities, including Brest and Grodno. The country is facing mass protests since the elections were announced. People of the country allege the government of being undemocratic and dictatorial. Protests began on August 9 after the 2020 election in which the official results say gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office; opponents and some poll workers say the results were manipulated.
The marchers also carried portraits of Maria Kolsenikova, a top opposition figure who has been jailed for two weeks and is facing charges of undermining state security that could bring a five-year prison term. Kolesnikova has said security forces drove her to the border with Ukraine to try to make her leave the country, but that she tore up her passport so she couldn’t cross the border. In a statement relayed by her lawyer she urged protesters to continue- “Freedom is worth fighting for. Do not be afraid to be free,” “I do not regret anything and would do the same again.”
Beginning of the protests
Belarus saw huge mass protests during the 2020 presidential election. The former President T Lukashenko sought a sixth term in office by participating in this election while a large number of Belarus people felt he had betrayed them during his past tenure. In fact the 2020 pre and post election protests were just an extension of ongoing political demonstrations and protests for quite some time against the Belarusian government while the government was still supported by a few people who were pro-Lukashenko. When the former president was announced to have won the 2020 election, an opposition candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya claimed that the official election had been falsified as despite her getting 60–70% of the votes, election results announced victory of the former. She announced the creation of a Coordination Council, with membership applications open to all Belarusians who agreed that Lukashenko and his men falsified the actual election result.
The 2020 protests are the largest series of anti-government demonstrations in Belarus since Alexander Lukashenko became President of the country in 1994. Lukashenko had faced greater public opposition amid his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Lukashenko has denied as a serious threat. Lukashenko allegedly suppressed his opposition by misusing power. He also allegedly had his own way in elections by denying transparency. Of the five elections won by Lukashenko, only the first in 1994 was credibly deemed free and fair by international monitors.
- Main causes of the Belarus protests
- Political repression and authoritarianism.
- Arrest of opposition presidential candidates Viktar Babaryka and Sergei Tikhanovsky.
- Persistent electoral fraud in the country’s elections.
- Alexander Lukashenko seeking a sixth presidential term in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election.
Slipper Revolution and the Anti-Cockroach Revolution
The protests against Lukanshenko government, nicknamed the Slipper Revolution and the Anti-Cockroach Revolution, were initiated by businessman and blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky when he made a reference to the children’s poem The Monster Cockroach by Korney Chukovsky, in which a dictatorial yet fragile insect had a chaotic reign of terror over all the other animals even during his brief rule. Later Tikhanovsky was detained in late May 2020 by Belarusian authorities, and was formally accused of being a foreign agent. On 19 June, Lukashenko announced that he had “foiled a coup attempt”, resulting in the arrest of main opposition rival Viktar Babaryka on allegeldly motivated charges of bribery and corruption. Several opposition candidates were registered for the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, but many of them were arrested. As soon as Babaryka was detained by authorities, people started walking in the streets to demonstrate their disagreement. Opposition activists, protesters, journalists, and bloggers have also been arrested as part of the crackdown. However, Lukashenko claimed that the opposition protests were a part of a plot orchestrated by foreigners, who he suggested might be Americans, NATO members, Russians, or even Ukrainians.
Tikhanovsky’s wife Svetlana Tikhanovskaya registered as a candidate in the election after the arrest of Babaryka. Lukashenko insisted the country was not ready for a woman to become president. Unregistered candidate Valeriy Tsepkalo’s wife Veronika Tsepkalo announced that she and Maria Kolesnikova, head of Babaryka’s presidential campaign staff, would join Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s campaign and provide support.
The protests were widespread, but brutally repressed by the Belarus authorities than previous protests in Belarus. About 1,300 people were reportedly detained for protesting between early May and early August. A statement by the United Nations Human Rights Office cited (September 01) more than 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, as well as reports of sexual abuse and rape.
The protest is more about democracy, freedom and empowerment of the people. It is against authoritarianism. The protests are about the violation of democratic and human rights and and not about economic deprivation. The economy of Belarus is the world’s 72nd-largest economy by GDP, which stands at $195 billion on PPP basis and per capita income at $20,900. Notably the per capita income of Belarus is about half that of neighboring Russia while the cost of living in the country is lower than Russia. As part of the former Soviet Union, Belarus had a relatively well-developed industrial base; it retained this industrial base following the break-up of the USSR, as well as a broad agricultural base and a high education-level. Among the former republics of the Soviet Union, it has retained the most soviet-style economy, with many enterprises, utilities and services remaining state-owned, and tight controls on land ownership and banking.
There is no sign of the protests relenting soon and Lukashenko regime is facing incessant criticism from world leaders for his inhuman and dictatorial handling of the protests. It is uncertain what is going to happen next.