By Jan Kryshkevich
Presidential elections in Belarus are due on 9 August. The elections are nothing but a theatre: for 26 years, President Lukashenka has elected himself, repeating this sacred ritual every five years.
We cannot say that the Belarusian people have silently and meekly endured this mockery of the Constitution and their electoral rights all these years. The last major demonstration by those who did not agree with the official results of the vote took place in 2010, when more than 60,000 people went out to the streets of Minsk. At that time, the peaceful protest was brutally repressed by the riot police of the Ministry of the Interior, and seven former presidential candidates were arrested and thrown into KGB prison. After public remorse, the prisoners were released, except for Mikalay Statkevich (leader of the Social Democratic Party “Hramada”), who refused to admit his guilt in organizing the riots and was sentenced to 6 years in a maximum security prison.
Belarusian women have led the fight against the Lukashenka regime
The current election campaign is qualitatively different from all previous ones. Quite unexpectedly, in addition to Lukashenka’s traditional pseudo-positive spoilers, new people emerged to lead the presidential race: popular blogger of the Telegram channel “Country to Live” Siarhey Tsikhanouski and manager of the Belgian bank Viktar Babaryka and diplomat, state executive and founder of the High Technology Park in Belarus Valery Tsapkala.
The support that these three obtained shocked the authorities. For example, more than 10,000 people entered during a single week in Viktar Babaryka’s initiative group alone. Practically in every city in Belarus, people formed huge queues to sign for these three candidates to be nominated. The collection of signatures spontaneously turned into mass demonstrations during which Siarhey Tsikhanouski was arrested. He has now been charged with organizing riots and obstructing the functioning of the Central Election Commission (CEC). Siarhey Tsikhanouski has been held in the remand centre for two months now and risks up to 10 years in prison. Immediately after Tsikhanouski’s arrest, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, his wife, ran in his place and quickly collected the required number of signatures.
The next victim of the regime was Viktar Babaryka, who was accused of financial fraud, although previously, for 20 years, the State had no claims whatsoever in respect of his banking activities. Together with Viktar Babaryka, his son, Eduard, was arrested a little later, along with family friends and bank employees.
Then Lukashenka went after Valery Tsapkala, who was accused of corruption and bribery. Valery Tsapkala, who had to sign a pledge not to leave the country, has just fled to Russia with his children.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) also refused to register the three candidates as participants in the elections under fabricated pretexts: inaccurate signatures and election campaign financed by a foreign state.
However, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya was registered as a presidential candidate. Apparently, the authorities considered her a weak rival, even though her husband is in prison, in fact, a hostage.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya was supported as a candidate for the presidency by the team of Viktar Babaryka represented by his boss Maryya Kalesnikava, and the team of Valery Tsapkala represented by the coordinator of the team, his wife, Viktoryya Tsapkala.
The struggle against the Lukashenka regime is led by three Belarusian women who today enjoy enormous popular support.
The resistance does not stop: workers must speak out
The arrests of Lukashenka’s real opponents have provoked massive peaceful protests in Belarus that have been brutally dispersed by special police forces. It should be noted that the protests are taking place not only in the capital and regional centres, but in every major city in the country. Belarus under Lukashenka has never known such a territorial boom. Thousands of arrests and convictions, huge fines, administrative arrests and the initiation of criminal cases: the government uses it entire arsenal to suppress the will of the people.
However, the number of demonstrators is not decreasing, on the contrary: repression is having the opposite effect. Protest as such not only splashes with spontaneous creativity at a high level, but is also distinguished by large-scale solidarity actions in support of the repressed. The collection of money to pay fines is taking place all over the world. In many countries, support actions are organized whose participants demand the release of all political prisoners.
It is quite obvious that in Belarus a new political force is spontaneously emerging which social basis is the so-called “creative class”. In fact, we are witnessing the emergence of a political subject that is fundamentally different from those that have existed before.
At the forefront of the protest movement are mainly young people – not poor and sufficiently independent, not subject to junk work contracts with state organisations and companies. There are many representatives of the IT sphere and freelancers from various creative professions. Gradually, workers and elderly people are joining this vortex of protest. Thus, some of the Salihorsk mining collectives supported the protests and announced the need for a political strike throughout Belarus. Revolutionary initiatives are appearing in other large companies in Belarus: a general understanding is forming that it is impossible to win this struggle without a national strike.
New reality and new alliances
But time is short and Lukashenka is ready to do anything to preserve his power. The probability that Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s victory will be recognized by the CEC is practically zero. It is also almost impossible to overthrow the regime on the street: the dictatorship remains strong and dangerous.
However, the process triggered by the current election campaign is already irreversible. Lukashenka lost everything except the use of force. But sooner or later, the protest will reach its critical mass, and the dictator will not know how to resist.
The political degradation of the authorities is accompanied by a rapid economic crisis and the COVID-19 epidemic for which, apart from Lukashenka’s words about his victory over the pandemic in Belarus, practically nothing is done, while the real information is hidden.
The spirit of protest penetrates even into the layers of the population that have always voted for Lukashenka all these years. It is obvious that a new revolutionary subject will begin to crystallize both from above and from below, and may well transform itself into a mass popular movement, organizationally formed and ready to continue the struggle against the dictatorship. A couple of days ago, the joint team of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya announced the founding of the National Unity Committee.
Hard times are coming, which will require new sacrifices and bring new challenges. Only time will show how prepared Belarusians are for all this. We must all clearly understand that there is no crime that the dictatorship would not commit for its preservation.
We can only win if all workers unite.
Down with the dictatorship!
Long live Belarus!