By Jan Kryzhkevich
Recently, there has been a notable decrease in the number of participants in street protests in Belarus. The main reasons are the deterioration of weather conditions; physical and psychological fatigue; protesters’ financial problems; the fear provoked by reprisals and the brutality of the riot police, whose level exploded with new vigor.
Thus, on November 8, the protest march “For the Sovereignty of the People!” in Minsk, in which several tens of thousands of people participated, was brutally dispersed almost from the beginning. Some 1,400 people were detained and arrested, standing with their legs spread, hands up, facing the walls in police station yards for about 9 hours in freezing rain. Many were brutally beaten, some were crippled and taken to hospitals. At least one person was shot and is now in the military hospital.
In addition, the regime began cleaning courtyards and neighborhoods, whose neighbors massively express their protest against the Lukashenka regime. The security forces actively carry out attacks and raids, disperse peaceful gatherings and concerts, break into private apartments, conduct searches, beat and detain residents and their guests, destroy protest symbols and murals.
On November 11, a protest activist, Raman Bandarenka, a 31-year-old painter, was beaten and detained in the courtyard of his apartment block, popularly known as “The Plaza of Changes,” and died in hospital after being beaten further at a police station.
Raman’s assassination shook the entire country and sparked a new mobilization. On November 15, about a hundred thousand Belarusians marched peacefully, condemning this new murder and the repression under the slogan “I go out!” which were the last words Raman wrote on his patio chat before he was killed.
The authorities responded with even greater cruelty, massive beatings, use of stun and blinding grenades, tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, arrests, torture and trials. More than 1,500 protesters were arrested.
For the march on Sunday, November 22, “Against Fascism!”, protesters chose a new local protest tactic. Tens of thousands of Belarusians in Minsk and other cities simultaneously marched in their neighborhoods. Local columns of protesters marched in different directions, joining each other, blocking roads, and running into police. Police and military units were not able to respond simultaneously to all pockets of resistance and, being in a significant minority, they withdrew to their positions or left rebel areas. They again used stun grenades, blinding and gas grenades, rubber bullets and other special equipment. In all, some 500 people were arrested across the country.
In addition to general marches on Sundays, marches of retirees are organized every Monday in Belarus; every Tuesday, marches of disabled people; Every Saturday, women’s marches. The police and army are clearly tired of this continuous marathon of protests, which has been going on for over 100 days. Confusion and conflict are evident in the ranks of the security forces. Many policemen would like to resign, but fear harassment from the regime and their colleagues.
Due to the growing political and economic crisis, the main task of the regime is to rake the field of protests in Belarus before spring arrives.
Ahead lie the difficult months of fighting and a total escalation of massive retaliation.
The greater and stronger the repression, the greater the protest potential of the Belarusian people
In the period from August 9 to November 23, more than 30,000 Belarusians passed through the repressive apparatus of the State and were subjected to beatings, torture, arrests, fines and dismissals. More than a thousand criminal proceedings have been initiated, involving 5 to 15 years in prison.
At least 6 people have been killed during this period. The exact number of missing persons is unknown. The Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigation Committee received more than 4,000 complaints of criminal actions by security forces agents. So far, NOT A single criminal case has been initiated for acts related to beatings, torture and murders!
To date, Viktar Babaryka, his son Eduard, Maryya Kalesnikava, Siarhey Tsikhanouski and other leaders of the popular protest remain detained at the KGB Pretrial Prison Center.
Along with the brutal reprisals and torture of thousands of detainees, the regime tried to use the tactic of blocking the most active neighborhoods of the capital. Thus, in the Novaya Baravaya residential neighborhood, when the cold arrived, the hot and cold water, the heating and the Internet were cut off, the electricity was turned off several times. More than 15,000 people remained blocked, with young children and the sick and elderly.
However, the residents of the neighborhood could not be crushed and intimidated. All Minsk came to the aid of the blockaded: Minsk residents brought water non-stop, were invited to wash and were offered temporary residence in houses and apartments. The Lukashenka regime achieved the opposite effect: the Belarusians were not intimidated and did not surrender, but united and solidified even more. After three days, the blockade of the neighborhood was lifted and the authorities publicly denied their participation in it, saying that the problems arose as a result of failures in the heating and water supply systems.
In addition, the regime dealt a blow to the financial support of the protesters. Thus, on November 10, all banks in the country, in accordance with the decision of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, blocked about 600 bank accounts of people who suffered police violence, who had received financial assistance from Belarusians abroad. According to mutual aid foundations, the state stole some US $ 1,400,000 from the accounts of individuals. But aid to Belarusians has not been suspended: with certain changes made, mutual aid funds continue to collect money and send it to recipients.
The struggle and solidarity of medical workers is noteworthy. Unable to stop working, they constantly go out to protest actions, for which they are subjected to arrests and repression.
Still in spring, when the pandemic broke out, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, being a passionate dissident of COVID-19, left doctors, as well as the entire country, to their fate. The Belarusians, realizing the danger of the situation, all together came to the aid of doctors in their fight against the virus. Thousands of volunteers raised money, bought and supplied masks, respirators and other personal protective equipment to hospitals. Restaurants and cafes prepared hot food for doctors free of charge, private hotels provided free rooms for recreation and lodging, taxi drivers did not accept payment and assisted doctors.
In August, doctors were the first to face the consequences of the shooting and beatings of protesters, the harassment and torture of detainees, as well as their own arrests for complying with their medical obligations. Even in war, doctors are protected by the Red Cross, but there are no regulations for the Lukashenka regime. Medical workers were detained while providing assistance to victims on the streets: they are beaten, thrown into prison cells, gassed, mocked and tortured, along with the other prisoners.
The medical community reacted immediately to these atrocities and the utter arbitrariness of the authorities. Throughout the country strong public statements were heard from the groups of medical centers and hospitals. Doctors have become one of the most organized components of the popular resistance.
In response, Lukashenko declared war on doctors, sparing no one regardless of their titles and merits, not caring about the possible tragic consequences for the population of the country, using the most vile methods and means. Thus, for his civic position, Professor Aliaksandr Mrochak, a famous cardiologist, world-renowned scientist, academic, doctor of medical sciences, was fired. Soon after, unknown men set fire to his country house, intimidating and persecuting the scientist’s family with anonymous threats.
But the authorities failed again in their attempts: colleagues did not back down and came to the aid of Mrochak, raised money to restore the burned house, all together helped with the repairs and supported the professor morally.
In its mad revenge against everyone and its desire to intimidate doctors, the government stops at nothing. The Health Minister issued an order forcing the dismissal of all medical workers who come out to protest demonstrations and do not support the regime. For example, the director of the National Center for Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Immunology Natalya Kanaplia, the nation’s leading pediatric oncologist, was fired for refusing to fire employees who participated in the protests. This is a scandalous case that is beyond the common sense and standards of elemental humanity.
It is significant that the Lukashenka regime deals a blow to the entire health system when the situation in hospitals, due to a new wave of pandemic, is truly catastrophic.
But Belarusian doctors do not give up. Working in terrible conditions, they continue to fight, support each other and actively participate in the struggle of the Belarusian people.
At the forefront of the fight against the dictatorship, as always, is the Belarusian youth who fearlessly go out to protest marches, strikes and solidarity actions. The country’s leading universities have become centers of youth resistance. Student protests are dispersed with extreme ferocity. Its participants are tried, imprisoned, tortured, expelled en masse from universities. More than 700 students have already been expelled and have lost the opportunity to study and work in Belarus. In addition to the students, the authorities persecute teachers and those representatives of the administration of the educational centers who express their support for the protest. Detentions, arrests, trials and dismissals without the possibility of employment, this is what awaits any educator by public expression of her civic position and support for the protest movement.
But the student movement is growing and developing, involving new participants in its ranks, assuming new forms and qualities.
Harassment and repression have affected many famous athletes who have spoken out against electoral manipulation and police violence in the country. The athletes have reacted by creating the Belarusian Athletes’ Free Association (SOS-BY). Among its members are three-time Olympic medalist, world and European champion in swimming Aliaksandra Hierasimienia; Olympic medalist, world and European champion in track and field athletics – Nadzieya Astapchuk; Olympic champion in biathlon Nadzieya Skardzina; World and European champion in sambo Stsiapan Papou; the best center of the 2010 Basketball World Championship Alena Leuchanka and many other outstanding athletes from Belarus. “The Open Letter of the representatives of the sports sphere of the Republic of Belarus, which demands that the past presidential elections be recognized as invalid and calls for an end to police violence and the release of all political prisoners” was signed by about 1,200 people.
In addition, the Belarus Sports Solidarity Fund was founded. It provides legal and financial support and employment assistance to all repressed athletes and workers in this sphere.
Thus, despite the increasing repression and brutality of the authorities, horizontal ties within society continue to grow and strengthen at all levels. Activities in the patios and neighborhoods continue to evolve, offering new forms of solidarity and protest. Group teas, concerts, conferences, art exhibitions and football matches between courtyards and neighborhoods, despite threats and repressions, have become a daily routine in Belarusian cities.
Independent support associations and funds are being created. The Belarusian protest movement is gradually turning from a spontaneous and fragmented phenomenon into a single organized force.
Almost every day, several workers, engineers or employees of various companies announce their adherence to the national strike in the format of an official declaration of personal participation. Despite the relatively small number of workers who joined the strike, their number continues to grow continuously.
At the forefront of the labor struggle are companies like Hrodna Azot, Belaruskali, Belarusian Metallurgical Plant, Belarusian Automotive Plant, Naftan, Minsk Automotive Plant, Minsk Tractor Plant, Minsk Engine Plant, Minsk Electrotechnical Plant.
The repressions against the workers who have joined the strike continue immediately. Lukashenka ordered all strikers to be fired without the right to any employment. The administration replaces those laid off with strikebreakers from other companies or hires retirees. But it is not always possible to replace those laid off by specialists of equivalent qualification. As a consequence, the technological process stops and accidents occur. Among workers who fear being fired but do not support the regime, the Italian strike is becoming increasingly popular and can be very effective.
The authorities will increase the pressure on the militant workers and the leaders of the independent unions. Thus, on November 13, near Salihorsk, 45 members of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union were arrested and sentenced by the court to administrative arrests, fines and dismissal.
Despite the repression and threats, many workers continue to leave the yellow unions. Because of this, Lukashenka ordered the establishment of primary union organizations in all private sector companies before the end of the year. Otherwise, as Lukashenka said, these companies will be closed.
Unfortunately, the workers of the large public companies in Belarus remain the least active part of the protest movement. Almost three decades of fear and arbitrariness, a total system of short-term contracts (1 year) have left their mark on labor groups that have lost the most active and decisive representatives of the working class. If in August there was a sharp increase in worker activity, today there is a lack of faith in the success of the protest and a climate of hopelessness in most Belarusian companies. However, along with the deterioration of the economic situation in the country, an increase in discontent and new protests from workers is expected.
Therefore, now the most important sphere within the activities of the activists of the labor movement is the organization of educational work in the labor collectives of the large factories and plants.
The collapse of Lukashenka’s vertical power
The peaceful protest of Belarusians continues to destroy the vertical power at all levels. More than 500 employees voluntarily resigned from the Ministry of the Interior and the Public Prosecutor’s Office due to their disagreement with the execution of illegal orders. They are only the known case according to data from the Belarusian Solidarity Fund (BYSOL) that provides financial assistance to those laid off.
Employees of the Presidency, diplomats, military, science and culture workers, professionals in various fields of activity, are leaving their positions. The staff shortage is beginning to affect everything. For example, on November 19, people who have nothing to do with diplomatic work were appointed to the posts of ambassadors in Armenia, Azerbaijan and China: the former Attorney General, the former Minister of Defense and the former Chairman of the Committee of State Customs. A mathematics teacher who has absolutely nothing to do with culture has been appointed minister of culture.
A system in which obedience and loyalty to authority is valued over competence and professionalism cannot function normally and is doomed to destruction. Increasingly, Belarusians face the apparent inability of the authorities to organize quality work in almost all spheres of life in the country. Thus, the solemn launch of the new Nuclear Power Plant that took place on November 3 ended with the fact that the next day the power plant stopped generating electricity due to the failure of its transformation and measurement equipment. The pompous opening of a new Minsk metro line was overshadowed by broken escalators and automatic doors. The replacement of the workers laid-off at Hrodna Azot by strikebreakers led to an accident and the closure of this important chemical company. Many examples of incompetence and stupidity of the authorities can be cited.
The regime is degrading faster and faster, the contradictions sharpen and acquire an irreversible antagonistic character.
Hardening of the dictatorship
The Lukashenka regime relies solely on military strength and financial support from the Kremlin. A military dictatorship has practically been established in the country that is false, cynical and ruthless.
Since November 1, the entry of foreigners and even Belarusian citizens to the country is officially closed (violation of article 30 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus). Any meeting, demonstration and strike is prohibited. Protest symbols are prohibited. In their fight against the white-red-white colors, the authorities repaint everything they can, even tanks with flammable substances, in which white and red stripes indicate the danger of fire. Flower beds with white and red plants are being destroyed. For the New Year, white and red Santa Claus, Christmas garlands and other decorations in these colors will be prohibited. But over all prisons and prison vans in Belarus today, red and green flags are waving as a symbol of the terrifying insanity of the current regime.
Neither the West nor the East will help the Belarusians
The hopes of protesting Belarusians related to support from the international community did not come true. On November 1, the UN Human Rights Council (the highest human rights body) approved the efforts by Belarusian authorities to respect human rights. According to UN Watch, 51 of the 92 member states of the Human Rights Council (55 percent) approved of Belarus’s achievements in the field of human rights with satisfaction. Among those who approved the actions of the Lukashenka regime are 36 states that traditionally support repressive regimes, and 15 states that found it possible to give a positive assessment to some of the achievements of the Belarusian authorities.
The Vatican also remained true to itself as an accomplice of authoritarian regimes. On November 3, the Apostolic Nuncio in Belarus presented his credentials to Aliaksandr Lukashenka. This despite the fact that the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Belarus, Tadeusz Kondrusievicz, who actively opposes violence and torture, has been banned by authorities from entering Belarus and practically deprived him of his Belarusian citizenship.
In addition to Russia, the Belarusian regime was supported by China, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Syria, Turkey, Israel, Japan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizistan, Moldova, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Namibia, Pakistan, and the Order of Malta.
Around Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who won the presidential elections in Belarus and was expelled from the country, the Coordination Council and the People’s Anti-Crisis Directorate were formed, on the basis of which alternative authorities are being formed. The influence of these organizations on the protest is quite hypothetical. At the same time, the authority and ranking of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who entered politics after her husband, Siarhiey Tsikhanouski (a potential presidential candidate), was arrested and thrown into a KGB prison, is quite high.
At the moment, the Belarusian protest has not acquired political subjectivity. The protesters do not trust any officially registered political party in the country, which opens up good opportunities for the implementation of new political projects. Especially for the left movement, whose ideas are increasingly in demand not only in Belarus, but all over the world.