“We are FED UP!” – Belarusian Opposition takes to the Streets against the Regime

Title Image (c) SPIEGEL Online (www.spiegel.de)

Article by Linus H.

President Aleksandr Lukashenko seems more unsettled than usual by the annual 25th of March protests in Belarus, a country which he has led in an authoritarian manner for almost 30 years. The call for democracy is getting louder, and the authorities respond with harsh crackdowns.

More people than usual are expected to take part in the anti-regime Freedom Day protests this year.

Demonstrations have been ongoing since February, following Lukashenko’s “law against parasitism” which would force people who work less than 183 days a year to pay roughly € 230 annually – about half of the average monthly income in Belarus.

The demonstrations come at a rather inconvenient time for the authorities – large-scale demonstrations against the authoritarian government are led by the opposition every year on the 25th of March, and this year it looks like more people will join in than usually.

The authorities, who in the last couple years more or less tolerated the Freedom Day demonstrations, responded to the ongoing unrest with a wave of arrests, placing over 330 demonstrators under police custody. Those who are in the hands of the security organs are not granted access to a lawyer.

A “Provocation with Weapons”

Lukashenko said “a provocation with weapons” was being prepared, led by a few individuals who were supposedly trained in camps in Belarus and the Ukraine, and financed by Lithuania and Poland – which the two EU countries were quick to call a “lie plucked out of thin air”. Further, the president, who has governed over Belarus ever since its independence, said that his security organs would pick the leaders of the demonstrations out of the mass “like raisins out of bread.” But despite numerous arrests being made, the demonstrations didn’t die down. Lukashenko warns of “large scale unrest” throughout the country, and is working on creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, in an attempt at making people stay home rather than joining the demonstrations of the opposition.

It is quite surprising that Lukashenko blamed Poland and Lithuania, two EU countries, for supposedly financing an armed uprising against him, as he has tried to deepen Belarusian ties to the European Union while turning away from Russia following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Power of the Protests underestimated

The fact that the police and the KGB, the country’s secret police, have started cracking down on dissent leading up to this year’s demonstrations reminds many of the happenings on the Freedom Day of 2010, when the security forces brutally dispersed peaceful demonstrations and arrested and beat countless protesters. What is different this year, though, is that the regime has started cracking down on opposition days and weeks before the 25th of March – by beating opposition members, blocking media  from reporting even if they have the correct accreditation, and arresting hundreds of people. “They want to break up the wave of protests”, says Alexandr Feduta, who used to work together with Lukashenko in the first years but meanwhile moved to the opposition.

However, the authorities underestimated the power of the protests – they were not dispersed, as expected, by simply arresting the leaders and some members. Rather, the people that take to the streets with wide-spread support to fight together for more democracy in the country. The desire for freedom and the disapproval of the regime is spreading in Belarus – as one woman protesting in Babrujsk told the German SPIEGEL: “We are fed up!”

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