.
T

he voices of enraged Belarusian people chanting “Long live Belarus” has flooded the streets of Minsk for over two months, and their pro-democracy movement is reverberating throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The demonstrations were sparked by authoritative President Alexander Lukashenko who was unexpectedly inaugurated on August 9th. Following the announcement of the seemingly rigged results, upwards of 200,000 Belarusians at a time have filled the streets with a sea of red and white pleading to be free from the authoritarian regime.

Lukashenko’s shocking “landslide win” has been claimed illegitimate by Belarusians. Not only did he bar his two original opponents from running, with likely false allegations leading to one imprisonment, he was also sworn in by a private audience—resulting in his new title “the secret president.” Although, “Europe’s last dictator” still hangs heavy in the air.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for the last 26 years. When the country first gained its independence in 1994, Lukashenko became the nation’s first president and democratic leader. However, only two years after the creation of Belarus’s new constitution, the president added a referendum, which in sum, “…granted him near-absolute power and extended his five-year term.” While opposition leaders are technically allowed to run against Lukashenko, history has shown that running against him is not only futile, but dangerous.

The original opposition was led by three women: Maria Kolesnikova, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and Veronika Tsepkalo. While the trio remains a symbol for the pro-democracy movement, none of them remain fighting in Belarus because of Lukashenko’s scare tactics and heavy-handed efforts to silence the opposition. Tsepkalo, whose husband, Valery Tsepkalo, was one of the opponents barred from registering as a candidate, went into exile with her family before the election due to threats of arrest. Tikhanovskaya, wife of the second original opponent Syarhei, was Lukashenko’s opposition leader who, Belarusians believe, was the real winner of the election. After the results were announced, she and some of her campaign staffers were detained for hours leaving her no choice but to flee to safety in Lithuania. There are allegations that the statement she released upon her departure, and maybe even her decision to leave, was influenced by Lukashenko and his security service. Lastly, Maria Kolesnikova, who was the last of the trio to remain during the aftermath, was abducted and imprisoned on September 7th. Only recently were her whereabouts made public, and why, officially, she is being held. She is facing a five-year prison term under the charge of “undermining national security.”

The motivation driving the protests has continuously expanded day-by-day as severe police brutality threatens peaceful protestors such as Kolesnikova. According to the constitution of Belarus, denying freedom of press, association and expression or allowing censorship is illegal. Yet, the independent journalists and political activists in Belarus are constantly being detained, threatened, beaten, and imprisoned. Footage and accounts of police brutality has circulated, and in an effort to appease protesters and the media, Lukashenko released some of the prisoners. Freed detainees have told of their stories of the torture they endured and many have since fled the country or declined to give their surname out of fear for their life.

Several other countries and organizations have made statements affirming the abusive nature of the Belarusian government. Human rights experts from the United Nations backed the protesters in a statement referring to Kolesnikova:

“It is particularly troubling that the authorities have resorted to enforced disappearances in an effort to quash protests, stifle dissent and sow fear. We urge the authorities not to use national security concerns to deny individuals their fundamental rights, among others the rights to opinion, expression, or peaceful assembly and association.”

Furthermore, Germany has urged the EU to, “…put pressure on Lukashenko,” and the U.S. has refused to accept the re-election.

While there have been past pro-democracy protests in Belarus, the current demonstrations are the largest since the 1990s. The turnout of these protests is believed to be largely because of the strong message that the trio sent while leading the opposition. The bold, female presence is heartening to the Belarusian people and appalling to President Lukashenko who has said, “…he respects women but that ‘society is not mature enough to vote for a woman’. The burden of the presidency would cause her to ‘collapse, poor thing.’” Perhaps the thought of being defeated by a woman was too much for Lukashenko to bear.

If Belarusians succeed in reclaiming democracy through re-election, the release of political prisoners, and true freedom of press, a much-needed message of promise will disseminate and inspire the many other countries currently grappling with human rights issues. Until then, the opposition is going to need all the support they can get in the ongoing uprising against Lukashenko’s soviet-like dictatorship.

About
Melissa Metos
:
Melissa is currently pursuing a master’s degree in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University. Her past and present education fosters the study of societal issues through a rhetorical lens, which she explores throughout her articles with Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Belarusians Fight for the Democracy they Were Promised 26 Years Ago

October 8, 2020

T

he voices of enraged Belarusian people chanting “Long live Belarus” has flooded the streets of Minsk for over two months, and their pro-democracy movement is reverberating throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The demonstrations were sparked by authoritative President Alexander Lukashenko who was unexpectedly inaugurated on August 9th. Following the announcement of the seemingly rigged results, upwards of 200,000 Belarusians at a time have filled the streets with a sea of red and white pleading to be free from the authoritarian regime.

Lukashenko’s shocking “landslide win” has been claimed illegitimate by Belarusians. Not only did he bar his two original opponents from running, with likely false allegations leading to one imprisonment, he was also sworn in by a private audience—resulting in his new title “the secret president.” Although, “Europe’s last dictator” still hangs heavy in the air.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for the last 26 years. When the country first gained its independence in 1994, Lukashenko became the nation’s first president and democratic leader. However, only two years after the creation of Belarus’s new constitution, the president added a referendum, which in sum, “…granted him near-absolute power and extended his five-year term.” While opposition leaders are technically allowed to run against Lukashenko, history has shown that running against him is not only futile, but dangerous.

The original opposition was led by three women: Maria Kolesnikova, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and Veronika Tsepkalo. While the trio remains a symbol for the pro-democracy movement, none of them remain fighting in Belarus because of Lukashenko’s scare tactics and heavy-handed efforts to silence the opposition. Tsepkalo, whose husband, Valery Tsepkalo, was one of the opponents barred from registering as a candidate, went into exile with her family before the election due to threats of arrest. Tikhanovskaya, wife of the second original opponent Syarhei, was Lukashenko’s opposition leader who, Belarusians believe, was the real winner of the election. After the results were announced, she and some of her campaign staffers were detained for hours leaving her no choice but to flee to safety in Lithuania. There are allegations that the statement she released upon her departure, and maybe even her decision to leave, was influenced by Lukashenko and his security service. Lastly, Maria Kolesnikova, who was the last of the trio to remain during the aftermath, was abducted and imprisoned on September 7th. Only recently were her whereabouts made public, and why, officially, she is being held. She is facing a five-year prison term under the charge of “undermining national security.”

The motivation driving the protests has continuously expanded day-by-day as severe police brutality threatens peaceful protestors such as Kolesnikova. According to the constitution of Belarus, denying freedom of press, association and expression or allowing censorship is illegal. Yet, the independent journalists and political activists in Belarus are constantly being detained, threatened, beaten, and imprisoned. Footage and accounts of police brutality has circulated, and in an effort to appease protesters and the media, Lukashenko released some of the prisoners. Freed detainees have told of their stories of the torture they endured and many have since fled the country or declined to give their surname out of fear for their life.

Several other countries and organizations have made statements affirming the abusive nature of the Belarusian government. Human rights experts from the United Nations backed the protesters in a statement referring to Kolesnikova:

“It is particularly troubling that the authorities have resorted to enforced disappearances in an effort to quash protests, stifle dissent and sow fear. We urge the authorities not to use national security concerns to deny individuals their fundamental rights, among others the rights to opinion, expression, or peaceful assembly and association.”

Furthermore, Germany has urged the EU to, “…put pressure on Lukashenko,” and the U.S. has refused to accept the re-election.

While there have been past pro-democracy protests in Belarus, the current demonstrations are the largest since the 1990s. The turnout of these protests is believed to be largely because of the strong message that the trio sent while leading the opposition. The bold, female presence is heartening to the Belarusian people and appalling to President Lukashenko who has said, “…he respects women but that ‘society is not mature enough to vote for a woman’. The burden of the presidency would cause her to ‘collapse, poor thing.’” Perhaps the thought of being defeated by a woman was too much for Lukashenko to bear.

If Belarusians succeed in reclaiming democracy through re-election, the release of political prisoners, and true freedom of press, a much-needed message of promise will disseminate and inspire the many other countries currently grappling with human rights issues. Until then, the opposition is going to need all the support they can get in the ongoing uprising against Lukashenko’s soviet-like dictatorship.

About
Melissa Metos
:
Melissa is currently pursuing a master’s degree in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University. Her past and present education fosters the study of societal issues through a rhetorical lens, which she explores throughout her articles with Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.