“The winter belonged to Lukashenko, the summer is ours.” With this slogan, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya tries to rekindle the protest in Belarus and show that President Lukashenko has not yet won.
“People are thrown in jail every day, but despite all this repression, people are ready. He has not destroyed the protest vote,” Tichanovskaja said in an interview with Politico.
The question is whether Belarusians dare to take to the streets just as en masse this weekend as they did last summer. For weeks on end, tens to hundreds of thousands of people protested demanding fair elections. Lukashenko responded with brutal repression: thousands were imprisoned or sentenced to years in prison.
According to human rights organizations, more than 30,000 protesters have been arrested by the riot police OMON. Dozens again last week, in the run-up to the new protest day. CNN released new leaked police footage of protesters who had fled this week, showing police mistreating and even shooting demonstrators.
Repression has hit the protest movement. “I have been living in constant fear since last summer,” said protester Yuliya Hlushko (23). In September, she was brutally knocked to the ground by the OMON at a small protest in her neighborhood. “Since then I have been afraid that they will come for me again.”
We are more afraid of the future than of the violence.
Many people have been or are still in prison for a long time. Others have lost their jobs or moved abroad. Hlushko’s friends fled to Poland and Ukraine. That is not an option for her, because of her compulsory employment with a state-owned company. “I also don’t know if I want to leave my country, because I don’t want my mother or any other Belarusian to grow up in some kind of North Korea.” So there is nothing left to do but protest: “We are more afraid of the future than of the violence.”
31-year-old translator Ksenia Abibak fled to Lithuania at the end of last year, but returned last month. She will be back this weekend. “Quit? Don’t think about it. It didn’t feel right to be gone.” The return journey was not easy: at the border she was interrogated for three hours, but eventually let through.
“Almost every Belarusian family has been affected in some way by the government’s reprisals,” said Marina Ulyashina, representative of the diaspora in the Netherlands. As a result, protesters are exhausted and timid. “We now know: if we take to the streets, there is a good chance that we will not come home. People are much more careful now.”
It is now also more difficult to mobilize people. Ulyashina: “A lot of people have removed Telegram from their phones because they could be picked up for it and popular groups that previously coordinated the protests have had to close their channels.”
The protesters who wanted to speak to the NOS are nevertheless optimistic. “The police violence will be enormous, but we are now used to it,” says Andrei Isachenko in his twenties. “Doing nothing is not an option.”
The 35-year-old architect Dzmitry Ziaziulchyk agrees: “The more people go, the safer it is. The authorities cannot do much against 200,000 people, we should not forget that”.
In the winter months, demonstrations were still carried out almost daily by small groups, but not as massively as in the summer, says Ziaziulchyk. He lives in Minsk and is an avid protester. “We have continued underground, lighting fireworks, hanging flags and projecting symbols with light lasers. The authorities cannot check that and it gives us good cheer.”
Ziaziulchyk expects the bad economic situation to have a mobilizing effect. “Last summer, many people did not participate in the strikes or protests because they were afraid of losing their jobs. But now many salaries are not even paid and people will lose their jobs because of the economic downturn. If that continues, people will have nothing more to lose. “
He agrees with the slogan of Tikhanovskaya: “The winter was for Lukashenko, but we are rested and ready again. Now the sun is shining and we are not afraid. It’s a price that I, and many people with me, are willing to pay. “