5: The drop: Obvious electoral fraud and overt violence
On election day, August 9, there were long queues outside the polls – an unusual sight under Lukashenko. According to the official result, however, Lukashenko won with just over 80 percent of the vote. The result was in stark contrast to what many perceived as great support for Tikhanovskaya, and soon came the rumors of election fraud in various forms. People gathered in the streets. The authorities turned off the internet. The police moved out.
According to THEMBAPROGRAMS, Tikhanovskaya refused to accept the result. The next day, she was to submit a formal complaint to the election commission, and had to enter the government building alone, without supporters. She stayed there a long time. The next thing you heard from her was in a video from exile in neighboring Lithuania. She said she had been given “an impossible choice”, which was interpreted as the regime threatening to harm her family.
Even with the rally symbol Sveta in exile, the protests continued in the streets. The regime met the peaceful protesters with mass arrests and violence. According to the UN Special Rapporteur , over 10,000 protesters had been arrested in more than a month, and more than 500 had been tortured.
The brutal way in which the protests were met in the days after the election led to several social groups joining the protests, including representatives from state media and a former Minister of Culture. In addition, several factory workers also became part of the opposition. These are considered part of Lukashenko’s loyal base and essential to Belarus’s economy. Sergei Dylevsky, who became a leader of the factory strike, said he could join the protests against the regime when he saw how peaceful protesters had been beaten . Although Belarus’s political system has been very oppressive, violence and torture have not necessarily been so visible to most people in the past.
In exile, Sveta continues to speak to his supporters via video, and has had meetings with, among others, Erna Solberg, French President Emmanuel Macron and the UN Security Council.
Supporter Kolesnikova insisted on staying in Belarus and leading the protest movement from there. She was abducted on September 7, and after unclear circumstances, she is now arrested and formally charged with acts that threaten national security, which can mean up to five years in prison.
6: Squeezed between east and west?
For “big brother” Russia, Lukashenko’s faltering position represents both an opportunity and a threat. On the one hand, the protests and strikes in Belarus are a nightmare scenario and a threat to the Russian leadership because the situation is reminiscent of what Russian political leaders call a “color revolution”, namely that regimes are overthrown by a popular uprising supported by Western countries. The Russian authorities will by all means avoid this in Belarus, which is a country of enormous strategic importance to Russia. The Belarusian protests are also a reminder of the possibility of “color revolution” on Russian soil.
Spokesmen for Russia have repeatedly linked the Belarusian uprising to possible Western interference. In the face of the mass demonstrations, Lukashenko has changed his strategy from being relatively EU-friendly to warning against the “threat from the West”. He has stated that NATO, the Western defense alliance, is “at the gates” and that the West “dreams” of the collapse of Belarus, so that Poland can incorporate parts of Belarus into its territory. Speaking at the inauguration ceremony on September 23, Lukashenko stated that Belarus had now avoided a “color revolution”.
However, there are many indications that the opposition movement in Belarus does not want to be branded a “color revolution” because they do not want the conflict within the country to develop into a conflict between Russia and the West, as in Ukraine in 2014. Tikhanovskaya has stressed that the Belarusian The revolution is about democracy , and is neither pro- or anti-Russian, nor pro- or anti-Western.
When Tikhanovskaya met Erna Solberg in Latvia on September 8, she stated that “we want other countries to respect our sovereignty, but we need their attention.” Thus she emphasized that the Belarusian uprising comes from within, and not from the West.
Many wonder if Russia will enter the military, but this will have a high cost, including in the form of sanctions from Western countries, and Russia’s own citizens may react negatively. Nevertheless, analysts believe that Putin is keeping his options open.
This unstable situation is also a political opportunity for Russia. With Lukashenko’s regime in crisis, Belarus’s negotiating position has weakened in discussions on closer cooperation between the two countries. Closer cooperation means in practice increased Russian influence in Belarus. Mr Lukashenko has opposed such a move for several years, and has in many ways been a troublesome ally of Putin. The Putin regime probably hopes that a weakened Lukashenko can be pushed harder – and possibly replaced with a pro-Russian candidate later.
7: “Let me go, I voted for Lukashenko!”
Overall, the situation is unpredictable, with many actors both within and outside the country’s borders, and it is developing daily. The protesters have been more viable than many thought. Many have had enough of a violent political system that seems to care exclusively about retaining its own power.
This is how it can be summed up with a joke that is inherited from Soviet times:
A man is on his way home from work. He is sober and does not attract attention. Suddenly an armored car stops, riot police jump out, and start hitting and pushing the man into the car.
– Let me go, I voted for Lukashenko!
– Do not lie, no one voted for Lukashenko.