First, a little background. The Republic of Belarus is in Europe, between Poland, Lithuania, Russia, and Ukraine. It had a presidential election on August 9. The “president” of Belarus for the last 26 years is Alexander Lukashenko. In the run-up to the election, pretty much every candidate who collected enough signatures to run against Lukashenko ended up getting arrested, which led to the opposition uniting behind Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Tsikhanouskaya), the wife of one of the arrested presidential candidates. Tikhanovskaya, an English teacher by profession, quite unexpectedly became a competent, no-nonsense leader of the anti-Lukashenko movement. Lukashenko is humongously unpopular (how exactly unpopular is difficult to quantify — there are next to zero credible pollsters in the country, but his approval is somewhere between 30% and 3% — hence the nickname “Sasha 3%”). An additional recent decline of Lukashenko’s popularity may be linked to his absolute COVID-19 denial — he’s worse than Brazil’s Bolsonaro.
The run-up to the election was quite scandalous, with several candidates, as mentioned above, arrested, prevented from registering, and so on. Here is a decent summary, with a now-viral photo of the three wives of arrested male candidates pledging to combine their efforts.
Anyway, the polls were open for several days before the official election date, reports of irregularities started rolling in almost immediately, on August 9, there were huge crowds of people outside polling places who were not even let inside to vote… and in a few hours, Lukashenko was declared the winner supposedly with 80+ percent of the votes, with about 9% for Tikhanovskaya. A little problem with this official number is that multiple election protocols were published online, showing Tikhanovskaya’s blowout defeat of Lukashenko.
Even before the announcement of the results, buildups of police and special forces were noticed in Minsk (the capital of Belarus) and other cities. In the video below, one of the audible voices suggests that “the little green men” marching through Minsk are actually Russian special forces, but there is no confirming evidence.
And now, pretty much all hell has broken loose. In the center of Minsk, police in riot gear are brutalizing protesters. Trigger warnings for all videos that follow: violence.
Similar clashes are taking place in Mozyr.
All over the country, police are shooting at the protesters. Rubber bullets and flashbang grenades have maimed multiple people.
In some places (watch a part of this video from Lida) protesters seem to have the upper hand.
What is also interesting is that, despite a VERY heavy-handed attempt by Lukashenko to produce an information blackout (arrests and disappearances of journalists, Internet, and phone services shut down), the truth about what’s going on still spreads, mostly over Telegram channels such as NEXTA Live (I give them credit for one of the videos linked here).
Right now, protesters are building barricades in the center of Minsk, drivers are blocking police and special forces vehicles, there are hundreds of people arrested and/or wounded, casualties have been reported (most likely, underreported) as well, but most disconcertingly — several hours ago, Tikhanovskaya walked into the Belarus Central Election Commission to lodge a formal protest against the announced election results — and did not walk out. H̶e̶r̶ ̶w̶h̶e̶r̶e̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶s̶ ̶r̶e̶m̶a̶i̶n̶ ̶u̶n̶k̶n̶o̶w̶n̶.̶ According to @Linkieviciusl (verified account of Lithuanian foreign minister), she is in Lithuania. I’m still concerned a bit because the picture on that tweet is from August 4. And of course, you have to consider the profound abnormality of a situation when a properly registered candidate in a presidential election having to flee the country and being successful is good news. Of course, her husband is in the slammer on trumped-up charges, and her children — in hiding for the last weeks.
What absolutely sucks ass is the media coverage (and there is precious little of any such coverage in English) — including that by such normally respectable sources as NPR. Even their headline — Belarus Elections End With Landslide Winner — And Massive Protests — should be more accurately called a headlie.
Why this is important for us in the United States.
Lukashenko did not become a dictator overnight. He was democratically elected, and then destroyed the fledgling democracy in Belarus from within — bit by bit, election by election, law by law, executive order by executive order, and, as rumored, political assassination by political assassination. And now it’s too late to get rid of him using democratic institutes because these institutes no longer function.
It’s not yet too late for us. I hope.
Center of Minsk. This begins to look like war.
Props to NEXTA Live and to Tolya Minsky (Толя Минский). Some parts of Minsk downtown appear to be controlled by protesters. Sounds of explosions and a massive fire.
Protesters in Brest are forcing government forces into retreat.
Final update to the Belarus news — another Nexta Live video from Minsk. Huge crowds of protesters, police in riot gear nowhere to be seen. The video is titled “When the people win,” I am not that optimistic yet.
Final (this time for real) update: a statement by Joe Biden.
After a presidential election marred by electoral fraud, citizens peacefully protesting to demand an accurate vote count are now being met with riot police using stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. The Lukashenka regime has cut internet access, arrested protesters and independent journalists, and tried to muzzle foreign observers. These are not the actions of a political leader confident that he has won a fairly conducted election. But thanks to brave citizens — journalists, activists, and ordinary people documenting these extraordinary events — we know the truth about the assaults on democracy being committed by the regime.