Belarus: What Now?


by Polina Blinova, United World College Maastricht
2 December, 2020
Illustration by Estella Tenga


On the 9th of August, 2020, thousands of Belorussians went on the streets following the reelection of Alexander Lukashenko who has supposedly gained around 80% of votes in a widely disputed presidential campaign. Informally known as Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko is now serving his 6th term as a country’s leader despite the never-ceasing protests in every major city in Belarus, as well as the lack of international recognition of his inauguration. The media blew up the instant it happened; although not to an extent that I would personally want it to.

a

For better or for worse, Russia and Belarus are rather close in a political sense, and as a Russian, I have been closely following the news concerning the events in the neighboring country. Nevertheless, amidst the increasing politicization of the social media that has become even more outward during the pandemic, I failed to see a lot of my other European friends doing the same. It is indeed frustrating how many people just overlook, intentionally or not, a rapidly unfolding crisis; more so when it is happening so close to them.

a

The circulation of information about police brutality in the US along with the increase of international attention to racial injustice came at a time of Belorussian elections, and, as a result, it was simple enough to miss the news surrounding them. This is why I decided to sit down with a UWCiM’14 graduate from Minsk, Valeria Kluitko, to shed some light on the issues that she, as well as everyone else in this relatively small country in Eastern Europe, is currently facing. 

a

What has been your personal experience with protests in Minsk?

a

I try to participate in every protest I can. In the past few months, there wasn’t a single weekend that I wouldn’t protest, and I think I finally know why I actually returned to Belarus. It is a historically crucial moment, through which I can see our unity. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything similar to this here, and it’s an invaluable experience to participate in the movement. For example, this past Sunday, I had to run from the police; they can do anything, but, frankly, people are not afraid of being caught anymore. My mom already knows what she needs to put in a package for me, in case I get arrested, and I feel like everyone who goes to protests here is ready for that. The police are going to be cruel to you, but that’s the part you have to do for the freedom of Belarus.

a

We’ve heard about the horrors happening to the ones detained, but are the people who do not partake in protests also affected by the mayhem unraveling on the streets?

a

The whole country is affected. Right after the elections, our internet got shut down for 3 days, and people had no mobile connection whatsoever. Now, it’s scary for many to go outside, even if it’s just for a walk. It was like that at the beginning, and it’s still a thing now. Recently, there was also a person who died after being tortured in the main detention center; he wasn’t participating in protests, but he got caught and arrested. That’s what’s terrifying, the fact that you can’t go out without being scared for your life; doing simple everyday things is off the table for now, especially on the weekends. 

a

This is not the first time Belorussians are protesting the presidential elections; a similar uprising happened in 2010, however, it was rather swiftly suppressed by the police. What do you think is different this time? How do Belorussians find it in themselves to continuously fight back?

a

The elections are being falsified, and people got tired of being fooled. This time around we actually have strong presidential opponents to Lukashenko, which we never had before. However, the people we were ready to vote for were arrested for made-up by authorities reasons (like money laundering). Currently, we have around 70 political prisoners in Belarus, and it’s completely terrible.

a

A similar number of people went on the streets in 2020 and 2010, the difference is the media: young people like you can see everything on social media nowadays. Even though our connection was shut for the first few days, the information got spread rather quickly, and whoever followed various Belorussian media outlets, got to witness the complexity of the situation. The protests went big when we saw what was being done to people, and I have no words to describe what has been going on in the detention centers. 

a

Later on, protests became more peaceful, and the weekly Sunday ‘walks’ started. It has been 26 years, and everyone understands that our president has no right to be where he is and to think that Belarus is his own country. That’s why people can’t stand this anymore.

a

Is there something that happened over the course of the past few months that has been particularly striking to you? Did you expect any of this prior to the elections, and was there already a pre-existing notion about the unfairness of the upcoming vote?

a

I finally see who Belorussians are; I finally see my neighbors (and how they look like, to be honest). We’ve had dictatorship for 26 years, and we were never familiar with the concept of ‘fair elections’. We didn’t know you could vote in queues, as that was not a thing before. It’s also great to see how younger generations play a huge role in today’s movement.

a

I expected protests to happen; elections have been falsified in the past as well; we just didn’t know that the protests would go so big. There’s always a pre-existing notion of the unfairness of the vote here, but now people are finally fighting back. It started back in May when the first opponent decided to run; no-one expected us to stand up, but we did.

a

Over the past few months, everyone who has been managing to keep up with the news on the current global affairs has definitely been exposed to the topic of police brutality in the US. On the other hand, I failed to see many people talking about this issue in Belarus. What are your feelings about this, and do you wish this was more widely discussed?

a

On one hand, it’s fair considering the sizes of our countries. Foreigners that I know have been following the news, and I have personally read many articles in big newspapers about Belarus. It’s just a matter of being interested in what’s happening because, if you aren’t, you won’t get information without searching it up directly. When I studied in the US, no one knew what Belarus was, so, it’s expected from such people to not follow the news. At my current work, I am surrounded by international people, and they always show interest. I wish it was more widely discussed, but first, let’s at least put Belarus on the map.

a

What do you think the international community needs to know about the situation in Belarus?

a

People need to educate themselves. Everyone needs to understand that right now, we have no freedom, no laws, nothing that you would expect in a democracy, which will not be established in Belarus any time soon. We believe we will win, but before that, we need international attention, and I’m glad that the EU is doing at least something. But please find time to educate yourself, post something on Facebook because many still have no clue about anything, and we only have each other to support us.

a

At this point, I asked Valeria about ways that we, UWC students, can help. She shared a couple of links from a Facebook post discussing the arrest of a UWCSEA’18 graduate Marta Shcharbakova. Valeria asked me to include this, along with mentioning that this is a request from all UWC Belarus alumni:

1. Support for Belarus

2. Belarus Solidarity Foundation

3. Belarus Together

438 views

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *