Katia taught at the university, Nasta celebrated her own apartment, Maria played the flute, Svetlana just wanted to be a housewife, and Aleksandr ruled Belarus. Six months later, Katia was fired, Nasta is in a refugee camp, Maria is incarcerated, Svetlana found out about politics, and Aleksandr rules Belarus.
It is in the same position he assumed 27 years ago, when he won the first and last free election for the presidency, namely Aleksandr Lukachenko. From a former Soviet farm manager, he became a dictator, having shaken opponents, dominating the legislature and keeping the economy in state hands.
The story could change on August 9 of last year, during the last presidential choice, estimated Katia, Nasta, Maria and Svetlana. Additionally, tens of thousands of Belarusians were surprised by that evening’s announcement, not because the dictator announced his re-election, but because of the claim that he had 80% of the vote. Evidence of fraud sparked protests, brutally suppressed, fueling more protests; the dictatorship used economic and judicial pressures, by turns circumvented by candles, music, haste and patience.
These are some of the “white guerrilla” strategies used by opponents to avoid jail after the regime began to convict protesters for criminal crimes. There have been over 900 such cases since October, and earlier this year human rights organizations registered 200 political prisoners in Belarus.
It is difficult to estimate the size of the “white guerrilla” in a country where the dictatorship forbids independent political research. Even without statistical precision, however, the British study center Chatham House points out that it is in the majority. An October survey found 23% of government supporters, 33% who distance themselves from both sides but are sympathetic to protesters, and 43% of outspoken opponents of the regime.
The majority of the 32,000 detainees – according to government reports – have been part of it since August 9, some for reasons as trivial as wearing red and white bracelets, honking demonstrators or organizing picnics with neighbors. Among those accused by the dictatorship of “trying to destabilize the government” was even 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Elizaveta Bursova.
For hanging the historic Belarusian flag – with horizontal white, red and white stripes – used as a symbol by protesters on the balcony, she was convicted of “unauthorized mass action”.
The crackdown has also arrested reporters, photographers and videographers covering the protests: nearly 500 have been arrested since August last year, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, and 100 have been sentenced to administrative prison terms . Ten were still in prison as of January. Journalistic sites have been closed and identifiers have been canceled.
“Journalists have become the main target of the security forces,” TV Belsat reporter Stanislav Ivashkevich said on Friday (22) at an informal UN Security Council meeting convened by Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, United Kingdom and United States.
One of the 62 journalists who said he had been tortured, he was the victim of the first wave of repression, which used brute force. Journalist Nasta Zakharevich, 27, fled to avoid adding to the second wave, which traded batons for long prison terms.
Journalist since 2016 and specializing in the environment, she started covering politics in September for the Spanish agency EFE. In the new routine, she repeatedly had to flee from the police to avoid being taken in the vans. “I left home everyday for fear of not coming back,” he says. On the 11th, he did not return; she spent the night in solitary confinement and was summarily sentenced to seven days in prison.
“The arbitrariness gave me more strength to cover the steps when I was released,” she said. But in November, during a weekly march for the disabled, she was arrested and sentenced for the second time, to 15 days. “After that, I started getting calls from unknown numbers, I was terrified, I couldn’t sleep.”
He accepted the offer of a program in Latvia for people with post-traumatic stress disorder and applied for asylum. “I have lost all physical connection with Belarus. It was as if I had locked up my past life and abandoned it. It’s extremely painful and strange, ”she says, in the tiny room with two bunk beds that she now occupies in a refugee center in Riga, the Latvian capital.
In addition to clothing, the reporter took severe neck pain, acquired by dividing thin mattresses into crowded cells. “Even outside of prison, I was not free. Every day the pain brings back the feeling of prison.
The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets until November also emigrated, not from the country, but to safer forms of protest: fewer people, for less time. According to Katia, who lost her post at the university due to her participation in protests, even groups in the nominations have been miniaturized for security reasons. “We create closed chats, only with the ones we really know.”
Through these decentralized channels, they prepare mini-spreads, which bring together around 200 people and do not exceed half an hour. One of them, last Saturday (23), under the snow of Minsk, supported a prisoner during a 40-day hunger strike. They have decreased, but appear daily: this Saturday, the demonstrations, regardless of their size, total 175 consecutive days in Belarus.
“The level of social anger is still high,” says Kamil Klysinski, senior analyst for Belarus at the Center for Oriental Studies. In a text in which he noted the change in the dynamics of the demonstrations, he stressed that the ability of Belarusians to organize networks of support for victims of repression “considerably increases the chances of maintaining resistance, even under conditions of oppressive terror and decline of the streets. demonstrations. “.
There are many examples of such networks, which have also sprung up outside Belarus. Katia, for example, takes a course organized by a German entity for teachers who are victims of the dictatorship, attends cultural collectives which have risen up against Lukachenko – such as the Volny choir -, goes to mini-marches and organizes nightly demonstrations in which many neighbors put candles on the window, show that the flame is lit. Like Nasta, she thinks the super walks will return in the spring.
As winter gets stronger, Katia is also releasing initiatives like the website where you can ‘adopt’ political prisoners and write letters online, which are then printed and forwarded. The motto of the project is’ new black ‘, a bitter irony that’ political prisoners have become the rule; every day, people risk becoming so ”. One is the song Maria Kalesnikava, who was on the opposition front in Lukachenko in the August elections and has been in prison since September.
“I wrote her three letters, but I don’t know if she received them,” says Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, the candidate, who now lives in Lithuania, where she was forced to flee under threats after the presidential election on 9 August.
At that time, I had no intention of being in politics, he says. A few days earlier, in another interview with Folha, he had stated that he considered himself “capable of looking after the children and of cooking”.
Six months – and many international meetings – later, her perspective has changed. “If before I thought that as soon as we freed political prisoners and held fair elections I would go back to the kitchen to fry chops, now I understand that I cannot just put the knowledge and experience that I ‘ve gained behind a can of sugar, ”she said.
According to Tikhanovskaia, she has come to understand that politicians are people “who change the world around them, influence relations in society and between different groups in a country.” “In this sense, I became a politician,” says the former housewife who happened to be a candidate by chance.