The presidential election on 9 August split Belarus into “before” and “after”. It’s been only six months since the election campaign officially started, the ballot day happened about three months ago, but it feels like ages ago. We’ve witnessed so many history-changing milestones, it seems they need a chronicle of their own. We’ve tried to recall the most important ones so far.
8 May. The election will happen after all
In winter everyone expected the 2020 presidential elections to repeat the example set in 2015 – predictable candidates, predictable numbers, and the same result. Ordinary people and polytical analysts didn’t expect much from the forthcoming presidential election, which was supposed to allow the “old guard” and little-known candidates to bask in the spotlight for a while only to go into oblivion after the election.
Presidential election in Belarus is scheduled by the parliament. The law required the next presidential election to be held on 30 August (Sunday) at the latest. The possible options included 9, 16, 23, and 30 August. Back in 2019, Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission [CEC – the agency in charge of organizing the election and counting the votes – Ed.] Lidia Yermoshina said that 30 August was likely to be chosen as the ballot day. However, at an extraordinary session of the parliament on 8 May she suggested to hold the election on 9 August and received the parliament’s approval.
However, unexpected candidates changed the course of this election.
15 May. New faces
55 people – the highest number on record – filed papers to register the initiative groups, which will collect citizens’ signatures in order to nominate presidential candidates. But there were only three other prominent persons in addition to the incumbent president.
Sergei Tikhanovsky, an entrepreneur and a video blogger, became famous all over Belarus over the course of only one year thanks to his YouTube channel Strana Dlya Zhizni [The place to live]. He would make videos of him approaching people in the street in the regions and asking them to speak up about problems. The videos got hundreds of thousands of views. The blogger’s announcement that he was going to join the presidential election campaign was released when he was already in police custody: Sergei Tikhanovsky was detained on 6 May because he participated in a rally against Belarus’ merger with Russia back in December 2019.
Valery Tsepkalo was a former government employee. A graduate of MGIMO University, he worked as the Belarusian first deputy minister of foreign affairs for some time, as Belarus’ ambassador to the USA, as an aide to the Belarus president for science and technology, and as the top administrator in the Hi-Tech Park for 11 years. He was part of Aleksandr Lukashenko’s election campaign team in 1994.
Viktor Babariko worked as the chairman of the board of Belgazprombank for nearly 20 years. He quit the job when he sought nomination as a presidential candidate. Apart from business accomplishments he was known as a patron of arts and donated money to charity. Many works by Belarusian artists of the Paris School, including Chaim Soutine’s Eva, were brought back to Belarus thanks to Viktor Babariko’s efforts. Viktor Babariko was a public figure and repeatedly criticized the government, including the organization of the expensive 2nd European Games in Minsk and the government’s lack of action and poorly coordinated responses during the coronavirus pandemic.
20 May. The nomination of candidates
The CEC registered 15 initiative groups of potential candidates, including Aleksandr Lukashenko, Viktor Babariko, and Valery Tsepkalo. The other registered groups belonged to the leader of the political party Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly (BSDG) Sergei Cherechen, co-chairman of the Belarusian public organization Govori Pravdu [Tell the Truth] Andrei Dmitriev, former MP Anna Kanopatskaya, MP Oleg Gaidukevich, farmer Yuri Gantsevich, pensioner Vladimir Nepomnyashchikh, businesswoman Natalya Kisel, co-chairwoman of the unregistered political party Belarusian Christian Democracy [BCD] Olga Kovalkova, head of the
movement Za Svobodu [For Freedom] Yuri Gubarevich, acting chairman of the political party United Civic Party Nikolai Kozlov, and musician Aleksandr Tabolich.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya filed papers with the Central Election Commission on behalf of her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky. Tikhanovsky’s initiative group was denied registration because he had not personally signed the papers. [And how could he when he was arrested?]. At the end of the day, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya came back to the CEC to file papers for the registration of her own initiative group. Tikhanovsky was released from police custody on 20 May although the administrative sentence was supposed to end in late June. Sergei believed that police would arrest him again when the government deems it necessary to make him serve the remaining sentence. In his words, he was stunned by his wife’s nomination for the presidential seat. Nevertheless, he became the head of Svetlana’s initiative group.
Voice of the regions
During the first few pickets in Minsk on 24 May it became obvious that the 2020 presidential election campaign will be nothing like the previousones. Lots of people turned up to sign in favor of nominating the opposition candidates. Due to the pandemic and social distancing the lines were hundreds of meters long. But the response from the regions was even more surprising. Sergei Tikhanovsky had done some groundwork there. His regional trip began in Slutsk on 25 May. Then he visited Baranovichi, Mogilev, and Gomel. People stood in long queues in order to sign for the nomination of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. The blogger himself was in the spotlight, too. After signing, the people kept standing around. Sergei Tikhanovsky was surprised by the crowds and the resolute spirit of the people. He was saying that his wife was just a dummy candidate, his strategy was to boycott the election if Aleksandr Lukashenko ran for the presidential seat and the CEC head Lidia Yermoshina was in charge of counting the votes. He used the legal opportunity in order to promote his ideas and meet with people.
29 May. Tikhanovsky’s case
Sergei Tikhanovsky and several other people were arrested at a picket in Grodno in the evening on 29 May. Witnesses said it was a provocation while police claimed that two police officers had been injured in a Grodno street as a result of the conflict involving Sergei Tikhanovsky. A criminal case was opened as a result. Sergei Tikhanovsky’s office in Gomel was searched first. His countryside cottage 30km away from Gomel was searched on 4 June. After police officers and unidentified individuals spent 12 hours in the house, they found 900,000 U.S. dollars. It was the third team of investigators that managed to find what the previous two teams had missed. Witnesses say some of the money was found behind a sofa while the rest was found lying around in the open.
People, who were arrested as part of Sergei Tikhanovsky’s criminal case, faced charges of organization and preparations for actions that blatantly violate public order. One of them was accused of violence against a police officer. Later on Sergei Tikhanovsky’s rap sheet grew longer with accusations of interference in the CEC’s work after Lidia Yermoshina described Sergei Tikhanovsky’s promise to stage a picket near her house as a threat. More and more people were arrested as part of Sergei Tikhanovsky’s criminal case, including Nikolai Statkevich, who ran for presidency in 2010, and the blogger Dmitry Kozlov. One month after Sergei Tikhanovsky was arrested, Aleksandr Lukashenko admitted he had personally authorized the arrests.
4 June. A new government
Aleksandr Lukashenko mentioned he intended to form a new government before the presidential election back on 25 May. The country met its new prime minister – Roman Golovchenko, 46 – a couple of weeks later. He is a MGIMO graduate, speaks four foreign languages, and had previously worked in various government positions, including in the Security Council, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the presidential administration. The former deputy head of the presidential administration and the Belarusian ambassador to China Nikolai Snopkov became the first deputy prime minister. Several other government officials were reshuffled to fill in government posts.
5 June. A picket for Lukashenko
The first picket to collect signatures in favor of nominating Aleksandr Lukashenko as a presidential candidate was arranged only two weeks after the campaign began and not in the center of the city but near the large shopping center Dana Mall. The public association Belaya Rus, the Belarusian republican youth union BRSM, and the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (TUFB) helped arrange it.
Coincidentally the TUFB head Mikhail Orda acted as the head of Lukashenko’s election campaign team. He turned up for the picket and said about one million signatures had already been collected in favor of nominating his candidate by then. People stood in queues to sign for Aleksandr Lukashenko, too, but the queues got noticeably shorter after a couple of hours. There was an awkward situation during the picket: girls from BRSM who had been pestering reporters with questions like “How much did they pay you for it?” addressed the same question to Mikhail Orda, who was at a loss as a result.
Long queues at Komarovka market
It looked like Sergei Tikhanovsky’s arrest only invigorated Belarusians. Just like centuries ago the city’s marketplace – Komarovka – became a spot for hot political debates. Pickets in favor of nominating alternative candidates took place at Komarovka on a weekend, including the less well-known ones: Anna Kanopatskaya, Sergei Cherechen, Nikolai Kozlov, and Olga Kovalkova. As they joined the queues, people would talk about the forthcoming election, the political situation, argued about how the country should develop, and tried to come up with projections about the future. Plainclothesmenn were filming them all the time. Komarovka pickets resulted in arrests of two prominent opposition politicians: Nikolai Statkevich had been arrested while on the way to the picket on 31 May and Pavel Severinets was arrested right after the picket on 7 June.
11 June. Belgazprombank’s case
After Viktor Babariko’s election campaign team announced they had collected 167,000 signatures officers of the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee searched the headquarters of Belgazprombank, which Viktor Babariko had run for 20 years prior to his nomination. The same day, 11 June police searched offices of a number of other companies: PrivatLizing (Lukashenko mentioned it while talking about the fraud schemes Viktor Babariko had allegedly been involved in), Kampari, and Kentavr. The new State Control Committee chief Ivan Tertel said that they had opened a criminal case into tax evasion and money laundering.
Fifteen people were reported arrested: current top managers of the bank, people who previously worked in the bank and were now working in other companies, and members of Viktor Babariko’s election campaign team. Belarus’ central bank introduced provisional administration in Belgazprombank shortly after that, with the former head of the country’s central bank Nadezhda Yermakova put in charge. It turned out that managers of two staterun banks – Belarusbank and Belagroprombank – were helping her. Belgazprombank is nearly 100% owned by Russian shareholders – Gazprombank and Gazprom. The latter described actions of the Belarusian government as illegal and in blatant violation of Belarusian laws. Viktor Babariko qualified the actions as a forcible takeover staged by the authorities. He had no doubt that these actions had been prompted by his decision to run for Belarus’ presidency.
18 June. Viktor Babariko’s arrest
One week after police searched Belgazprombank’s HQ, Viktor Babariko and his son Eduard were arrested. They were moved to the State Control Committee to testify, however, their lawyers were denied access because “a drill was in progress”. The State Control Committee chief Ivan Tertel stated that Viktor Babariko was arrested as a mastermind behind unlawful activities, which included theft, frauds with promissory notes to the tune of over 60 million U.S. dollars, money transfer abroad, money laundering, bribe giving on the part of Belgazprombank’s officials in exchange for loans to businessmen and people with a bad credit record, and the forcing of people to take loans in their own name.
Ivan Tertel mentioned Gazprom’s top-ranking executives as puppet masters and hinted at even higher connections to the case. On television Ivan Tertel talked about schemes used to move money from Belarus abroad via Latvian and British companies and Cyprian offshore companies. He showed footage of Belgazprombank’s former and current executives saying Viktor Babariko had been involved in these schemes. The State Control Committee forwarded the case papers to the Prosecutor General’s Office, which decided these crimes threatened the country’s national security. The criminal case was reclassified as the creation or participation in a criminal organization. The KGB took over the case then. As a result, Viktor Babariko was charged with money laundering, tax evasion, bribe giving. His son, who had been running the crowdfunding platforms Ulej and MolaMola, was accused of massive tax evasion.
Minsk residents responded to the Babarikos’ arrests right away. A solidarity chain began in the form of pickets staged near the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society to collect signatures in favor of nominating alternative candidates. After a day at work, people started joining a line along the city’s main avenue. By about 10 pm, the line stretched all the way to Nezavisimosti Square. Valery Tsepkalo joined in. Even a heavy rain and hail did not make Minskers scatter. They dispersed only at about 1 am. People were chanting “Release them!” and “Long live Belarus!”. A few were arrested by police.
Those who quit
A number of people withdrew from the presidential race even before their registration as candidates. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of the Republic of Belarus (LDPB) and member of the parliament Oleg Gaidukevich was the first one. He withdrew his candidacy on 26 May to later on become one of Aleksandr Lukashenko’s authorized representatives. The businesswoman Natalya Kisel did the same. She stated she had initially intended to quit the election race in favor of Oleg Gaidukevich. The leader of the Za Svobodu [For Freedom] movement Yuri Gubarevich, who was previously sentenced to 15 days in prison for a picket at the Komarovka marketplace, and the musician Aleksandr Tabolich, who failed to collect 100,000 signatures, withdrew their candidacies by 19 June, the last day for submitting signatures to be nominated as a candidate. Four other potential candidates – Olga Kovalkova, Vladimir Nepomnyashchikh, Yuri Gantsevich, and Nikolai Kozlov – failed to submit the signatures and the necessary documents to the Central Election Commission.
22 June. Members of the government try to talk to people
It seemed that the country’s top-ranking officials wanted to start a dialogue with the nation. The head of the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament Natalya Kochanova was the first one. She met with representatives of election campaign teams of alternative candidates in Baranovichi, Brest Oblast on 17 June. She said the head of state had instructed her to find out what people did not like about the current government. She cautioned against street protests, defended the government’s handling of the pandemic problem, and talked about the society’s broad support for Aleksandr Lukashenko.
On 22 June Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Brest as part of the commemoration of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. He met with leaders of the local residents who protested against the construction of a battery factory in the region for the first time in two years of protests. He promised to arrange a referendum to decide the fate of the battery factory after the presidential election and assured that the factory would not be commissioned. In early 2019 the local protesters contacted the Brest District administration and suggested holding a local referendum but the proposal was shot down. Eight months before meeting with the protesters Aleksandr Lukashenko made derisive comments about them in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.
30 June. Verification of signatures
On 30 June the Central Election Commission finished verifying the signatures that had been submitted by the potential candidates. Nearly 2 million signatures collected by Aleksandr Lukashenko’s team were verified. Viktor Babariko came second with slightly more than 165,000 verified signatures although his team said they had submitted about 365,000 signatures. It turns out the CEC failed to recognize about 200,000 signatures as valid. The CEC also recognized as valid about 105,000 signatures collected by one of the top three alternative presidential candidates – Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. The CEC stopped Valery Tsepkalo’s election campaign by recognizing as valid only slightly more than 75,000 signatures out of the 160,000 signatures his team had submitted.
For some reason the CEC recognized as valid more signatures than the other three potential candidates submitted. The difference in signatures submitted by Anna Kanopatskaya and recognized as valid by the Central Election Commission was 36,000. The difference in Sergei Cherechen’s signatures was 37,000. Andrei Dmitriev said he had submitted 107,000, the CEC recognized 106,841 signatures as valid, yet it had been reported that at least several hundreds of the signatures he had collected in the regions had been recognized as invalid. These three candidates demonstrated different reactions to the discrepancies: Anna Kanopatskaya and Andrei Dmitriev said they had submitted more signatures than it had been reported while Sergei Cherechen said it was not up to the candidates to give answers to such questions.
14 July. The registration of candidates
The registration was scheduled for 14 July. Lawyers and authorized representatives of Viktor Babariko were made familiar with the document verification results in the Central Election Commission. Everything was fine. Nevertheless, the election organization agency failed to register Viktor Babariko as a presidential candidate. A letter sent by the State Control Committee was read out by Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Lidia Yermoshina. The letter read that Viktor Babariko’s earnings had been moved out of the country. The letter drew attention to some 9 million U.S. dollars in dividends and mentioned expensive paintings and apartments. According to Lidia Yermoshina, Viktor Babariko had failed to mention these valuables in his income declaration. The letter also mentioned that Belgazprombank employees, who were part of Viktor Babariko’s election campaign team, used the bank’s resources for campaigning. In particular, they used company phones and office equipment as well as company cars. These facts were classified as the involvement of a foreign organization and foreign funding in his election campaign.
Valery Tsepkalo was denied registration as a presidential candidate due to the lack of signatures (100,000 signatures is the limit). There was also another factor: his wife Veronika Tsepkalo failed to mention in her income declaration that she owns some Priorbank stock. The CEC also came up with reasons to deny registration to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: she had failed to mention a house in Gomel Oblast in her declaration. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya explained that her husband was disputing the status of his house, the documents had been seized as part of the investigation and she had been unable to obtain new ones without the power of attorney. In the end she was granted registration as a presidential candidate. Anna Kanopatskaya, Andrei Dmitriev, and Sergei Cherechen were also registered as presidential candidates. The same evening the nation responded to the news from the Central Election Commission with street protests. The largest one took place near the CEC’s HQ in Minsk. People gathered in various locations across Minsk to stand in solidarity chains, chanting slogans. Hundreds of people were arrested. Some of them definitely suffered from police brutality. Some protesters clashed with police personnel. The protesters dispersed only late in the evening.
15 July. People queue to file complaints with the CEC
The next day after the registration of candidates and after the street protests hundreds of people showed up to personally file complaints with the Central Election Commission about the agency’s refusal to register Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo as presidential candidates. People could see they would be unable to accomplish the task before the CEC was closed for the day. They still stood in line in order to show their resolution to fight to the end for their rights. Police and prison trucks showed up in the evening. People were advised to disperse by 7 pm. Those who stayed after 7 pm were arrested, including a U.S. citizen. The next day the CEC announced that complaints from citizens will be received only by mail except for complaints submitted by candidates and their authorized representatives. Only about 150 people managed to file their complaints in person. The CEC received a total of over 5,000 complaints as a result of the denied registration.
16 July. Female trio
On 16 July the election campaign teams of Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo, who had been denied registration, said they would join efforts with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s team. The initiative was put forward by Viktor Babariko’s team. The final agreement was worked out after five main principles were formulated: the combined team will encourage Belarusians to vote only on 9 August [the main ballot day], the team will demand the release of prisoners convicted of political crimes and economic crimes, the team will demand a repeated presidential election, will inform voters about ways to protect their votes, and will participate in initiatives meant to secure an honest election.
Although the teams agreed to coordinate each other’s actions instead of fully merging, it was still an important event because alternative politicians and opposition politicians had been unable to come up with a single candidate and back each other’s efforts for years. The picture of the three Graces – the head of Viktor Babariko’s team Maria Kolesnikova, Veronika Tsepkalo (the wife of a presidential candidate who had been denied registration), and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – was published by all Belarusian mass media outlets and many major foreign mass media. Their finger gestures (heart, clenched fist, and victory) also became symbols of the protest movement.
19 July. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s first rally
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s first rally took place in Dzerzhinsk, Minsk Oblast on 19 July. The candidate was not really accustomed to being in the center of public attention. This is why Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo supported her. The scenario of the rally was polished a bit later to become the standard for other rallies later on. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya talked about her husband and his fight. She said she sought nomination only in response to his arrest. Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo talked about the problems plaguing the country and about the five principles the three election campaign teams had been united around.
“New sincerity” became part and parcel of the presidential election campaign. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s total lack of experience attracted voters instead of pushing them away. The women encouraged Belarusians to become observers to watch elections at polling stations. They talked about the development of an IT solution that will help minimize attempts to falsify votes – the Golos [Voice – Ed.] platform. The rally attracted hundreds of people in the small town of Dzerzhinsk (home of 28,253 people according to the 2019 population census). Care for the regions also become another noticeable trait of the election campaign.
21 July. Candidates speak on TV
Every five years as part of a presidential election Belarusians are allowed to learn about the opposition’s point of view and hear criticism of the government on state television and radio in accordance with election legislation. Every candidate could appear on TV twice for a total of 30 minutes of air time. All of them grabbed the opportunity except for the current president. On 21 July, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya appeared on TV to talk about what the state television doesn’t not tell its viewers: Lukashenko’s low ranking, nationwide protests, crackdown on protesters, the much larger death toll due to the coronavirus pandemic. She also mentioned five tenets of the opposition’s joint election campaign team.
Andrei Dmitriev criticized the government for telling Belarusians to wait out the hard times, for knowing nothing about people’s problems anymore, and for thinking it knows what the nation needs. Sergei Cherechen said that medics should make decisions about pandemic-related matters instead of the Belarus President Administration. Anna Kanopatskaya talked about demographic problems and economic problems, suggested ways to resolve them, and talked about the European way of development Belarus should follow.
Changes in Tikhanovskaya’s hometown
In January 2020 Sergei Tikhanovsky visited the town of Mikashevichi, Luninets District, Brest Oblast where his wife grew up. After talking to the locals he concluded that more than half of the population supported Aleksandr Lukashenko and would vote for him during the presidential election. Judging by what a TUT.BY reporter saw in late July, the situation in Mikashevichi changed. Now Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was the candidate to vote for. Many of the locals recalled her as an active and diligent school student from an ordinary family, whose mother worked as a chef and whose father worked as a driver. People in Mikashevichi just like people in many other parts of the country took politics to heart even though many had not cared to have anything to do with it previously.
29 July. 33 soldiers from Wagner’s private military company
On the night of 29 July, 33 citizens of Russia, participants of Wagner’s private military company, were arrested in the Belorusochka sanatorium near Minsk. It was claimed that they had intended to destabilize the situation in the country in the run-up to the presidential election and that over 200 soldiers had already infiltrated Belarus. 33 Russians were accused of organizing riots and were linked to the criminal case of Sergei Tikhanovsky and Nikolai Statkevich. Russia assured that the Russian citizens had entered Belarus only in transit to a Latin America country. Aleksandr Lukashenko claimed Belarus was their final destination and claimed he knew whose orders they had been following. Ukraine asked Belarus to extradite some of the private military company’s soldiers who had fought as part of illegal armed units in Ukraine’s Donbass. But soon after the presidential election the Russians were allowed to quietly leave the country. Vladimir Putin described their arrest in Belarus as an operation staged by Ukrainian and American intelligence agencies. Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov described the 200 soldiers mentioned by the Belarusian government as 200 extremists trained in Ukraine.
30 July. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s massive rally in Minsk
The next day after the soldiers from Wagner’s private military company were arrested, State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Andrei Ravkov summoned the presidential candidates and warned that it would have an effect on the election campaign. This is why Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s rally in Druzhby Narodov Park in Minsk on 30 July was accompanied by increased security measures. It looked more like a music festival than an election campaign event – a number of singers and music bands performed at the rally. It was the largest rally on record prior to the election. According to human rights organizations, about 63,000 people turned up for the rally. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, slightly more than 18,000 people went through security gates fitted with metal detection wands.
4 August. Lukashenko refuses to give away his “loved one”
On 4 August Aleksandr Lukashenko delivered an address to the parliament and the nation in the Palace of the Republic. The address lasted for an hour and a half and was full of emotions. In his speech he reiterated that Belarus had chosen the right way of fighting the coronavirus, promised to double salaries, mentioned that young Belarusians are lightminded and don’t know what they will face. In regard to the Constitution, he asked the audience: “I am not a saint, but are you ready to hand over these powers to another person with this Constitution?” The audience of about 2,500 people applauded the end of his speech for three minutes. After saying that he loved Belarus, and “you don’t give away your loved one” Aleksandr Lukashenko left. Lukashenko did not look too well during the speech. He explained it later by saying he had been infected with the coronavirus.
6 August. DJs of changes
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s election campaign team planned to hold a large rally in Minsk on 6 August. However, the authorities decided to use the same venue to celebrate Railway Troops Day ahead of schedule. Various events were also taking place in five other venues where presidential candidates could hold their rallies and meetings. As a result, Tikhanovskaya’s team ddecided to visit a Doors Open Day of supplementary education institutions in Kiyevsky Garden Square. Something went wrong at this pro-government event when the DJs started playing the song We Want Changes by Viktor Tsoi. DJs Kirill Galanov and Vlad Sokolovsky were arrested the same evening and sentenced to 10 days of administrative arrest the next day. They became one of the symbols of the protest movement in Belarus. Soon after they were released, they had to move to Lithuania due to threats and pressure on the part of police. They still hope to return to Belarus.
9 August. The ballot day
On 9 August, a massive number of people turned up at polling stations in Minsk, in the regions, and abroad in order to cast their votes. People spent hours in several kilometers long queues to cast their votes. Reports from some stations indicated that ballots were in short supply while voter turnout exceeded 100%, according to independent observers. People did not manage to cast their votes before the polling stations were closed at 8 pm. While at some polling stations in Minsk: some of the voters were driven off by riot police, in other polling stations election commissions decided to keep working after 8 pm. Chairwoman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Natalya Kochanova visited a polling station.
By the end of the day, many Belarusians reported they no longer had access to mobile internet service. Belarus was virtually cut off from the the World Wide Web by 10 pm, including wired internet access. Internet outage lasted for three days. Instant messaging apps were in trouble as well as the country’s top mass media: TUT.BY, Onliner.by, Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belarusi (kp.by), Nasha Niva, and many other ones. State-run TV announced preliminary exit poll results, Aleksandr Lukashenko had a landslide victory – 79.7%. Meanwhile, voters kept crowding at polling stations waiting for the official results, which every polling station commission is supposed to announce after votes are counted. Some of the commissions pronounced Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as the winner. In some cases, the difference between her results and Lukashenko’s was impressive. Tensions grew.
The night after the ballot day
The presence of additional police and security forces in Minsk became obvious by the evening. Military patrols were deployed on roads leading to the city. Police set up cordons on central streets. Public transport was out of service in some areas of Minsk. Several metro stations were closed. At about 9 pm, thousands of people started gathering between Nemiga Street and Minsk – Hero City Obelisk as well as the surrounding area. The key events of the evening unfolded there: people came out into the traffic way, police pushed people from the area near Nemiga Street. People tried to set up barricades using garbage cans and metal fences near the Minsk – Hero City Obelisk. Police used water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and flashbangs against the crowds.
The number of casualties started climbing. Some of the injuries were grave: a police truck ran over a group of people and several of them were injured. Riot police used batons. People, who had been forced to leave Pobeditelei Avenue, moved towards Pobedy Square, faced riot police there as well and were arrested. The clashes stopped only near dawn. Such protests also took place in all the oblast capitals. The most serious clashes with police personnel and security forces happened in Brest. Many people took to the streets to protest in Polotsk and Novopolotsk, Bobruisk, Soligorsk, Volkovysk, Baranovichi, Kobrin, Zhodino, and Molodechno. The next day the Internal Affairs Ministry said that protests had taken place in 33 cities across the country and about 3,000 people had been arrested.
10 August. Results of the election
In the morning on 10 August, Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Lidia Yermoshina announced results of the election. According to preliminary data, Aleksandr Lukashenko scored 80.23% of the vote, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 9.9%, Andrei Dmitriev 1.04% (60,453 people), Anna Kanopatskaya 1.68% (97,926 people), Sergei Cherechen 1.1% (65,784 people). As many as 6.02% of the voters voted for none of the above. Several days later the Central Election Commission published the final data. The distribution of votes changed insignificantly: Aleksandr Lukashenko scored 80.1% of the vote while Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.1%.
The heads of state of China, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Moldova, Armenia, Turkey, Venezuela, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Syria congratulated Aleksandr Lukashenko on winning the election. At the same time the European Union refused to recognize results of the presidential election in Belarus. The OSCE said the election did not meet democratic standards. UK Secretary of State Dominic Raab said the election had been falsified and stated his country did not recognize the results as valid. Ukraine was more diplomatic and noted the results are mistrusted by the Belarusian society.
The first fatal casualty
Street protests on 10 August were at least as massive as those on the ballot day’s night. People once again gathered around Nemiga Street but the key events took place in the area of the metro station Pushkinskaya and the shopping center Riga. Once again thousands of people took to the streets. Some stood in the traffic way, some set up barricades. Police used flashbangs, rubber bullets, and water cannons against them. Another 2,000 people were arrested all over Belarus within 24 hours. Police crackdown resulted in the first fatal casualty – Aleksandr Taraikovsky. Internal Affairs Ministry sources said the protester was trying to throw an improvised explosive device at police personnel, the device exploded prematurely and killed him.
However, witnesses stated there was no device and nothing exploded in his hands. His death certificate reads that the cause of death was an open wound of the chest and massive bleeding. A video was posted later. It shows the man is holding his chest with his hands, a huge red blot on his chest grows larger, and there is nothing in his hands. Aleksandr Taraikovsky’s funeral took place on 15 August. A huge number of people turned up for the ceremony. Thousands came to the place where he had been killed. The man was 34 years old, he had a three-year-old daughter. A spontaneous memorial appeared at the site of his death – people would lay flowers, street workers would remove them at night, and people would bring more flowers the next day. The authorities tried many methods to remove the inscription “We will not forget” and succeeded in the end. An investigation into Aleksandr Taraikovsky’s death is still in progress. No criminal case has been opened.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s departure to Lithuania
On 10 August, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and her lawyer came to file a complaint with the Central Election Commission CEC). She spent several hours in a meeting with representatives of government agencies. She left the building alone and unnoticed via another exit. The same day the KGB chief Valery Vakulchik stated that police and security personnel guarded the joint election staff on the ballot day in order to prevent an attempt on the life of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. The next day it was revealed that Tikhanovskaya is in Lithuania. A video was published where she was reading the script from a piece of paper and appealed to her supporters to stop street protests. It was suspected that she had not recorded the video while acting out of her own free will. In her words, she will return to Belarus once she understands that she and her family will be safe and secure in Belarus. For now Svetlana Tikhanovskaya meets with European and American diplomats. Representatives of the Russian Federation are unwilling to talk to her for now.
11 August. The second fatality
Protests on 11 August were not as massive as those held the days before but riot police and security forces still cracked down on them as heavily. Most of the protesters in Minsk were either driven off or arrested by 1 am. Police arrested them in backyards of apartment buildings. Police even broke down doors in order to arrest the protesters that had fled and had been hiding. Some police officers shot rubber bullets at windows when people stunned by police brutality were berating them. About 1,000 people were arrested all over the country that day. The second protester died in Gomel on that day. Aleksandr Vikhor was arrested on 9 August when he was on the way to his girlfriend.
His parents searched for him for several days but could not find any information. When they tried to file a missing person report on 12 August, police officers told them their son was dead as of 11 August. It turned out he was arrested and sentenced to 10 days in prison for participating in street protests. His health drastically deteriorated while in prison. He died in hospital. According to Aleksandr Vikhor’s sister, a police investigator told the family that Aleksandr Vikhor had died of drug overdose. The family was shocked to hear it because the victim did not even smoke. The death certificate mentions no cause of death, only “the cause of death is being ascertained.” The Investigative Committee noted that the case is being investigated, no obvious cause of death was determined
upon examining the body, no criminal case has been opened.
12 August. Women take to the streets
Protests and arrests continued in Belarus on 12 August, with about 700 people arrested on the fourth day of the protests. But on this day Belarusians switched to peaceful protests – flowers, posters, and mass rallies – that has continued up till now. Women all over country took to the streets on 12 August in order to protest against the cruelty of police personnel and security forces. Medics joined in the protests as well.
14 August. The Coordination Council
While in Lithuania on 14 August Svetlana Tikhanovskaya declared the establishment of the Coordination Council. The body was supposed to enter into negotiations with the current Belarusian government and discuss the peaceful transfer of authority. She stated that representatives of the general public, respected and prominent Belarusians, professionals would sit on the council.
Representatives of the joint election campaign team assured that the Coordination Council did not intend to seize power and had no political program. The first session of the Coordination Council took place on 19 August. It was stated that the council had been unable to get in touch with the Belarus President Administration. It was stated that the council’s Presidium had been elected. The Presidium
included Maria Kolesnikova, the Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksiyevich, the lawyer Lilia Vlasova, a member of the strike committee of the tractor company MTZ Sergei Dylevsky, Viktor Babariko’s election team’s lawyer Maksim Znak, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s authorized representative Olga Kovalkova, and the former director of the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theater Pavel Latushko.
Pavel Latushko was fired when on 13 August he openly declared his support of the theater’s employees, who demanded that police brutality must be stopped and votes must be recounted. Pavel Latushko stated that the internal affairs minister and officers responsible for the police brutality must be fired. Later on he signed an address to the nation and the army about the situation in the country. A former Culture Minister and diplomat, Pavel Latushko was one of the few civil servants to take such steps. State-run mass media claimed the Coordination Council had a program of drastic actions, which included the severing of ties with Russia, the banning of Russian as a state language, and massive economic reforms. The staterun mass media claimed the program had been briefly available on the internet and had been promptly deleted. However, representatives of the Coordination Council denied that such a program had existed. On 20 August, the prosecution service stated a criminal case had been opened into the fact of public appeals for the seizure of power. Members of the Coordination Council were summoned for questioning, including the writer and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Aleksiyevich. All members of the Coordination Council’s Presidium have been forced to leave the country or are in prison.
Victims of police brutality
The first few hundreds of people arrested for participating in street protests after the election were released from prison at the end of the first week after the election. They told they had been beaten up during arrest, they talked about exhaustion due to the lack of sleep, food, and water. They said prison cells had been packed way beyond their capacity. There was standing room only in some cells. There was no room left in some other cells and the arrestees were forced to spend their nights in prison courtyards. Nearly all of them needed medical aid. Parts of their bodies were blue and black due to bruises. People talked about torture, including with tasers and police batons.
They talked about moral humiliation and intimidation. A majority of the released arrestees blamed riot police, not prison guards for the atrocities. However, some people were worse off: they had severe injuries, they were injured during protests with rubber bullets, flashbangs or simply beaten mercilessly with police batons, some were in intensive care units, some were brought to hospitals from police stations or the pretrial detention center in Okrestin Street. They said police had pulled no stops to punish them. About 7,000 people were arrested in the first few days of the protests. By the end of August human rights activists had collected information about more than 450 cases of severe beatings and torture by law enforcement officers. However, no criminal case into the wrongdoings has been opened so far.
Mutual assistance and volunteers
More and more Belarusians started helping each other for free in the course of the election campaign. Some noted that Belarusians have never been more united and a nation has been born. Since the very start volunteers have been working as part of election teams of the candidates and even worked as their security. A huge number of people responded to the Honest People initiative’s call to become independent observers at polling stations. Volunteers also helped develop software and process data for the online platforms Golos and Zubr. Crowdfunding helped support the people who were fired for expressing their political views.
Crowdfunding is still used to help people pay fines for taking part in rallies. Volunteers also helped medics deal with casualties during the police crackdown across the country. A large number of concerned people camped outside the pretrial detention center in Okrestin Street because they understood that released prisoners will need help. People were often released without their personal belongings: their keys, phones, and money were still in police custody. The volunteers fed these people, gave them mobile phones to call their friends and relatives, provided medical aid, psychological aid, and legal aid. They gave them car rides for free as well. Priests of various religions talked to the released prisoners. Friends and families of the prisoners often needed help, too. No one in particular organized the volunteer camp. It emerged spontaneously.
16 August. Rallies against and pro government
The most massive protests and political activities in the history of Belarus were registered on the first Sunday after the election. A rally in support of Aleksandr Lukashenko took place in Nezavisimosti Square in Minsk at noon. Scores of buses and several trains were chartered to bring people from all parts of the country to this rally. Not all of them volunteered to participate in it: some were told they would be fired if they declined this invitation. Aleksandr Lukashenko addressed those present with an emotional speech: he talked about accomplishments, threats, about the minority that has to defer to the opinion of an overwhelming majority. One particular moment was remarkable: when Aleksandr Lukashenko asked those present whether they wanted freedom and changes, they chanted no.
However, a different kind of people gathered in Minsk, the oblast capitals and district capitals to protest against the government’s actions. People gathered in groups in different parts of Minsk and then moved to the Minsk – Hero City Obelisk and to Nezavisimosti Square. Many of them carried white-red-white flags. The most popular chant of the day was “Go away!”. Maria Kolesnikova joined the protesters. According to TUT.BY’s estimates, the number of people who gathered near the Minsk – Hero City Obelisk for this rally peaked at about 220,000. Some analysts said it was 300,000 taking into account the fact that some people went away while others replaced them. No public event in the entire history of the country had gathered that many people. The same methods put the number of people participating in the pro-government rally at 12,600 to 31,000 although the Internal Affairs Ministry claimed it was as high as 65,000. It is much more difficult to calculate the number of people who participated in rallies in other parts of the country that day.
Brest mayor meets people face to face
Many thousands of people participated in protest rallies in Brest, but Brest Mayor Aleksandr Rogachuk and top officials of the Brest Oblast Police Department, the city branches of the public prosecution service and the Investigative Committee came out to meet with the protesters. According to human rights activists, about 30,000 Brest residents congregated in Lenina Square on that day. People demanded that those responsible for police crackdown on protesters in the first days after the presidential election, the violent and brutal treatment of arrestees, and those responsible for forging the election results be brought to justice. Individual people in the crowd would shout their demands. People could also state their demands via a dedicated microphone. However, responses of the civil servants who stood behind a metal fence under the protection of police officers were less than satisfactory: the officials said no orders had been given to torture prisoners, no vehicles without plates and police insignia were used by police in the city. Nevertheless, they promised to do everything necessary to get the arrestees released as soon as possible. As a result, about 200 people were released from Brest Pretrial Detention Center No.7 by the next morning.
17 August. Strikes and walkouts
Rumors about strikes or intentions to stage protests at major enterprises started spreading couple of days after the election. Employees of the country’s largest industrial enterprises acted fast by setting up strike committees. The workers organized massive rallies at their enterprises and joined other protest actions. The common demands included calls for the end of violence, punishment of the guilty, and the organization of a new presidential election. Solidarity actions and partial suspension of operation took place at the potassium mining company Belaruskali, the oil refinery Naftan, the heavy truck manufacturer MZKT (the director of the company told the workers that Lukashenko had not won the election), the tractor manufacturer MTZ, the truck and bus company MAZ, the steel mill BMZ, the haul truck company BelAZ, and the chemical companies Polotsk-Steklovolokno and Polymir.
Belarusians donated money to support the workers on strike. Aleksandr Lukashenko had an opportunity to see firsthand what the workers felt when he visited MZKT and talked to the workers on 17 August. He travelled to the enterprise by helicopter. He told the workers that strikes and walkouts would result in serious losses for the economy and 150-200 people at a handful of companies at best were participating in them. The workers responded to that by chanting “Go away!”. Aleksandr Lukashenko refused to do anything under pressure and said: “Until you kill me, there will be no other elections.”
19 August. One more fatal casualty
Another victim of police brutality died on 19 August – a 44-year-old Gennady Shutov, father of five, the youngest son is only three years old. He suffered a gunshot to the head near the Moskovsky District administration during protests in Brest on 11 August. The Internal Affairs Ministry stated that police officers had been assaulted by aggressive people armed with rebars. Warning shots didn’t stop them, this is why lethal force was authorized, and one of the assailants was injured. Later on the Investigative Committee noted there had been two assailants and they had been trying to wrestle issue weapons from the police officers.
Eyewitnesses told a different story: the man did not demonstrate any aggression, did not get involved in any conflicts, and was just walking along the street. People who saw him die believe someone on the roof of a nearby building could have shot him. The Shutovs could not find their father for two days. Then they were told he was in the Brest Oblast Hospital. Soon after that he was moved to an army hospital in Minsk by helicopter. According to Gennady Shutov’s daughter, the victim suffered a massive brain injury and medics could not remove the bullet fast possibly because it was a rubber one and therefore hard to detect on an x-ray machine. Gennady Shutov died. His body was not released to the family right away because some expert evaluations were necessary. The man was buried in the town of Zhabinka. About 100 people turned up for the funeral.
22 August. Enemies everywhere
Throughout the summer Aleksandr Lukashenko was saying that Belarus had been surrounded by enemies. Russia and the USA were mentioned as the main ill-wishers before the election. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that he had been expecting bad things from any side. “Honestly speaking and I don’t think you will tell me anything new: we don’t know what they are capable of. We don’t even know who they are. They are either Americans and NATO, or someone from Ukraine, or our eastern brothers love us that much. We don’t know that. A hybrid war has been launched against Belarus and we should expect dirty tricks from any side. We are doing just that,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted on 6 August. The line of reasoning changed radically after the election – Russia was no longer described as a partner but an elder brother. One by one Aleksandr Lukashenko accused Czechia, Poland, UK, Ukraine, Netherlands, Lithuania, Latvia, USA, the European Union as a whole, and NATO of controlling the street protests. Poland took most of the blame: Aleksandr Lukashenko accused the Polish government of trying to snatch Grodno Oblast from Belarus. On 22 August Aleksandr Lukashenko said he had decided to put most of the army units on full alert.
23 August. Lukashenko with an assault rifle
Street protests took place all over Belarus once again on 23 August. The march in Minsk was traditionally the largest rally. It was remarkable due to two things: army units surrounded the Minsk – Hero City Obelisk with a razor wire and a light troop cordon and Aleksandr Lukashenko strutted in front of riot police while carrying an assault rifle. Surprises came in early. With the Minsk – Hero City Obelisk at his back, Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin stated that army units would act if public order broke down in places that every Belarusian holds sacred. The stele and the Great Patriotic War history museum were encircled with razor wire and light military cordons. Thousands of people marched towards the Palace of Independence, the workplace of the president, where they encountered a riot police cordon. The protesters chanted their slogans for some time, turned around and went back where they had come from. After the crowds disperses, Aleksandr Lukashenko carrying an assault rifle came out of the palace. He was followed by his 15-year-old son Nikolai in full tactical gear, a bullet vest, and carrying an assault rifle. Aleksandr Lukashenko thanked the riot police for a job well done. They applauded their president.
The regions won’t shut up
Protests continued not only in Minsk but the regions as well. People continued taking part in street protests. For instance, several thousand people participated in a rally in Gomel on 23 August, however, the local authorities went to great lengths to impede their progress: Lenina Square was chock full of agricultural machines and fire trucks, Vosstaniya Square was cordoned off and an attempt to arrange a trade fair over there was made, a makeshift exhibition of children’s paintings was arranged near the circus.
30 August. A sad birthday for Mr President
30 August — the 66th birthday for Aleksandr Lukashenko – was a Sunday, a day when protests in Minsk and the regions were particularly massive. This time the rally in Minsk looked like a carnival, its participants tried to outdo each other in creatively rethinking the significance of the date. The central streets and squares were blokced by police, army vehicles and police in tactical gear were deployed, mobile internet access was turned off, and a number of people were arrested. Dozens of thousands of people came to the Palace of Independence carrying their gifts for Aleksandr Lukashenko’s birthday: toy police trucks and helicopters, slippers (for killing cockroaches, Aleksandr Lukashenko was depicted as a cockroach early on during the election campaign), balloons with various inscriptions, posters, and flowers.
The protesters left all their presents in front of the palace. They also left a black coffin with flowers and a cardboard cockroach. Prominent Belarusian athletes carried a big banner displaying the slogan “Sportsmen stand together with the people”. Heavy rain ended the celebration late in the afternoon. When only a handful of protesters remained near the Palace of Independence, Aleksandr Lukashenko’s aide Nikolai Latyshenok approached them and tried to argue with them. He claimed the protesters did not represent the majority of the nation, the number of people taking part in street protests had been inflated, and police had not used excessive force against protesters. On that day Aleksandr Lukashenko once again posed in front of cameras while carrying arms. He didn’t go outside though.
31 August. Lukashenko tells priests to mind their own business
The government and religions had been walking hand in hand in Belarus for a long time but this summer demonstrated that Aleksandr Lukashenko is ready to tolerate the arrangement only as long as the priests stay out of politics. He made a few remarks after the head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church visited victims of police brutality in a hospital and after the head of the Belarusian Catholic Church met with Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Karayev. Both clergymen had repeatedly asked the government to stop violence. In response Aleksandr Lukashenko said he was surprised by the attitude. He told them to mind their own business. Aleksandr Lukashenko said that churches should stay out of politics and promised that the government would respond if the clergymen did not fall in line. The head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church resigned as a result.
He was replaced by someone who is more amenable to the government’s suggestions – Metropolitan Veniamin. The head of the Belarusian Catholic Church and a Belarusian citizen Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was coming back from Poland and was simply denied entry into Belarus. Later on Aleksandr Lukashenko explained the government had acted on a report that Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz might have more than one citizenship and that the head of the Belarusian Catholic Church had received certain assignments from the Polish government. Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz was denied entry to Belarus several days after riot police closed doors of the Red Church in Minsk and blocked people that had been fleeing the police inside the building as part of another crackdown on a protest rally. The Internal Affairs Ministry claimed the police officers had been protecting people praying inside the church from the angry outside crowd.
Sanctions of the Baltic states and turning to Russia
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia shared the European Union’s stance in favor of recognizing the presidential election in Belarus as invalid. The three countries banned 30 Belarusian officials from entering the countries. The list includes Aleksandr Lukashenko, Head of the Belarus President Administration Igor Sergeyenko and his deputies, Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Lidia Yermoshina and other CEC members, top officers and personnel of law enforcement and security agencies. The next day it was revealed that the three countries had agreed not to buy Belarusian electricity although back in June 2020 Aleksandr Lukashenko was confident it would never happen.
Latvia asked the International Ice Hockey Federation to relocate the 2021 ice hockey world championship to some other country. Minsk and Riga were supposed to co-host the championship. Aleksandr Lukashenko threatened right away that Belarus will no longer ship its freight via Lithuanian sea ports and will look for alternatives in Russia or Ukraine. The Belarusian foreign minister stated that asymmetric sanctions against the Baltic states were being worked out. Aleksandr Lukashenko started talking about Russians as partners and brothers once again. He noted that his reorientation towards the West was an idle speculation invented by mass media. He said that Belarus had never turned away from Russia.
1 September. The beginning of academic year
1 September saw protest actions staged by Belarusian university students. Students of the major universities in Minsk – BSU, MSLU, and other – took to the streets. They lined up in solidarity chains and marched along central street while riot police tried to stop and split them. In turn, students tried to steer around police cordons and chose the roads police had not expected them to use. Six reporters covering the protests were arrested as participants of the unauthorized rally despite they were clearly marked as mass media workers: they had the necessary identification papers and were wearing press vests. They remained under arrest for three days. Strange things happened during court hearings as prosecution witnesses testified under assumed names with balaclavas over their faces and had multiple inconsistences in their testimonies.
Changes in every courtyard
The protest movement started manifesting itself in bedroom communities where residents focused on symbols – white-red-white flags up to ten meters long or hoisted in hard-to-reach and unconventional locations and wall graffiti. The backyard surrounded by high rise buildings in Smorgovsky Trakt Road in Minsk was the most prominent example: police and utility workers regularly came to the place to paint over the graffiti of the DJs of changes, to get rid of white-red-white flags and white-red-white ribbons on fences. But the local residents promptly restored the graffiti and remade their backyard just the way they liked it. It is unclear how the clash of wills will end but the locals are persistent. People living in many other locations like that in Minsk finally had a reason to get to know each other better and get united in expressing their civil stance. Some even remarked that this kind of mutual assistance and peaceful discussions can result in the introduction of self-government in the end.
4 September. Nick and Mike
On 2 September, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov said that some bodies in Ukraine were hell-bent on provoking radical actions in Belarus and were even training extremists for deployment in Belarus. He noted that about 200 extremists had already penetrated the country. The next day Aleksandr Lukashenko fleshed out the story with new details. He accused Poland, Czechia, Lithuania, and Ukraine of masterminding protests in Belarus. A Russian delegation led by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin came to Minsk then. Representatives of the Belarusian government and the Russian one discussed the rerouting of Belarusian freight to Russian sea ports and the repayment of Belarusian debts for Russian natural gas (over USD 300 million).
While talking to the Russian premier, Aleksandr Lukashenko said Belarusian intelligence agencies had intercepted a conversation between Warsaw and Berlin. He claimed the conversation proved that the poisoning of the Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny two weeks before that was a hoax meant to discourage Putin from interfering in Belarus’ affairs. On 4 September, the intercepted conversation was published as an audio file with a Russian voiceover: Nick and Mike discussed whether materials concerning Navalny were ready, one of them admitted that Warsaw experienced difficulties in Belarus. Many experts and members of the general public were skeptical about the recording. Nick’s and Mike’s words about Belarus being a tough nut, about professionalism, organization, and the devotion of local government officials and the military to their president prompted jokes right away.
6 September. 100,000 on the streets again
Traditional Sunday protests took place all over Belarus on 6 September. The turnout in Minsk was unexpectedly massive despite the colder than usual weather and heavy rains. Once again people congregated as large groups from various parts of the city in order to become one rally that did not stay put at the Minsk – Hero City Obelisk but marched on directly to the Palace of Independence. The place had never seen that many people. According to TUT.BY estimates, at least 100,000 people turned up to protest outside Aleksandr Lukashenko’s workplace.
The Internal Affairs Ministry claimed at most 31,000 people took part in rallies across the country that day. When the rally was nearly over, police and security forces started sweeping up those, who stayed behind. People were beaten up. The chief of the Internal Affairs Ministry’s division in charge of fighting corruption and organized crime personally broke a glass door of a café to where some protesters had fled. Some rescue workers were also arrested for helping some protesters cross the Svisloch River after they jumped into the water while fleeing the police. A 12-year-old boy was also arrested for spray painting a picture on the pavement. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, police arrested a total of 633 people.
Coolheaded and restrained Belarusian police
Belarusian Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Karayev stated that Belarusian police is the most humane, restrained, and coolheaded. He recalled that police personnel had been injured as a result of protest actions and their injuries had been way worse than those of protesters. Yuri Karayev had been previously quoted as saying that 131 police officers had been injured and 28 of them had been still in hospitals. He said he had personally visited three injured police officers and during a protest he had talked to a police officer whose arm was broken. The official promised retribution to the perpetrators but noted that passers-by had nothing to fear.
Maria Kolesnikova dissapears
Unknown people were seen detaining Maria Kolesnikova in the morning on 7 September. Her whereabouts remained unknown. Communication was also lost later on with two members of the opposition’s Coordination Council – Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov. The next morning government mass media reported that Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov had fled the country the night before. The State Border Committee stated they had fled to Ukraine while Maria Kolesnikova had been caught. Aleksandr Lukashenko told reporters that the three people had been fleeing the country to Ukraine but Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov pushed Maria Kolesnikova out of the car on the move in no man’s land between the Belarusian border checkpoint and the Ukrainian one. Maria Kolesnikova had previously told her family and friends that there was no way she would leave the country under any circumstances.
Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov turned up in Kiev and told their story at a press conference: unknown individuals grabbed both of them on 7 September, they used threats and persuasion in order to force them and Maria Kolesnikova to leave the country for Ukraine. The men said that Maria Kolesnikova was forced to get into the car at the border but she tore up her passport, got out through a window because the doors were locked, and started walking towards Belarus. People participating in protests on 8 September had no idea where Maria Kolesnikova was. The protests were met with excessive force as usual but this time police started arresting women as well. Later on it was revealed that Maria Kolesnikova was detained by KGB officers in no-man’s land between the
Belarusian border and the Ukrainian one.
As of 4 November she is still in prison in the city of Zhodino. Belarusians still turn up for Saturday and Sunday rallies and smaller protest actions on weekdays. Police and security forces continue stepping up pressure little by little. Promises of using lethal force against protesters have been made.