On 13 October, more than a thousand people took part in the March of Wisdom. The protesters walked along the avenue with flowers, banners, hand-made craft and even home-baked pastries. The match ended up with violent clashes: grandmothers stood up for the students who security forces tried to detain. The elderly did not step back even after flashgun cartridges and pepper spray were used against them. During the rally, TUT.BY asked them what they think about the situation in the country, why they take to the streets and what pension they believe is decent.
This time the number of pensioners was way bigger than the Monday before when there were about 200 people only, whereas now more than a thousand gathered. A few times on the way the procession of protesters had to slow down or stop and wait for those who couldn’t walk fast. Along the whole route, from the Red Cathedral to the Belarusian National Technical University, the elderly people were followed by special forces, but it didn’t scare or stop them.
TUT.BY readers often ask how pensioners get to know about the upcoming marches. We did ask them and the answer is: they are active users of Telegram, they are members of thematic “protest” chat rooms, they use social media networks and many have politically active children. Now let’s get back to why the seniors came out on protest marches.
So that grandchildren do not leave the country
In the procession of protesters we’ve noticed a woman with the poster saying “This is our forest, not your Arabic friends’!”. She is an engineer, Zoya Grigorievna [patronymic], aged 67. Before retiring she “had her own company”, she was engaged in urban upgrading. She explains why she has chosen such a banner and what made her take to the streets.
My homeplace is somewhere pass Logoisk, Pleshchinitsi village. When I went there to pick up some mushrooms in the forests it was like stepping on someone’s else land, the territory was like a fortress secured with a fence, dogs and barbed wire. These are the most amazing places but the area is empty. The land was just gifted to some Arab friends of the president, rented for 100 years as a hunting territory.
I don’t want my grandchildren to leave the country, I want them to stay here. My eldest grandson is working in the USA, I haven’t seen him for four years. He is young and talented, working in the IT indistry. Is there anything he can do here? My other two grandchildren are growing up and they are already looking into options to leave the country. Belarusians are patient but even patience has its limits. People see that the youth is leaving the country since there is no work here.
We, the pensioners, also would like to have a decent life. What is this to me? An opportunity to work all your life and to get a decent pension after retiring. But to be honest, we can put up with what’s happening now, we can see the current problems of the country, the economic hole we are in, we understand that pensioners are not the priority, so we are ok with getting our 200 USD per month for the sake of future changes. We would like to see a parliamentary republic, we are against usurpators, we are for separate institutes of power and law and for anti-crisis policies.
Just like all Belarusians, I am for fair elections and I am for my country to be free. Our dearest Belarus is located in the centre of Europe. It can be self-sufficient and prosperous and should not be some kind of poor and deadbeat republic. We have got resources, hard-working people and will to win. I have never voted for Lukashenko. When I first saw him on TV years back, I felt this immediate terrible repulsion against him. I wish it all had ended then.
It’s too scary to stay in this country
Tatiana, is 61 years old, she is carrying a flag of Armenia. The woman is a monumentalist artist. Tatiana’s husband is Armenian. She quickly explains her choice for the flag: she admires Armenian people for their bravery and she would like to support the country during the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Tatiana cannot be indifferent to the situation in her own country of Belarus.
I go out all the time since it’s impossible to put up with the current situation. I would like to see the changes. I want my children to live in a normal country. My two daughters live in the USA, the third one is heading to Cyprus because it’s too scary to stay here. She even says she is scared to be home alone. All these years with the president in power I have felt ashamed. I remember [Piotr] Masherov, I saw him in person at a dinner I attended and I can make a comparison. Back then Belarus was a respected republic but with Lukashenko becoming a president everything changed.
Last Sunday was terrible! What can your attitude to this violence be? In my opinion, it is already an agony. This year the protest has become so big because everyone knew he lost, everybody saw how many people came and how all of us voted. During these months we have reunited as a nation and have become very different! People will now vote for a new leader with much consideration. What was before cannot happen again. We have learnt from our mistakes.
I dont’ want to feel humiliated
Here is a very bright participant: in a T-shirt with ornament, with a trumpet, a ratchet and something like a portable sound box attached to his belt. This is Nikolay, he is 79. He is a former staff member of the laboratory of BSU, now the Head of Belarusian Philarmonic. The man looks a bit confused in the photo: the shot was taken after forces had used special weapons against the demonstartors. Prior to that Nikolay was in a festive mood and was chanting “Long live Belarus! .
I am happy because so many people went out onto the streets. How long can people be chased on the streets? These are people who lost their parents during the war and now they are losing their children. Today these people are walking with eyes full of tears. You can’t let those violent dispersals happen, it is inhumane.
I go out every Sunday for our people not to be tormented. I am against this government and I have always voted for others, not for Lukashenko. He may have done some good for the country but we can’t be humiliated for protesting. We have also done a lot for the country. He himself was standing under the white-red-white flag when he took an oath and now he is disgracing this flag. White-red-white is our history. They say “polizei” [the police, eng. Polizei was a common name for occupants on the territory of Belarus during the WW2] were using it but it was when our territory was occupied.
We are going out with no weapons, no cars, only with flowers. It is such a happy feeling! We should pray to God for the people who finally woke up! When you are 79, you really want to be happy! The country won’t be destroyed by a new president, vice verso, it will be united. I have been to other countries that have gone through revolutions and I can say that we are going to live even better. We must believe in it.
Fighting for freedom because “we never had it”
Two women were walking in the procession. Olga, with a red scarf, retired only a year ago. She brought her 84-year-old mother Yevdokiya Borisovna [patronymic] with her. Yevdokiya played the violin for 51 years in Kupalovskiy theatre and the latest events are causing her a lot of suffering.
I had been working in a theater until I turned 75. I could have still continued working there but I felt like travelling the world and seeing how other people live. Belarusian pensioners can’t afford to travel unless they have a part-time job, they can save up some money and go somewhere. My daughter and grandson helped me financially so that I can travel a bit. It was an absolute pleasure! The things happening in our country encourage people to go out to marches and speak up for themselves. Now this is our people’s will. The top demands are to release all political prisoners and to remove our “favourite” president, apparently. It’s about time he has a rest.
The white-red-white flag is no news to me, it is our flag. When we were performing “Paulinka” [a theatre play] in the 90’s outside the country, we went on stage with it. I read somewhere that the white-red-white is our first Belarusian flag whereas the red-green appeared when Belarus became one of the Soviet republics.
This election affected everyone. It was impossible to get through it. Especially, horrible things that happened at a detention center on Okrestin Street. What do these law enforcers say to their wives, children, mothers when they return home after working at those centres? How do they live on after that? When I was watching the marches from my balcony and asked people to come up closer and threw chocolate bars to them, I was chanting with them. I asked them not to leave, not to stop, I even wrote on Facebook: “We need you, we depend on you, you must demand your freedom”. Freedom is the most important value for a human being, for us in particular, because we have never had it before.
On 8 November, seniors and healthcare workers marched together again through Minsk streets demanding Alexander Lukashenko to step down, hold new and fair election, end violence against civilians and release all political prisoners. This is what it looked like today.