The post-election protests in Belarus do not subside for exactly three weeks. On the last Saturday of summer, Grand Women’s March took place in Minsk. Besides, both anti and pro-government rallies were held across the country.
The day began with the fact that at least 19 journalists working for foreign media agencied were stripped of their accreditation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This means that now they will not be able to cover the news in Belarus legally. On Saturday, journalists were detained again.
Despite the appeal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to spend the last weekend of summer in nature, many people took to the streets of their cities.
In the first half of the day, two car rallies were held in the capital: one for the current government, the second — against. A column of motorcyclists with white-red-white flags also passed through the city. In the afternoon, fences were installed on three Minsk squares: Independence, Oktyabrskaya and Pobedy.
And about four o’clock, women of different ages began to gather on Victory square. Many women were with children and flowers, and some wore red and white clothing. Because of the fence, the protesters could not get to the square.
Besides hundreds of women who began to form a human chain of solidarity, there were journalists and policemen. The police warned the women that they were participating in an illegal mass event, and the women asked the police to introduce themselves.
— When I see the [police] uniform — I’m afraid. I’m afraid for myself, I’m afraid for my family. That’s why I’m here. We live in fear, we are afraid.
— Got it.
This was one of the dialogues between the participant of the action and the policeman. There were also paddy wagons with riot police. At some point, a legendary 73-year-old oppistion activist Nina Baginskaya appeared on Victory Square with a new flag in her hands. This caused increased attention both from other protesters and from the police.
Evidently, her appearance was the signal for the start of the movement. The column of women went along the right side of the Avenue from Pobedy square to the circus. Independcen Avenue was blocked. Central metro stations were closed and metro trains did not stop there.
By the circus, the further path was corndoned off by riot police. The women turned and walked in the opposite direction.
— To the Academy, – said the crowd.
– We don’t need to be accompanied, – the women shouted at the riot police and paddy wagons that followed them.
Maria Kolesnikova, a member of the Presidium of the Сoordination Council on power transition in Belarus, also joined the rally.
Young mother Irina is one of the participants of the March, she said that she was from a military family. Her father, uncle, and brother served in the military. Her father gave her a cap for the rsslly.
— How does he feel about the fact that you go to the rally?
— He supports me, – Irina answered. — My father and uncle are retired, so we go to many rallies together.
Irina has joined protests since 9 August. She said that when she was on actions, her parents insured and sitted with her two-year-old baby.
— I want to be free, – the woman explained why she came to the March. Finally, our Avenue was alive. It felt like a holiday, and I wanted it to continue. I wanted our people to show how cool and talented they were.
— Aren’t you afraid to be here?
— I was afraid at first, but now it’s ok, – the girl answered.
According to TUT.BY journalists, there were about 10,000 people in the columns moving along both sides of Independence Avenue. A drummer, passers-by and local residents cheered the passing women. By five o’clock, the protesters reached the main building of the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU).
There, the path was again blocked by riot police and the column turned 180 degrees around again.
— To Victory Square, – the wonen shouted, quickly transforming this slogan into “To Victory!”. They went on their way as if nothing had happened, accompanied by paddy wagons and a drone with a white-red-white flag.
However, at some point they changed their mind and turned to Komarovka market at Yakub Kolas square. On the way, the women managed to defend two men who were being detained by security officials in plain clothes, one of them was reportedly a journalist.
The atmosphere on the way to the market was like a holiday. Participants sang songs, shared water and chanted: “Tribunal” and “I’m walking here” (a phrase that belongs to 73-year-old Nina Baginskaya who had managed to escape detention during one of the protests).
Then the women turned onto Bogdanovich street, intending to walk to Nemiga.
About 18.30 pm riot police cordoned off the road on Vera Khoruzhaya street near a bus stop. About 20 people got on the trolleybus and it started moving. On Shevchenko Boulevard, the trolleybus was stopped by riot policemen. They jumped into the trolleybus full of people, including children.
As it turned out later, the riot police purposefully came for a guy and a girl. Eyewitnesses suggest that this could be because the man held the doors of the trolleybus, so that as many people as possible could get inside. Except for these two, no one else was detained in the trolleybus.
One of the most notable participants of the rally were Daria and Tatyana. The girls caarried white-red-white and red-green flags.
It turned out that they met only on that day on Victory Square. After seeing each other’s flags, they decided to combine them into one.
– Our people are not divided by flags, we are united, — explained Daria. — For some reason, people who go to state rallies think that we are going to change the symbols, but this is not the point. We are people like them, we just want to be free.
At the intersection of Bogdanovich and Vera Khoruzhaya Streets, riot police again blocked the way. Then the women turned again marching to Bangalore Square. There the column turned to the right in the direction of Independence Avenue.
Another barrier was the intersection of Surganov and Yakub Kolas Streets. Women were not allowed to walk to Independence Avenue. And they were forced to go to Yakub Kolas Street instead. About eight o’clock in the evening, the rally ended and the women went home.
Just at this time people started to sing Magutny Bozha [Oh God Almighty] and Pagonya [based on the poem of the same name by Maksim Bahdanovich] in the Dana Mall shopping center.