CEBU

The heroines of Belarus

By Erich Wannemacher

The Republic of Belarus is in eastern Europe between Poland and Russia. President Alexander Lukashenko was elected president in a democratic election in 1994 for five years. The Constitution allows one reelection, but anyhow he usurped the power in fraudulent ways in all six elections since.

What triggered the ire of the electorate were the abuses in the Aug. 9, 2020 elections in the lead-up of which Lukashenko had jailed or exiled all competitors including Sergei Tikhanovsky, pro-democracy activist and blogger (43 million views in a country of 9.5 million inhabitants). When on May 7 he announced his intention to run for president, he was arrested and jailed. Then his wife Svetlana Tikhanoyskaya applied for candidacy and surprisingly was registered to run. Macho Lukashenko holds that the Constitution provides for a strong president consequently a woman cannot do the job. A slur to all womankind!

The official outcome was 80 percent of votes for Lukashenko and 10 percent for Tikhanovskaya. But she claims to have won between 60 and 70 percent. Election watchdogs hold that they were not allowed to enter the locations where the ballots were counted so suspecting that they were not counted at all.

Warned by falsifications in the 2006 elections, where Lukashenko first claimed having garnered 93.6 percent of votes but then reduced its claim to 86 percent so that it would be “more credible to Europeans,” the opposition staged mass demonstrations. Meanwhile, each weekend demonstrations sprang nationwide with 500,000 participating in cities like Grodno, Magilew, Polotsk and Gomel . They reached into the 7th week.

When on Aug. 15, between 100,000 and 200,000 people flocked to the streets in the capital Minsk with their white-red-white revolution flags, riot police arrested many men and maltreated them in the prisons. Four of them died.

That was the moment when the women came in. They believed that the policemen would hesitate to beat peacefully demonstrating women. The protests worked on the third weekend, but during the weekend demonstrations, the masked forces also arrested many women.

Their strength is their number: Police can arrest several hundreds of them, but they cannot arrest 200,000 women. Intimidation is the tactic, but the wish for freedom and democracy is stronger than their fear. Standing up against a brutal autocratic dictator is a heroic decision. Linking arms, forming their chains of solidarity and shouted “Get off! Get off!”, these women weren’t afraid of the police.

The Minsk Opera mixed choir songs with the forbidden old Belarus National Anthem not only on the steps of the theater, but also in malls and squares.

Maria Kolesnikowa, organizer of Svetlana’s campaign, flashes the love heart sign with her hands smiling brightly at the aligned policemen. She was arrested, however, and escorted to the Polish border in order to get rid of her. A heroine, she became when instead of entering Poland and be safe, she escaped from the car and ran back to troubled Belarus to support the demonstrators. Official version: Maria was intercepted by Belarusian border agents when she tried to flee to Poland.

An amazing heroine is 73-years-old Nina Baginskaya, a grey-haired grandmother. A geologist by profession, she is highly beloved and respected. She was arrested countless times in countless demos since 1988 and stripped of her flags, but again and again, she sewed a new one parading it just the same. She coined the stunning phrase that is now used by all women when policemen get near: “I am just walking.” People line up for a selfie with her saying: Nina, you are our pride, you are our heroine.


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