Sept. 4, 2020 | By Ian Chalmers | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
Belarus has been marred by protests since the Aug. 9 presidential election. The election authorities claim that President Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, won with 80 percent of the vote. Opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, claimed she had won 60 to 70 percent based on results that had been properly counted, according to the BBC. Furthermore, Belarusian expatriates who cast their ballots at Belarus Embassies voted mostly for Tikhanovskaya. Among expatriates, she had more than 70 percent of the vote compared to Lukashenko’s meager 9 percent.
Peaceful protests in Belarus have turned violent as police clashed with protestors. Images and videos from the media and Belarusian opposition chats show the police shooting protestors with rubber bullets, beating protestors, and arresting them. At the beginning of the protests, there were instances when protestors outnumbered the police, and the police had to run away. In one video, a protestor yelled, “Фу! Раскы блять! Давай давай! Сука! Бергай! Бергай!” as they chased down the police (“Boo! Little bitches! Come on! Come on! Bitches! Run! Run!”). In the video, one person looking over their balcony praised the protestors for using Molotov cocktails.
Lukashenko then brought a full police crackdown on the protestors that resulted in mass arrests and torture, with one person even being run over by a police truck. In the past few weeks, however, support for the opposition seems to be growing. Peaceful protestors marched in Minsk, the capital and largest city in Belarus, holding flowers and waving the banned flag of Belarus, which has become a symbol for the opposition.
Workers at state-owned factories began to strike in response to the crackdowns, demanding that ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’ step down. This is a heavy blow to Lukashenko, as these workers are typically the crux of his support. Although Tikhanovskaya has taken refuge in neighboring Lithuania for the safety of her kids and husband, the protests have continued and garnered more support.
Lukashenko finds himself in a tough position. He is firm on remaining in power, despite his people wanting him gone. Protestors have chanted and written on signs “Уходи!” (“Leave!” or “Go away!”). President Putin “warned that he had formed a police reserve force to intervene in Belarus if necessary.” Additionally, the European Union “is set to impose new sanctions targeting Belarusian officials responsible for the brutal crackdown.”
So where is the United States in the middle of all of this? The answer: nowhere to be found. Apart from the meeting between Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen Biegun, and presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the U.S. has remained absent from the scene.
This could be in part because the Trump administration is facing some of the same problems as Lukashenko. For starters, the two presidents have both downplayed the severity of COVID-19, with President Trump only recently starting to take the virus seriously.
While President Trump may not be facing protests to remove him from office (we will have to see how the November election plays out), there have been massive protests over police brutality and racial injustice across the country for months now. His stance on the issue of police brutality, as well as his thoughtless action to clear protestors in D.C. for a photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church, shows the U.S. is dealing with its own domestic crisis.
The U.S. will have a chance to respond to the crisis in Belarus on Sept. 4 when Tikhanovskaya will be speaking at the United Nations Security Council. They are unlikely to react in any major way, thereby giving the reins to Europe.
Should the U.S. intervene, it would most likely follow in the footsteps of its European counterparts by issuing sanctions. As we saw in Russia back in 2014, sanctions did not necessarily work and did little to hamper the Russian government or oligarchs as the oil industry continued to grow.
The people of Belarus are going through an arduous time as they fight for their freedom. My heart goes out to all the people protesting as well as those who have been beaten and threatened by the Belarusian police. Жыве Беларусь (Long live Belarus).