THOUSANDS OF PROTESTERS TEAR-GASSED IN BELARUS
“An authoritarian style of rule is characteristic of me, and I have always admitted it"
Europe’s longest-serving ruler Alexander Lukashenko has served as the President of Belarus for 26 years and is now, once again, contesting for President. But he is facing serious opposition and protests across the country.
These uprisings have come to be known as the Slipper Protests or the Anti-Cockroach Revolution owing its name to protesters that wield slippers to squash the autocratic “cockroach” who in this case, is none other than Alexander Lukashenko.
As per the Belarusian Constitution, a President can serve for a maximum of two terms, but due to a change in the constitution in 1994, term limits were eliminated and Alexander Lukashenko has been the President ever since.
The constitutional change gave him additional powers to appoint one-third of the Upper house of the Parliament.
The President always supported communist principles and maintained a close association with communist factions in independent Russia. An authoritarian leader who opposed any sort of political and economic reforms, President Alexander led Belarus into isolation from the outside world.
One opponent in the 2020 election was Sergei Tikhanovsky, a famous YouTuber who made his name by highlighting Belarus’ many problems. Two days after he announced his candidacy, President Alexander ordered his arrest on charges of violating public order and election laws.
To voice out this suppression, Sergei’s wife- Svetlana surprisingly announced her candidacy for President. Svetlana is a former English translator turned homemaker who has no political experience and didn’t want to be President, however she proved to be highly successful and ignited a nationwide movement to defeat the long time leader.
Alexander Lukashenko made sure that the people had no access to any form of online platform and on the day of voting, the internet was disrupted and unavailable on the following days in order to prevent the spread of news regarding polling irregularities and police brutality.
The Regime-run Election commission announced the results on Sunday and said Svetlana received only about 10% of the total votes. This took Svetlana by surprise because she shared a common dream with the majority of Belarusians and also because she garnered nearly 80% of the total votes in an unbiased exit poll.
Thousands of protesters, in support of Svetlana, poured onto the streets, demanding a fair re-election. Although, these peaceful demonstrators were met with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets shot by riot police forces. In retaliation, the protesters made use of crude petrol bombs and tried to build barricades between the police and themselves.
On one hand, Svetlana has made it clear to the public and media that she wouldn’t join the protests; President Alexander said that he wouldn’t back down and went on to call these protesters “mere sheep” who are being fuelled by “shadowy forces”.
Svetlana said that these moves and protests are a step towards an anti-Lukashenko future. She requested concerned authorities to peacefully hand-over power to them.
President of the European Commission Ursula Leyen has asked Belarus to publish the accurate poll results and has condemned the use of force against peaceful protesters. The Belarusian Interior ministry reported that the Police have detained over 3,000 people in Sunday’s Bloody Clashes and 2,000 more in the subsequent days.
While Alexander’s charade has drawn international criticism, it is the people who define what a nation stands for, and all we can do is hope that the Belarusian people will soon be free from the clenched fist of such an oppressive leader.
Reporter: Pranav M.