A year later, the Belarusian protesters between pride and exile

Victory had seemed so close to them. For the opponents of the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, August 2020 will remain the month of a mobilization without common measure in the history of the country, the moment when the power of the president will have wavered … and for a moment appeared to be s’ collapse.

A mobilization surrounded by “Ocean of positive, kindness, smile and love”, one of the main opposition figures, Maria Kolesnikova, of Russian opposition media Dojd recalled nostalgically on August 4. But a mobilization which was the subject of a brutal repression, managed to break the dispute: this Wednesday, in responding to Dojd, Maria Kolesnikova spoke herself from a detention center in Minsk, while waiting for the start of his trial for “Coup attempt”.

“It’s very strange to rethink all that, we wouldn’t have thought it would last so long” Stanislava Terentieva reflects aloud. A year earlier, this 27-year-old young woman was trampling in a polling station in Vitebsk, a northeastern city, where her status as an observer had placed her at the forefront of the massive frauds carried out by the authorities. She speaks today from Odessa, a seaside town in neighboring Ukraine. In the meantime, she has experienced five arrests, a search of her home, threats of indictment for terrorism and, finally, on July 4, flight. A fate that has become for a year that of thousands of activists and opponents.

The mood, in fact, is far from that of August 2020, when the regime’s repression in the face of the first – timid – signs of opposition to the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko had led to huge processions across the whole of the country. country. “We expected demonstrations, but not of this magnitude, and not so long” recalls Alexeï Chota, editor-in-chief of a local media outlet in Grodno, a western town not far from the Polish border.

A week after the August 9 election, more than 100,000 people, often wrapped in the traditional white and red flag of the opposition, take to the streets of Minsk. The next day, a visit by Alexander Lukashenko to the tractor factory in the capital came to an end: the president was booed by workers who were among the main beneficiaries of state capitalism set up by the autocrat.

The fall of the former director of kholkoze, in power since 1994, seems almost inevitable. “Lukashenko was saved because Russia, after a period of uncertainty, decided to support him”, believes Belarusian political scientist Artyom Shraibman.

Against all expectations and despite the protests that continue, Alexander Lukashenko holds. A year of repression followed which affected all strata of public life, from opponents to NGOs, including journalists and academia. The constant flow of arrests, threats and searches ends up weighing down: “After a series of searches in June, I had a moment of panic, I took my things, I got in my car and started driving towards the Polish border”, says Alexeï Chota. “And then I stopped halfway asking myself ‘what are you doing?’ And I went home ”. The situation is “Scary” he admits, but there is no question of talking about disappointment. “On the contrary, there is pride”, he assures.

“There is no disappointment”, also insists Stanislava Terentieva. Concern, yes, for those who remained in Belarus, she concedes, and then the feeling of having acted as a revealer of the true nature of the Belarusian regime. “People opened their eyes to the violence of which Lukashenko was capable”, she thinks. “Before, everyone was talking abroad about “Last dictator in Europe”, kind of like a joke. Today everyone knows how serious it is. “


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