Lukashenko facing the Belarusian opposition’s ultimatum

We are in September 2008. During a press conference, a journalist from the daily The Financial Times asks Alexander Lukashenko about his longevity in power. Matois, the Belarusian president replies that he will not try to convince him of his will not to hang on with both hands in power. “Because you can believe me or not believe me, he justifies. The real judge will be time ”.

His opponents have had enough of waiting

Twelve years later, time is no longer on his side. At the head of state for 26 years, and facing the largest protest movement in the history of his country, Alexander Lukashenko has finally promised that he will not cling to power until her hands turn blue ; but his opponents were fed up with waiting. After two months of peaceful protests in which hundreds of thousands of people participated, an ultimatum has been formulated: if the president does not resign on October 25, the opposition will paralyze the country.

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On October 26, all businesses will go on strike, all roads will be blocked, and state businesses will no longer sell anything », Assailed on October 13 Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, recognized by the opposition as legitimate president since the fraudulent re-election of Alexander Lukashenko on August 9, 2020. It is, according to her, to respond to the threat formulated a few days earlier to use lethal weapons against the demonstrators. It is also a means of establishing a balance of power with an authoritarian power which refuses for the moment any concession.

“The goal is to bring the mobilization one level above, explains to The cross Franak Viacorka, advisor to Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa. We increase the pressure, we raise the temperature. We want to push Lukashenko to make a mistake.

Opponents forced into exile

Fierce during the first demonstrations, the repression in the street has become less brutal over the weeks. However, the regime leaves no respite to movement. Abuse and arbitrary arrests continue, and opponents who are not detained have been forced into exile. So much so that Alexander Lukashenko recently discovered an unexpected problem: by dint of emptying himself, he finds himself today alone in front of a movement as massive as it is spontaneous, without an interlocutor to stage a dialogue.

It is therefore where he lodged them that the Belarusian president paid a surprise visit to his opponents on October 10: in a KGB prison. The meeting, during which a constitutional reform was discussed, resulted in the release of two businessmen close to the opposition. A gesture perceived by the public as an attempt to buy time by co-opting former enemies: a sign of weakness.

As for the constitutional reform project, it remains unacceptable in the eyes of an opposition stuck on its previous demands: the release of political prisoners and the organization of new elections. The ultimatum, two days later, came to record this impossible dialogue. It also serves to breathe new life into a movement which, if it has not lost its capacity for mobilization, is looking for a horizon.

The police remained loyal to the president

“There is a form of stagnation of the opposition, comments Anna Colin-Lebedev, lecturer at Paris-Nanterre University. We are witnessing a routinization of the movement, with these almost ritualistic events every Sunday. Opposite, Lukashenko adapts, and deploys a strategy of maintaining order in a sustainable context.

Despite hesitation and defections publicized by the opposition, the police have for the most part remained loyal to the president. In addition, the regime is unrestrained in threatening and intimidating those involved in the movement, a practice which intensifies as the expiration of the ultimatum approaches.

Arrests, dismissals, waivers of bonuses

On October 20, the appointment of three new university rectors was commented on as a desire to put down the protesting students. In the industry, which is largely made up of state-owned enterprises, arrests, dismissals and waivers of bonuses (which sometimes represent up to 40% of salary) weigh heavily on any inclinations to challenge. So much so that some wonder if the “moment” has not passed in the factories, where it is above all the violence used by the regime during the first demonstrations that had caused walkouts during the summer.

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Another limitation: although Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa is perceived in the public opinion as the figurehead of the protest, her exile forces her to play a more symbolic than operational role. Many protesters recognize her as a legitimate president, but her slogans are not automatically followed by the demonstrators, says Anna Colin-Lebedev. The strength and weakness of the movement is that it is headless: it is grassroots initiatives, relayed by social networks or pre-existing communities that will set in motion the actions. It doesn’t seem to me that Tikhanovskaya has the levers to launch a general strike. “

An ultimatum worth a test

In Minsk, on Sunday October 18, several demonstrators spoke to The cross of their circumspection in the face of this call. We’re all expecting what will happen next Sunday, confide two young women. ” Lukashenko did not react to the ultimatum, we do not know what to expect. Further in the procession, Sergei (1), computer programmer, shares these reservations, and remains banned when asked for his opinion on Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa: She has never been president so it is difficult to get an idea… ”

Dangerous for the regime, the ultimatum will therefore also have the value of a test for the opposition in exile, which will test its capacity to start “over-mobilization” on a national scale. Aware of the stakes, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa has been increasing discussions in recent days to mobilize activists, miners, workers, musicians, enumerates Franak Viacorka, who remains evasive on the maneuvers in progress. She sends messages, gives direction, but she doesn’t organize; that would be the death of the movement. Lukashenko knows very well how to fight a structured organization, but does not know how to deal with a decentralized challenge. However, he says he expects the call to strike to be followed even in state enterprises, the regime’s strongholds.

Careful observer of Belarusian discussion groups on Telegram and WhatsApp applications, Ioulia Shukan, lecturer in Slavic studies at Paris-Nanterre University, notes that the ultimatum of the opponent number 1 was widely relayed and commented on. Yes, Belarusians are preparing, she assures. The hard core will follow. Whether they will lead to other segments of society remains to be seen. “


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