Dreaming together in Belarus
Dreaming together in Belarus
Natalia Kaliada writes about the women protesting against Alexander Lukashenko.
Women are leading the protests against dictator Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. SVETLANA LAZARENKA/ALAMY
On 9 August 2020 the people of Belarus finally had to take action. After 26 years in power, ‘Europe’s last dictator’ Alexander Lukashenko said he was the winner of fraudulent elections once again. It was now time to protest. The economy was in trouble. The president was saying Covid-19 did not exist. The police were arresting doctors. The popular opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky was in prison with other political candidates. When his wife, Svetlana, stood for president instead, the result gave Lukashenko 80 per cent of the vote, but gave her only 10 per cent.
When the people protested peacefully, the police responded brutally in daylight, usually against activists and out of sight. They tortured and raped protesters. There were dead bodies found in the woods. Since then, the protests have continued, with women leading, wearing white, and rejecting violence.
I was forced to leave my country in 2010, after starting the Belarus Free Theatre Company with my husband Nicolai Khalezin. Our project brought together journalism, geopolitics, and the arts. It opposed the dictator, Alexander Lukashenko and celebrated all the things he tries to stop - democracy, freedom of expression, the right to peaceful protest, equality of opportunity for all, and LGBTQI rights. These are only a few of them. Our country was at the heart of our theatre productions.
We are watching the Belarusian people express their democratic right to protest in a very personal and creative way. If I wrote a theatre production now, it might show a courageous 73-year-old woman. She joined the protests holding brightly coloured flowers until two riot police officers took her away. Or a miner from Solihorsk. He handcuffed himself 300 metres underground, to his machinery. He was protesting against Lukashenko’s ‘genocide of his own people’. My favourite is a young woman arrested by two police officers. She smoked a cigarette, took a last drag, and gave it to the police officer on her right. It was timeless, elegant, and a big ‘f*ck you’.
These people inspire us in ways that very few artists can. They remind us of the strong hope in Belarus today. They will need help. And the UK, US, and Canada announced sanctions and, at the time of writing this, there is pressure on the EU to do the same. We also need sanctions on Russia, Lukashenko’s greatest ally, on state broadcaster Russia Today, which is Lukashenko’s mouthpiece, and on the Russian banks, which support the government.
Then it will be possible for the Co-ordination Council, which our opposition started, to begin to negotiate a peaceful transition. There is no way back – the people in Belarus have made their choice and there is no place for Lukashenko. The future of the Belarusian people is to be the youngest democracy in Europe.
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(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)