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Home / World / ‘We can only help ourselves’: women in Belarus take protests into their own hands | World news

‘We can only help ourselves’: women in Belarus take protests into their own hands | World news

Tthat first chain of women appeared on Wednesday: several hundred brave souls, dressed in white and with flowers on top, in a powerful calm response to the savage violence that was inflicted on thousands of Belarusians over the previous days.

Yesterday afternoon, columns of women waving flowers were everywhere, marching across the wide streets of central Minsk, smiling, smiling and resolutely demanding political change.

“We are here to show solidarity with all our men who were beaten and abused,”

; said Tatyana, a 31-year-old waiter who was at the front of a convoy of about 1,000 women holding flowers – one of many groups such walking through the center of Minsk. She and her friend were holding a white flag, which she said was a sign of their desire to have no more violence.

Women in Minsk demonstrating after Lukashenko claimed victory in the election.

Women in Minsk demonstrating after Lukashenko claimed victory in the election. Photo: Misha Friedman / Getty Images

On Friday evening, thousands of protesters descended on Belarus’s parliament, potentially setting the stage for a new show with rebel police. As demand for change intensifies and reaches even the factories that are the pride of Alexander Lukashenko’s neo-Soviet economy, the authoritarian ruler ends the week ascending to power in opposition to an ever-widening coalition of opponents. But from the beginning, it has been an uprising inspired and led by women.

After several male presidential candidates were arrested or ousted on the eve of the vote, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of one of them, stepped inside. Along with two other women, the trio offered a simple program that inspired many Belarusians: quick new choices that would be cheap and fair.

Lukashenko, reading the mood of the country he led for 26 years, laughed with Tikhanovskaya, suggesting that she should focus on cooking dinner for her children. The attacks only made people admire Tikhanovskaya’s determination more.

“All three of us can show that we had taken responsibility for what is happening and for the future of Belarus,” said Maria Kolesnikova, the only one of the three women left in Belarus, in an interview in central Minsk this week. “The West will not help, Russia will not help, we can only help ourselves. Our feminine faces became a signal to all women – and even men – that every person must take responsibility.”

No one knows the true outcome of Sunday’s election, but it seems unlikely that Lukashenko will win anything close to a majority, and certainly not the 80% claimed, an extremely invisible number that irritated the protest situation and brought thousands on the streets.

Authorities responded to the protest with some of the fiercest police violence in modern European history. On Sunday and Monday evening, riot police rallied around Minsk as they played a computer game, destroying anyone holding protest tapes, anyone singing and many bystanders.

Two women talk to a rebel police officer as police block a section of a road in the capital Minsk.

Two women talk to a rebel police officer as police block a section of a road in the capital Minsk. Photo: Sergei Grits / AP

Those who were abducted were subjected to brutal violence and no one was immune. Not the 47-year-old on the way home to his wife, accidentally arrested and later given a prolonged ritual beating by a police gang as he was forced to leave his face down on the floor. Not the 51-year-old journalist in the town of Grodno who shouted “journalist” and waved his accreditation in the air, only to be hit in the face and lose four teeth (and then banned, and fined). Not the man caught in the video as he pulled away from the rebel police, shouting in disbelief: “I fucking voted for Lukashenko!” And not nearly 6,700 others, arrested over four nights this week.

The epicenter of the terror was a detention center on Okrestina Street on the outskirts of Minsk: two imposing buildings, a white one and a terrace, behind high walls and topped with barbed wire.

In scenes that may have come from the pages of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, weeping relatives waited outside, desperate for information about the whereabouts of missing children, sisters or partners. A long line was drawn by a gray metal door, which had a small hat that would open a little time every few hours. When it happened, those who waited could give the names of their lost ones and wait for one yest or a Nyet to be attacked by them by an invisible person inside.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya giving a press conference after she left the country.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya giving a press conference after she left the country. Photo: Valery Sharilyin / TASS

Day by day, snipers patrolled the rooftops and appeared to be communicating with observers dressed in thin camouflage clothes, placed among the crowd of tired relatives. At night, painful cries of anxiety could be heard from behind the walls. Occasionally, ambulances arrived to remove those whose injuries from the beatings had become critical. Judges arrived on minibuses to conduct court trials inside the jail, with many arrested saying they were forced to sign letters with fabricated information on where, when and how they were held in custody.

On Wednesday morning, the protest seemed to have been firmly suppressed. The resurgence of the internet, which went off across the country immediately after the vote, seemed to be a sign that the authorities felt back in control of the situation. The picture painted by the opposition social media channels of a country on the eve of a successful revolution seemed as detached from reality as the night owls about wheat harvest targets and rapeseed oil prices on state television. Lukashenko.

But as the prisoners began to be released, thousands of graphic videos of their injuries and testimonies were disgustingly shared with messaging apps. The mood changed again as the country began to appreciate the scale and courage of the abuse.

Marina, a 28-year-old musician who took part in the initial women’s demonstration on Wednesday, said that before this year, she had not been interested in politics, simply living her life in parallel with the oppressive state and not feeling limited. from her. However, she was energized by Tikhanovskaya’s campaign and disgusted by Lukashenko’s violent response.

Now, when I see his face, I can not even explain the feeling. “Something is worse than hatred, it ‘s something black inside me that I did not even know was there,” she said.

As the shock returned to catharsis, Minsk on Thursday and Friday resembled a carnival, as large groups of women marched through the streets, and cars supporting their horns in support provided a constant background of noise. The rebel police withdrew and authorities launched a belated half-hearted reconciliation strategy.

Tikhanovskaya may now be abroad, but her video appeal Friday calling for weekend protests, combined with growing determination among protesters and the growing number of striking factories, suggests the coming days will be crucial.

There has been a total lack of demonstrations of support for the dictator, with none of the youth groups flagging or angry grandmothers that the presidents in Russia and Ukraine have not entered in recent years in attempts to show the depth of their support as the protest movements flared up. Mr Lukashenko appears to have little control over the police and army.

Kolesnikova, who has remained in Minsk despite a series of threats and the arrest of many colleagues, dismissed talks on things turning violent. “I do not think there should be a revolution, and the only person who uses words like revolution is the current president. We always talked only about peaceful methods of protest,” she said on Wednesday.

But events in Minsk were moving fast, with the crowd gathering on Friday night as an even bigger demonstration, and uncertainty about how the rebel police would react. A new demonstration scheduled for Sunday could be the largest in the country’s history. No one really believes in the prospect of dialogue with the dictator, leaving a bloody blow or the sudden fall of the regime as the most likely outcomes.

Protesting women offer flowers to police officers during a demonstration.

Protesting women offer flowers to police officers during a demonstration. Photo: Sergei Gapon / AFP / Getty Images

At Pushkinskaya, a crossroads of two wide streets on the edge of town where a protester was killed Monday night, people who had never dreamed of taking part in a protest came to pay their respects throughout the week. Purple blood flows are still visible on the pavement.

“I’m scared. Of course I’m scared. But I have a son and I do not want him to live in this kind of country,” said Marina, 54, who began to cry as she spoke. As she shed tears, a young man passed along the protest on a scooter.

“Thank you, wonderful women of Belarus!” he shouted, scattering flowers to each of them as he passed.

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