Belarus in agony

Since a few weeks, there have been numerous protests rolling from one city to another in Belarus. This is quite an extraordinary development as last time people went on the streets was during the president elections in 2010. People were fearless and determined but they achieved absolutely nothing (they actually harmed themselves instead). It took them seven years of disappointment and steady deterioration of their lives to gather strength and to find hope for another try.

Their patience reached its limits after the state introduced the decree N 3 according to which unemployed have to pay a tax for being ‘social parasites’ for the state. Normally, people who don’t have a job are being supported by the government. However, in Belarus jobless have to pay to the state as they use free medical care, education system and other benefits. The tax is €230 per year which at first sight might seem like little money. However, it might be helpful to keep in mind that an average pension in Belarus makes up €150, an average salary – €350.

People who have been silent and patient for years, who used to finish each 9_tncomplaint with a comforting “well, at least we live in peace” dared to go on the streets again and to demand a life in dignity. “Finally”, I thought thrilled by the news coming from the internet. I was proud of these (my) people standing up for their rights. I hoped from the bottom of my heart that the president will listen to his people, will feel their pain and show that he cares for them, that he did not completely lose connection with the folk who made him the president back in 1994. I was actually not simply hoping, I was impatiently waiting for his statement in which he would announce the abolishment of this inhuman decree. How endlessly naive I was!

On 25 March – unofficial Freedom Day in Belarus – about 1000-1500 people went to a peaceful protest in Minsk. The state was well prepared and did not let people express their frustration. Official version: OMON – special police – was there to keep order and to protect people (yes, and the bruises of some participants appeared as a result of them hitting themselves against a car in despair and rage!). In reality, innocent people were brutally beaten up, even old men and women did not avoid harsh treatment. A British journalist was arrested and beaten. The exact number of Belarusians who got detained is unclear, it varies from 100 to several hundred depending on the source.  Those detained will spend 15 to 25 days in prison, others will have to pay a fine of about €360. Some students will certainly be excluded from universities – this is just a matter of time.

Belarus is sinking into chaos. The government will not step back. People will continue their sporadic protests, but whether this movement will gain power is difficult to predict. Too much fear is in the hearts of Belarusians: fear of losing their jobs and not being able to provide for their families; fear of getting excluded from the university; fear of losing their lives. Some people are still indifferent; a lot just don’t have faith in the possibility of change. At the same time, there are people who are absolutely desperate and ready to act no matter what it takes. Most agree on one: Lukashenko will not hesitate much to give an order to shoot at innocent people. He is rapidly losing the support of those few who were still behind him. He does not care, though. Why would he? Next time he will be ‘selected’ with 86,6% anyway.

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Photos: svaboda.org

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