Written by Yamini Bharadwaj, grade 9 student
Protestors demand democracy following rigged elections
The 74th anniversary of Independence Day in India celebrates how the oppressive colonial rule was overcome. In turn, a more favourable and democratic system came up which improved the lives of Indian citizens. Whilst there are still issues that have to be solved, progress is undeniable. The celebration of independence and freedom from oppressors makes us realise that not everyone is able to enjoy democratic rights. That is the state of Belarus right now: undemocratic elections have led people to protest and in turn, they are attacked by the riot police.
According to Belarus’s election results, Alexander Lukashenko (a dictator who led the country for 26 years) won 80% of the votes although exit polls prove otherwise. He is sometimes referred to as ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’ yet Russia and China have congratulated him on the win. Elections, since he came to power in 1994, have been rigged in his favour. He detained and disqualified several oppositional candidates. Thousands of Belarusians were not allowed to vote. Credible exit polls show that opposition leader Tikhanovskaya won around 80% of the votes while the manipulated results show she only succeeded in getting 9.9%. These elections are far from fair and free. As a result on August 9th many people gathered before voting stations and at city centres throughout the country, and their protests have continued since.
Lukashenko clings tenaciously (firmly) to power by retaining the country’s Soviet past. He forcefully controls the economy and the media. He has also been accused of political murders. Lukashenko tackled the spread of coronavirus very poorly which has caused around 70,000 cases in a country of 9.5 million people. His rule has been dissatisfactory and undemocratic to say the least.
Belarusians demand democracy. Their peaceful protests are being met with imprisonment, detainment, beatings, and more. The police have used batons, stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Three thousand unarmed and defenseless protestors were detained on August 9th. Authorities in Belarus say they have arrested six thousand people in the three nights of protest so far. Mass detentions have been reported in the cities of Brest, Grodno, Vitebsk. Journalists, news agencies, and news crews have been attacked. The internet was shut down throughout Belarus, popular messaging apps were disabled. As a result, demonstrators tried to work using VPNs and other means. After a three day blackout, internet connections have improved. The blackout was yet another attempt to mute the opposition and individual dissenters.
The opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya entered the race when her husband, a blogger, was arrested. The former teacher and stay-at-home-mum grew immensely popular for her promise of democracy. When she registered a complaint about falsified election results, she was detained for seven hours. Now Tikhanovskaya has fled to Lithuania for the sake of the safety of her children and herself. Still, the people of Belarus continue to protest for democracy.
Several European nations have expressed concern regarding the violent ways through which protests have been suppressed. The EU is rethinking its policy towards the dictatorial President. It is hoped that Europe’s Last Dictator’s rule is brought to an end.
Where is Belarus?
The Republic of Belarus, once a part of Russia under the name of Byelorussia, is an Eastern European country. It is bordered by many countries, which include Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.