2020 Belarusian protests

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2020 Belarusian protests
Part of the Belarusian democracy movement and
the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election
File:Miting Bangalor 2020.jpg
Minsk, 30 July 2020[1]
Date24 May 2020[2]ongoing
Caused by
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
At least 200 injured[15]
At least 2 dead[16][17][18]
At least 6,000 arrested [19] [18]
39 injured[20]
One journalist wounded[21]

The 2020 Belarusian protests, nicknamed the Slipper Revolution[25][26] and the Anti-Cockroach Revolution,[27] are a series of ongoing political demonstrations against the Belarusian government and its president Alexander Lukashenko.[27][28] The demonstrations, part of the Belarusian democracy movement, started occurring in the lead-up to and during the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, in which Lukashenko sought a sixth term in office.[28]

Background[edit source | edit]

At the outset of the protests, Alexander Lukashenko had been the head of state of Belarus since 1994, a 26-year tenure that is the longest in the former Soviet Union.[29][30] He has been called Europe's "last dictator", having not had a serious challenger in the previous five elections.[29] Under his authoritarian rule,[30] the government has frequently oppressed the opposition.[29][30]

Lukashenko had faced greater public opposition amid his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Lukashenko has denied is a serious threat.[31][29] Of the five elections won by Lukashenko, only the first was credibly deemed free and fair by international monitors.[32]

During the presidential campaign, presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has stated that the people of Belarus have to find a way to protect their vote. Therefore, all of the protests against Lukashenko were "leaderless".[33]

A Facebook fundraiser was created for victims of repressions in Belarus.[34][35]

Before the election[edit source | edit]

The nickname "cockroach" for Lukashenko was adopted from Korney Chukovsky's 1921 children's poem Tarakanishche.

The businessman and blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski labeled Lukashenko as "a cockroach" as in the children's poem The Mighty Cockroach [ru] by Korney Chukovsky, with the slipper signifying stamping on the cockroach. He was detained in late May 2020 by Belarusian authorities, who accused him of being a foreign agent.[36]

In June 2020, street protests against Lukashenko took place.[31] Several opposition candidates registered for the next election due to the movement, but many of them were arrested.[36]

On 19 June, Lukashenko announced that he had "foiled a coup attempt", resulting in the arrest of main opposition rival Viktar Babaryka.[37] According to information provided by CNN, Babaryka stated that the charges of bribery and corruption were falsified and that the arrest was politically motivated to stop him from winning the elections.[38] Opposition activists, journalists, and bloggers have also been arrested as part of the crackdown.[39] The human rights group Viasna estimated that about 1,300 people had been detained for protesting between early May and early August.[40]

Lukashenko has claimed that the opposition protests are part of a foreign plot.[41] He blamed the demonstrations as a plot orchestrated by foreigners, whom he suggested might be Americans, NATO, Russians, or Ukrainians.[29] Tsikhanouski's wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, registered as a candidate in the upcoming election after the arrest of Babaryka.[36]

The protests have led to suggestions that the conflict may last for months and escalate into violence.[42] It can evolve into a full-blown revolution, akin to how the Euromaidan protests turned into a revolution in Ukraine in 2014.[43] The German Marshall Fund, an American think tank, noted that the protests are more widespread, and more brutally repressed, than previous protests in Belarus.[44]

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE[45]) reported that it would not be monitoring the 2020 election as it had not been invited to do so.[46] This is the first time since 2001 the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will not monitor elections in Belarus.[47] The OSCE has not recognised any elections in Belarus as free and fair since 1995,[46] and the government has obstructed past OSCE election-monitoring missions in the country.[47]

Rally in support of Tsikhanouskaya in Minsk, 30 July

On 23 July, Lukashenko claimed that the BBC and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had encouraged riots and threatened to expel media and ban them from reporting on the election.[48]

Presidential campaign[edit source | edit]

On 29 July, supported by the Belarusian government news, 33 alleged mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, were arrested in a sanatorium near Minsk.[40]

On 30 July, a permitted rally of presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya took place in the Friendship of Peoples Park in Minsk. According to human rights activists, 63,000–70,000 people gathered, and the police recollected only about 18,250 people there. It was one of the biggest meetings since 1991.

On 6 August, an estimated 5,000 peaceful protesters took to the streets in Minsk, waving white ribbons, calling for free and fair elections.[49]

Over the first week in August, tens of thousands of Belarusians demonstrated against Lukashenko in towns and cities across Belarus. 63,000 people demonstrated in the capital Minsk, which is the most massive street protests in post-Soviet Belarus.[40]

Election day[edit source | edit]

On 9 August, most roads and entries to Minsk were blocked by the police and army early in the morning.[50][51]

In the middle of the day, the Internet in Belarus was partially blocked. According to the government officials, the reason was heavy DDoS-attack.[52] Independent IT specialists claimed that Belarusian state Internet monopoly Beltelecom and affiliated state agencies deliberately used deep packet inspection (DPI) technology or traffic shaping,[52] Telegram was the only working IM.[53][54]

In the evening of the same day immediately after, the Belarusian government-sponsored TV aired exit poll results showing a supposed landslide in which Lukashenko got 80.23% of the vote, while Tsikhanouskaya received only 9.9%.[50] The landslide was so large that even pro-government people found that the landslide was unlikely to be true.[55] This caused an immediate reaction by supporters of Tsikhanouskaya to head to the streets in all of the major cities in Belarus (Brest, Minsk, Vitebsk, Grodno, Mazyr, Pinsk, Gomel, Babruysk). People were doing so to express their dissatisfaction and were calling for a fair count of votes.[55] This started as peaceful protests in the middle of the night, but in Minsk, the situation turned into a fight between some people and the authorities. People started building barricades to block the traffic on the streets.[56] The total number of protesters in Minsk was difficult to estimate because they were scattered throughout the city.

At night, after breaking up big crowds, police chased smaller groups of protesters through downtown Minsk for several hours. A fight against security forces and police continued In all of the major cities in Belarus. Law enforcement officers used police batons, rubber bullets (fired from shotguns), grenades with lead balls, water cannons, tear gas, and flashbangs to suppress the protests, people were chased in the suburbs all night.[57][58] In Brest, protesters gradually dispersed leaving a crowd of 200–300 from an estimated previous total of 5,000.[59] That night in Minsk security forces were dropping grenades near people, and some people got critical injuries.[59]

It was one of the biggest protests since Belarus became independent. Security forces arrested around 3,000 people overnight.[60] Some of the protesters were seriously injured, with at least 50 protesters being taken to the hospital, some of them were in critical state condition and one of the protesters died.[61]

After election day[edit source | edit]

File:2020 anti-Lukashenko street poster.jpg
Anti-Lukashenko (portrayed as a cannibal or a vampire) street poster in Minsk[62]
Protesters staying near a church in Minsk (12 August)
One of the female lines of solidarity and protest in Minsk (13 August)
One of the female lines of solidarity and protest in Minsk (13 August)

On 10 August early in the morning in Minsk, people started bringing flowers to a place where someone had died the prior night. Local authorities did not confirm the death. The CEC (Central Election Commission of Belarus) announced election results.[3]

As the protests swept Belarus following the falsified results, the primary opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya published a video saying that she left Belarus for Lithuania.[63] She was coerced to leave while also submitting a complaint to the CEC,[63] where she was detained for seven hours.[15]

In the evening, the protests are continued in all major cities of Belarus, including Brest, Homiel, Hrodna, Mahiliou, Viciebsk, Baranavichy, Maladzyechna, Navahrudak, Novopolotsk, Zhodzina.[64] In Minsk, protesters changed their tactics, switching positions from one part of the city to another, similar to the "Be Water" tactics used by the 2019–20 protesters in Hong Kong.[65]. Protesters barricaded the area around the Riga Market in the center of Minsk. Government forces responded by tear-gassing the protesters and using flashbangs.[66] Authorities were throwing grenades at the protesters, and a protester died after a grenade explosion near Pushkinskaya metro station. The Interior Ministry claims that an unknown device detonated in his hands.[67] The supposed country of origin of the flashbangs is in the Czech Republic. The state imposed an embargo on selling such equipment to Belarus after the suppression of the 2010 elections.[68]

The government's riot police (AMAP/OMON), internal troops, and anti-terrorist "Almaz" elite special force participated in the suppression of the protests in Minsk. Water cannons were also used near the Riga Market, and rubber bullets were widely used everywhere. Mass protests were reported. It was reported that AMAP squads seized some ambulances or used visually similar vans to deceive the protesters into allowing them through the barricades.[69][70]

External images
Female first line of protesters in Minsk
Protesters in Minsk
Protesters and government troops in Brest
Protesters in Homiel
Wounded protester
Government troops
Water cannons in use
Barricade in Minsk (graffiti "3%" refers to the protesters' view at the approval rating of Lukashenko)
AMAP beating protesters and passers-by
Trucks with government troopers in Minsk
Arrest of a biker
AMAP trooper beating random passer-by
Internal trooper firing a shotgun
"Almaz" anti-terrorist squad; one of them has GM-94 portable grenade launcher[71]

Police continued to use a water cannon against protesters during a rally of opposition supporters in Minsk on Monday.

On 11 August, the protests resumed in Minsk and other major cities. Rubber bullets and flashbangs were widely used.[72] The ministry of internal affairs confirmed that it used combat bullets against protesters in Brest;[15] no deaths were reported.[73]

In Homiel, a 25-year-old man who probably had heart disease died on 12 August. According to preliminary information, he died because of waiting in a security forces detainee van for many hours in hot weather. He was in the van the city's temporary detention centers were overcrowded. He was sentenced to 10 days in prison but wasn't given proper medical attention in time.[74][75][76][18] Also, in Homiel, relatives, and friends of over 500 arrested people were not allowed to visit them. The local police did not tell them anything about their relatives' fate. It was also reported that the policewoman abused the arrested woman there.[77]

During widespread protests in Hrodna, a 5-year-old was injured, and their father arrested after the car they were in was rammed by government forces.[78]

On 12 August, people in Minsk and later in other cities started to line up on streets to protest against the government's brutal suppression. The majority of protesters were women wearing white clothes.[79][80] People who previously served in the special security forces expressed their solidarity by publishing videos where they threw uniforms in the garbage and called authorities to stop opposing people.[81]

On the same day, someone had published a video in the Telegram group with the recording of internal police command to shoot to kill if it is going against one of the police officers.[citation needed] The Belarus Interior Minister admitted on 12 August a "shoot to kill" policy was enforced.[82]

On 13 August, many lines of solidaity protesting against violence of the police were formed, [83][84][85] including thousands of women dressed in white.[86] Strikes of workers at a number of state owned factories also took place.[86]

Several reports of different violations of law in Belarusian jails (severe overcrowding, beating and outrages by prisoners) were submitted.[87][88][89][90][91]

Attacks on journalists and censorship[edit source | edit]

On 9–11 August, several independent journalists were arrested in Minsk, Brest, and Babruysk.[64] According to a statement by the Belarusian Association of Journalists, on 10 August, internal troops and other government forces deliberately shot rubber bullets at independent journalists in Minsk (including Tut.by and Nasha Niva). The journalists wore special high visibility jackets and had personal IDs. Nasha Niva editor-in-chief (also wearing a jacket) disappeared during the night. He managed to send an SOS SMS message to his wife, saying he was arrested. His fate was unknown as of 13:30 local time, and the Nasha Niva website was not updated for many hours after his presumed arrest.[92] Several journalists, including foreigners, were slightly injured during the suppression of the protests. A rubber bullet hit the plastic ID of Getty Images' photojournalist Michal Fridman. Several Russian journalists from both official media and Internet projects were arrested but soon released.[93]

On 10 August, local journalists reported problems with all major communication platforms and pro-opposition websites.[50]

On 11 August, it was reported that police officers and other government agents forcibly took away memory cards from many journalists' devices. They also forced them to delete photos or sometimes crushed their cameras.[72] BBC News Russia reported that three of its journalists were beaten by the government forces that night while covering the protests.[94] Russian journalist Nikita Telizhenko was heavily beaten in Belarusian jail: he was arrested in Minsk and sent to Zhodzina because of overcrowding of jails in Minsk; prisoners in Zhodzina beat him on kidneys, legs and neck, but he was soon released at the request of the Russian embassy.[95] Arrested Russian journalist Artyom Vazhenkov was reported to be accused of mass rioting (up to 15 years of prison in Belarus).[96]

On 12 August, Belsat journalist Jauhien Merkis was arrested in Homiel while covering the protests. Despite the fact that he was there as a journalist, the next day the local court sentenced him to 15 days in jail for "participation in an unauthorized mass event".[97]

One of the few communication systems avoiding censorship is the independent Belarusian owned NEXTA [ru] Telegram channel based in Warsaw. The channel's subscribers rose from 100,000 on election night to over a million after a day.[98] The channel publishes user-generated videos, photos, and comments of the protests.[99]

International reactions[edit source | edit]

Countries[edit source | edit]

  • Russia Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenko for victory.[104] Nontheless, multiple demonstrations took place in front of the Belarusian embassy in Moscow, condemning Lukashenko regime and commemorating those who died during the protests.[105]
  • United States US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the elections as "not free and fair" and condemned "ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters."[106]
  • United Kingdom UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office called for the authorities "to refrain from further acts of violence following the seriously flawed Presidential elections." It acknowledged that there had "been a lack of transparency throughout the electoral process."[107]
  • Canada Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne stated that Canada was "deeply concerned" by the violence following the elections and that authorities' actions had "further eroded the democratic legitimacy of the vote." He called for the results of Sunday's election "to reflect the will of the people."[108]
  • Poland Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the violence, appealed to the Belarusian authorities "to start respecting fundamental human rights" and stated "the harsh reaction, the use of force against peaceful protesters, and arbitrary arrests are unacceptable".[109]
  • Lithuania Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has stated terms as part of a joint initiative by Lithuania, Latvia and Poland to act as mediators in the crisis: "First, Belarus' authorities stop the use of force against their citizens and de-escalate the situation. Second, Belarus' authorities release detainees, who number in the thousands already, (and) all the protesters who have been subjected to repressions. Third, Belarus resumes dialogue with its civil society."[110] On 12 August, Lithuania opened its borders for people fleeing Belarus.[111]
  • Template:Country data UKR Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine issued a joint statement with Poland and Lithuania.[112] Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine also appealed to Belarusian authorities to release Ukrainian human rights activists and journalists detained in Belarus.[113][114] President Zelensky also "called on Belarusian people to dialogue, maximum tolerance, indulgence, refusal from street violence", stated that "Ukraine extremely interested in democratic and stable Belarus".[115][116]
  • Germany German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the European Union to discuss sanctions on Belarus.[106]
  • Switzerland The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland expressed concern over the protests following the election. It urged the Belarusian government to exercise restraint.[117][unreliable source?]
  • Sweden Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ann Linde, expressed concerns over how protesters in Belarus were beaten and arrested. She said that the election in Belarus was neither democratic nor fair. She also said that the election follows the same pattern as previous elections in Belarus. She demanded that all arrested protestors be released.[118]
  • Republic of Ireland The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has stated he was "deeply concerned by this disproportionate and unacceptable level of violence against peaceful protesters" and that Ireland would "coordinate her response in collaboration with her colleagues in the EU".[119]
  • Slovakia Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, Ivan Korčok, labelled the Belarusian government's interventions against its political opponents and citizens peacefully expressing their opinion as unacceptable. The Slovak Republic "appeals to president Lukashenko to abide by the basic principles of democracy and freedom of expression. No one can be persecuted for expressing their views."[120]
  • EstoniaFinlandLatviaPoland The foreign ministers of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and Poland jointly called for an EU video conference to discuss a united position for the bloc on Belarus.[121]
  • Romania The Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bogdan Aurescu said he was "very concerned" about the Belarus' situation and that the "only way" was to stop the violence and start a political dialogue. He also urged the country to respect fundamental human rights.[122]
  • Moldova Although the Moldovan President Igor Dodon congratulated Lukashenko for his victory,[123] a group of protesters demonstrated in front of the Belarusian embassy in Chișinău. They came with banners saying "Down with dictatorship!", "Down with censorship!", "Belarus will be free!" and other messages opposing Lukashenko. The protesters also said that Dodon had congratulated Lukashenko on behalf of the entire Moldovan people.[124]
  • France President Emmanuel Macron told Vladimir Putin that he was very worried about the violence that citizens have faced during the election and the current situation in the Belarus.[125]
  • Kyrgyzstan Initially, Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov congratulated the re-election of Belarus' president. After a photo appeared that showed Lukashenko standing with Daniyar Usenov, a former prime minister, and Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the Foreign Ministry of Kyrgyzstan protested to the Belarusian embassy in Kyrgyzstan about the photo.[126]
  • Armenia Both Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan[127] and President Armen Sarkissian[128] congratulated Lukashenko. Pashinyan's congratulation was widely criticized in Armenia.[129][130] A number of Armenian pro-democracy NGOs released a statement in support of the protest movement.[131]

See also[edit source | edit]

Indices[edit source | edit]

References[edit source | edit]

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  62. Poster text: "It's me, who beats the women and children! It's me who's killing people! It's me who's using firearms and flashbangs against peaceful protesters! It's me who stole votes from the people! I have 80% [of support], but I'm afraid to go outside and talk with people".
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  66. "Менск: да «Рыгі» дабраліся сілавікі, пачалася зачыстка, чуваць шумавыя гранаты, будуюцца барыкады". Радыё Свабода (in Belarusian).
  67. Kennedy, Rachael (10 August 2020). "Belarus election: protests register their first fatality". Euronews.
  68. В МИД Чехии заявили о соблюдении эмбарго на поставки светошумовых гранат в Беларусь. 42.tut.by/TASS.ru (10 August 2020). Retrieved on 12 August 2020.
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