Tensions Escalate During Belarus’s Third Week Of Protests

The people of Belarus appear determined to continue showing their disapproval of the early August presidential poll that credited incumbent ‘Europe’s last dictator’, Aleksander Lukashenko. Three weeks after the result, the crackdown is fierce. The Anti-Cockroach Revolution counts more than 7,000 arrests and 200 wounded, which alarms international peacemakers. This third week has shown to be decisive, disclosing the first fracture between the Belarusian elite and the government. Approximately 400 Olympic medalists and high-level members of the sports industry called for a new election, affirming their full support to the demonstrators and demanding the release of victims of police brutality.

Belarusian political analyst Alexandre Klaskovski describes these acts as a sign that “the regime’s monolith may well erode but it may take time and it will not happen without a counteroffensive and unbridled repression by the authorities.” As an ultimate threat to the contestants of the vote, the Kremlin created a “certain reserve of law enforcement officers” for Lukashenko that will not be used by Vladimir Putin “unless the situation gets out of control.” The Russian authoritarian leader wants to mediate the relationship between his counterpart Lukashenko and Belarusians, in order to help his model of the state survive in Europe. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia publicly condemned the use of the Belarusian army against strikers, and according to Alexeï Makarkine, the vice-president of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, it is just a “signal sent by the Kremlin to the Belarusian leadership.” Putin insists on the need for a peaceful dialogue as his military intervention would signify the demise of a president that seemed to be invincible, and “it might give Russians ideas” states Andrew Higgins from the New York Times.

Edi Rama, the Albanian Prime Minister and chairperson-in-office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) affirms that “the situation must be resolved in Minsk and among the people of Belarus, in full respect for their sovereignty, their independence, and their human rights.” The European Union, which already imposed economic sanctions, desperately wants to intervene in the affair. The Baltic States, the place of exile of the Belarusian opponent Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, demanded to send a mediator but faced rejection of their request. The solution rests in the conciliation of European interests. Inviting Tsikhanouskaya to the European Parliament is evidence that the international community is starting to gain the upper hand on the situation and might come to a nonviolent settlement for Belarus.

For now, discussions seem impossible on Belarusian ground as Lukashenko shows himself holding an automatic rifle, whilst the same week arresting two high members of the new opposition body, the Coordination Council, Olga Kovalkova and Sergei Dylevsky. The KGB condemned them for the ten days imprisonment but interrogated the Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich in an effort to intimidate the intellectual stratum that was already shaken up by the censorship of subsequent Internet blackouts.

For Belarus, the end of August marks the climax of decisions on the international scene and through the layers of Belarusian society. As students return to school protesting and workers pursue their strikes, the European, American, and Russian disputers are warned that if they keep pushing on Belarus, they will have another Ukraine on their hands and this time a serious non-belligerent agreement must be reached.

Mélusine Lebret