BY MO JUENGER
Belarusian citizens protested at the residence of President Aleksander Lukashenko this week after weeks of controversy surrounding the Aug. 9 election that confirmed another term for Lukashenko in a landslide.
Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since 1994 and has worked to strengthen ties with Russia. He now maintains long-time connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Protestors are demanding that Lukashenko resign and claim that the election results were largely falsified.
Reports by the New York Times indicate that there has been little violence perpetrated by the more than 200,000 protestors in past weeks. Protestors have been met with substantial police violence.
As protestors demanded Lukashenko exit his palace last weekend, his press secretary released footage of the president holding an assault rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest while surrounded by armed guards. Lukashenko was not seen exiting the palace at any point throughout Sunday, when protests became largest.
Putin and his administration have been increasingly vocal about his support for Lukashenko. Lukashenko, throughout protests, has noted infrequently that he plans to wait for protests to end. He has detained several foreign journalists and Belarusian activists.
Political adversaries of Lukashenko and some protestors have claimed that they do not aim to break the relationship between Russia and Belarus, with many citing the annexation of Crimea after Ukraine’s similar 2014 protests.
Protestors have claimed that they are unsure what consequences of Lukashenko’s continuing presidency might be but are worried about his authoritarian leanings.
“It’ll be like North Korea here,” Belarusian activist Andrei Korsakov said. He stated that protesting on the streets is what most activists can do in the increasingly dangerous political regime.
Lukashenko has jailed many protestors who voice opposition to his presidency, including three protestors and advocates who intended to campaign against him.
The protests are largely comprised of middle-class women, a group not typically involved in Eastern European political activism. Many of these women claim that they were spurred to become involved because of their distaste with Lukashenko’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our generation has lost so much,” one anonymous woman said of her experience in Belarus’ middle class. “Our children will have to live here.”
Though police violence has been rampant throughout the protests, many videos have shown Belarusian police refusing to use force against women. A video taken at a protest on Aug. 23 showed a group of activist mothers who broke through a line of riot police without physical retaliation.
It is unclear how long protests will continue, but many say they will not end their activism until Lukashenko resigns. So far, the president has made no concessions and claims he will wait until protests end naturally.
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