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· August, 2020

Embroidery by Prague-based Belarusian artist Rufina Bazlova, depicting a standoff between riot police and protesters in her home country. Image (c): Rufina Bazlova. Used with permission.

Belarus is undergoing perhaps its most serious political crisis since independence. This eastern European country of nearly 10 million has been ruled by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka since 1994. The former collective farm manager is a great survivor. For over 20 years he has outmanoeuvred political opponents, playing off Russia against the European Union and cracking down on dissent with ruthless efficiency. In the international press, he is known as Europe’s last dictator. Meanwhile, he has held absolute power over Belarus, and expected his rule to continue.

Only one election in Belarus has ever been judged free and fair by international observers. Lukashenka appeared committed to continuing that tradition, breezing through elections in August 2020 to secure a sixth consecutive term as president. One by one, his most promising challengers were ejected from the race. The popular blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski was detained at the end of May 2020 on suspicion of being a foreign agent. The businessman Viktar Babaryka, whose candidacy was rejected, was detained in mid-June. In late July, the entrepreneur Valery Tsepkalo, whose candidacy was likewise rejected, fled to Russia fearing political persecution. Sporadic street protests began to be held in June. The protesters were arrested and Lukashenka reacted as expected — by deriding them as the paid lackeys of undefined foreign powers.

But when Tsikhanouski’s wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, registered as a presidential candidate in his place, the opposition to Lukashenka was able to unite around a new figure. Tsikhanouskaya’s goal was simple: to resign after six months, by which time free and fair elections would be held. But when the official results were announced on the morning of August 10, Belarusians found them implausible. Lukashenka had allegedly received 80 percent of the vote compared to just ten percent for Tsikhanouskaya.

The situation has since deteriorated. Tsikhanouskaya has fled to neighbouring Lithuania. Thousands of Belarusians have been protesting across the entire country, which has seen internet shutdowns, labour unrest, a crackdown on independent journalists, and credible accounts by detained protesters of torture at the hands of the security services. Several protesters are reported to have been killed in clashes with riot police, and at least one has died in prison. Many observers now believe that whatever goodwill there once was towards Lukashenka has evaporated. If he rules, he will depend on fear to a degree unprecedented by Belarusian standards. His opponents are all too aware of that prospect.

With growing pressure and sanctions from Western powers, compromise looks improbable, as protesters and the opposition now demand nothing less than a full recount of the results and Lukashenka’s resignation as president of Belarus.

Stories about Belarus In Turmoil from August, 2020

Disinformation about Belarus spreads in the Balkans via online portals and social media

Fact-checkers from Serbia and North Macedonia have been detecting and countering disinformation favoring the authoritarian regime in Belarus in the mold of previous propaganda narratives from pro-Kremlin troll armies.

Belarusian labour activists pressured as political crisis drags on

Growing labour unrest and strikes at key state-owned businesses have become a major challenge to embattled president Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The authorities have struck back with a pressure campaign against the...

Here's why this feminist philosopher has high hopes for Belarus’ protests

For the feminist and political philosopher Olga Shparaga, the protests in her country offer a chance to develop new solidarities and forge a feminist agenda for Belarus' future development

Lukashenka or Lukashenko? Why Anglophone media use different spellings for the embattled Belarusian leader

The answer: It depends.

‘Lukashenka's time is over': a Belarusian writer urges solidarity from afar

"Lukashenka says Belarusians abroad are controlled by puppet-masters, but it's the other way around. It is the Belarusian protesters in Belarus who are the masters, and we, the diaspora, are...

‘Concerned IT specialists’ launch database of detained Belarusian protesters

Since August 9, over 7,000 people have been detained in mass protests against the Belarusian government. A new database provides their names and locations — in a bid to get...

Belarus in turmoil: The view from neighbouring Lithuania 

Lithuania has long played an outsized role in European engagement with Belarus. Its capital Vilnius teems with political exiles from Minsk — are today's protesters fated to join them?

How one Telegram channel became central to Belarus’ protests

A channel on the Telegram messeng er service run by four Belarusian journalists in Poland has become a crucial source of information on the political upheavals in their homeland

Thirty years after his tragic death, iconic Soviet musician Viktor Tsoi continues to inspire demonstrators

Even younger generations of Russian-speakers who have no memory of the Soviet period are enraptured by the story of Viktor the rebel, who sided with the people against the system.

‘This is a partisan movement of a partisan nation': a Belarusian poet reflects on her homeland's turmoil

"The greatest weakness made visible in these past months has been how little the state knows its own people," says poet Valzhyna Mort

Belarusian workers support protesters with growing strikes

Workers across the country are striking in solidarity with Belarusians who have been detained and beaten during mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenka.

Meet the artist embroidering Belarus’ protests

From faraway Prague, the Belarusian artist Rufina Bazlova is paying homage to the protests in her homeland by depicting them in traditional Belarusian embroidery.

Belarus shuts down internet as thousands protest election results

As Alexander Lukashenka won a sixth consecutive term as president on August 10, Belarusians across the country faced difficulties getting online. Digital rights activists blame the authorities; the authorities blame...

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