In the past eleven weeks of protest against the fraudulent presidential election, the Belarusians have come up with many forms of peaceful resistance. For example, women, students and retirees regularly mobilize against the ruler Alexandr Lukashenka. On Monday, pensioners marched through Minsk with students and doctors, observers estimate the number of participants at up to 8,000. An elderly woman encouraged the demonstrators by lifting a poodle in a white, red and white vest to the open window.
These protest colors again dominated the picture, older women waving white and red roses. Monday was also the first day after the end of the “popular ultimatum”, which one of the opposition leaders, Svetlana Tichanovskaya, Lukashenka, forced into exile by the regime in Lithuania in August, had put on October 13. According to this, the ruler should announce his withdrawal by midnight on Sunday evening, stop violence against demonstrators and release all political prisoners; as the latter, the human rights group “Wjasna” (Spring) currently sees a hundred people.
Otherwise, Tichanovskaya announced, “the whole country will take to the streets peacefully”, and all companies will go on strike and roads will be blocked. The regime gave the answer in its own way: on Sunday evening, after more than 100,000 people had once again marched through Minsk, noise and stun grenades were fired at demonstrators. Several people were injured and hundreds arrested.
The regime’s leverage
The Minsk poet Dmitry Strozew is one of the numerous Belarusians who are currently serving arrest sentences; he disappeared last Wednesday and only appeared on a list of detainees after a long period of uncertainty. Another poet, Eduard Akulin, was arrested on Monday morning when, according to relatives, he was in one of the numerous solidarity chains against violence that often take place in Belarus. The philosopher Olga Schparaga, who also had to serve a prison sentence that month, fled Minsk to Vilnius at the weekend; she reported on Facebook that they wanted to attach another twelve days of arrest to her, “that can’t stop at all”.
Against the workers of the state-owned companies, who are now called on to strike, the regime not only has the levers of its police powers and its judiciary in hand. In August he had already succeeded in largely suppressing strikes in state-owned companies. These companies are often unprofitable and at the same time support Lukashenka’s system, because they are involved in the organization and falsification of the elections.
Against insubordinate workers threats of dismissal, pressure on relatives who are not co-protesting and who work in the same company, and other means help; The companies also grant their employees loans for building houses, cars or the education of their children. Whoever rebels threatens to lose everything. The opposition tries to cushion these risks with aid from a solidarity fund, but the dangers remain. Many are therefore skeptical about the chances of success of Tichanowskaja’s appeal.
Almost 200 arrests on Monday
Nevertheless, there were strikes and protests by workers on Monday morning, for example in a chemical combine in Hrodna in western Belarus with thousands of employees. Around a hundred workers protested that morning, some of whom were arrested by Omon special police. According to workers, it was possible to prevent several shifts, Tichanowskaja’s team reprimanded that the workers previously deployed had been kept at their workplaces longer. The Hrodna plant announced that the majority of the protesters were not employed by the company. “Provocative actions have been localized. There is no strike by the company, ”said the brief statement.
A similar picture emerges in the capital’s large state-owned enterprises such as the Minsk tractor factory. Some workers did not come to work, others gathered on the factory premises or at the entrance. The company management announced that it would work normally, Omon special police made sure. A number of private businesses such as cafes, language schools, fitness studios and beauty salons declared Monday a day off. Employees of the telecommunications company MTS also protested, allegedly threatened with dismissal afterwards. Students in Minsk were particularly active, even before they allied with pensioners; Omon police dispersed them and arrested several people. A total of almost 200 people were arrested in several cities by Monday evening, according to “Wjasna”.
Svetlana Tichanovskaya called on Monday via her Telegram channel to support the striking workers. Those who have decided to go on strike should see “that they are not alone in their decision”. She also believed, Tichanovskaya, that the private sector, religious communities, cultural workers and athletes would support the strikers and “stop their work for a day”.