It has become the rhythm of the protest in Belarus: the Sunday demonstration, which brings together tens of thousands of people every week in the capital, is preceded on Saturday by a smaller but highly symbolic “Women’s march”. They were on September 19 still around 2,000 marching in Minsk to demand the departure of Alexander Lukashenko, reelected to the presidency on August 9 after a falsified election.
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Almost 400 of them were arrested during the demonstration. “On this point, there is now real gender equality in our country”, squeals Anna Mirochnik, a Belarusian specialist in public relations, herself involved in the protest. “Men and women are now arrested with the same brutality. “
A reaction to police violence
From Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s candidacy for the Belarusian presidency to high-profile images of women’s groups being cornered against a wall by riot troops, the Belarusian protest has put women at the forefront. This movement crystallized in the wake of the violent repression of the demonstrations that followed the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, during which several thousand people were arrested, beaten and sometimes tortured by the police.
In response, several thousand women dressed in white, displaying flowers, flags and traditional costumes, took to the streets, forming human chains and demanding, under the uneasy eyes of the riot troops, the release of the prisoners. “Women have a high visibility and therefore play on gender stereotypes, by dressing in white, the color of non-violence, by offering flowers to the police”, remarks Youlia Shukan, sociologist in Slavic studies at Paris-Nanterre University, back from Minsk.
The muses of the protest
They do not really carry feminist demands, in the context of a still very traditional society. “It is first of all a feeling of injustice, indignation and anger that pushes them to go out”, juge Ioulia Shukan.
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“We cannot stop, or else Belarus will turn into North Korea”, sums up Iaroslava Tkachova, a Belarusian student. If women are not necessarily the most numerous, they have benefited, at least during the first weeks, from greater freedom of action.
They are also women who, even before the election, had set the tone for the challenge. The three main opposition candidates had their candidacies rejected, and one of them, Sergei Tikhanovsky, was even arrested. His wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, took his place and received the support of opponents Veronika Tsepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova.
The authorities let it happen, without concealing its contempt: “Our Constitution is not designed for a woman president, because the president has an important power”, evacuated Alexander Lukashenko on May 29 during a visit to the Minsk tractor factory.
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But the charisma of the trio and the indignation that followed the repression of the demonstrations formed the cocktail that propelled these women to the rank of muses of the protest.