Tenth weekend of protest: Belarus threatens to use firearms

Ruler Lukashenko is taking increasingly drastic measures against demonstrators. For today’s protests, the Belarusian Interior Ministry has announced that it will also fire sharply if in doubt. Still, people are not intimidated. What have you achieved so far?

With every new week the violence of the apparatus of ruler Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus against the peaceful democracy movement increases. Women, children and pensioners have also recently been victims of attacks. After the use of water cannons, tear gas, stun grenades, clubs and rubber bullets, the Interior Ministry is now openly threatening the use of firearms and live ammunition. In a demonstration scheduled as a “partisan march”, people today are calling for an end to the violence. Some questions and answers about the situation in the ex-Soviet republic, which is dependent on Russia:

What about the revolution in Minsk: is the system weakening or are the protests fading?

The resistance against the 66-year-old Lukashenko is unbroken. Despite hundreds of arrests and the massive violence against demonstrators by uniformed men, there are daily protests. With tens of thousands or even more than 100,000 demonstrators, Sunday is regularly the highlight of each week in the protests that have been going on since the summer. Intimidation attempts and even torture in prison and deaths have not yet silenced the democracy movement. However, the system remains strong and determined – as does the protest movement. “The confrontation has actually intensified,” says Minsk political scientist Valery Karbelevich.

How does Lukashenko stay in power?

Above all, he relies on the police and the military, who use force to guarantee that he will remain in office. Lukashenko is largely isolated internationally. The EU states and many other countries no longer recognize him as president. But neighbor Russia, on which Belarus is economically dependent, is firmly on Lukashenko’s side. China too. “There is still no signs of erosion in the government or in the large organizations,” says Karbelevitsch. As long as there is no split in the elite and the protests remain peaceful, he can hold out. “But the Kremlin, for example, is putting pressure on Lukashenko to solve the problem.”

The Interior Ministry has now openly threatened to fire live ammunition at demonstrators. How serious is that

Experts see this primarily as a threat with the aim of frightening people further. “We see an increase in violence on the part of the power apparatus from week to week. And that naturally affects parts of the population,” says Karbelevitsch. The commander of a special unit in the Ministry of the Interior, Nikolai Karpenkov, described Lukashenko’s opponents as “bandits”. “Anyone who raises a hand at a security representative with a knife is shot at,” he warns.

Can a peaceful revolution turn into a bloody revolution?

There are individual calls to build a self-defense movement against the power apparatus. The partisan movement in World War II is also often remembered – which is why the big Sunday demonstration is also designed as a “partisan march” this time. But experts like the Minsk analyst Artjom Schraibman see little chance for this. The people in Belarus have no access to weapons. In addition, the initiators of the protests repeatedly emphasize their peaceful character. There are also no forces in sight that are storming and occupying public buildings, as has just happened in the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. In such a case, the Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin has openly threatened Russian intervention.

The leader of the revolution, Svetlana Tichanovskaya, gave Lukashenko an ultimatum. What can she achieve from her exile in Lithuania?

Above all, she is seen as a symbol of the democracy movement, calling for protests and strikes and repeatedly repeating the three core demands: Lukashenko’s resignation, the release of all political prisoners and new elections. In her ultimatum for October 25, Tichanovskaya called for a general strike across the country should the points not be met by then. “I am skeptical that she will succeed. Her influence on the situation in the country is very limited because she is based abroad,” says Karbelevich. “The protest movement organizes itself spontaneously and above all through the channels in the Telegram intelligence service.” Many leading forces in the movement, like Tichanovskaya, have since left the country – or are in prison.

Russia as an influential actor calls for a dialogue to resolve the crisis, Lukashenko recently met with members of the opposition in prison – is that a way?

“A prison is not a place for negotiations,” says Karbelevich. Lukashenko miscalculated in his conversation with the opposition members there. “He apparently wanted to pull the opposition to his side and get them to call on the population to end the mass protests,” says Karbelevich. In return, he probably wanted her to participate in talks about the planned amendment to the constitution. “That failed. Since then, the security forces have been even more brutal. And the protests are also increasing.” The situation is now exacerbated by a deterioration in the economic situation in the country. “The power struggle continues.”

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