By Weronika Krupa, BA International Relations and Chinese
Trigger warning: mentions of torture and rape.
There is a revolution happening right on the EU’s doorstep. It was sparked by the rigged election of president Alexander Lukashenko, who started his sixth term in office after allegedly winning around 70% of the popular vote in August, after having imprisoned and detained the opposition candidates. The peaceful protests convey the frustration of the Belarussian people.
Through Telegram or media agencies like Belsat, Nexta, or Radio Svoboda (Radio Free Europe), protestors have shared shocking and heart-breaking stories of the brutality they have experienced at the hands of the state Militia and the KGB. Beaten, shot, tortured and raped, the Belarussians have struggled in their fight for democracy for more than half a year.
The EU has already placed multiple personal sanctions on senior Belarussian officials, and many Eastern European countries have eased their visa procedures in favor of the citizens of Belarus. Yet the media coverage of the situation lessens every day – it is shocking how little of a conversation we have in Western Europe about the significant events taking place on the other side of the continent. Belarussians lose their lives every day whilst fighting for a morsel of the freedoms we enjoy.
I spoke about the protests with Zmicier, a young student from Belarus. Zmicier has been separated from his family back home and currently resides in Poland. He is counting down the days until he can come back to a free and democratised Belarus.
I asked him how he felt, half a year after they started.
‘You know, unfortunately, the protests have now entered some sort of a “cold phase”.’ Zmicier said, ‘There aren’t as many open protests as there were in summer, for obvious reasons. The format is a bit different now. Smaller manifestations around the blocks make it easier to escape from the militia. It’s a total guerrilla fight over there. A lot of political experts prognose a second wave of protests in springtime – maybe even more powerful than the summer one. The regime is falling apart, and it’s visible.’
I asked him how he felt about the EU’s response to the situation. The sanctions, the visas – did he think enough was being done?
Zmicier responded, ‘Well, myself, living in the EU, I have already been introduced to the EU apparatus. I kind of understand how it works here. However, during the first days and months of the protests, when I was talking with my friends back home at the barricades, they kept asking: “Why isn’t the EU doing anything? Why are we being shot at, and the EU stays silent?”. Well, it was obvious to me back then that the bureaucracy needs some time to work. I think the EU could have done more, but I understand that not everything is possible. The Belarussians need to understand that too.’
Though this situation brought together the V4 countries, I asked Zmicier if he was disappointed that countries further afield in Europe were not getting involved.
‘I mean, a random Brit living in London does not care about what’s happening somewhere in Belarus.’ He replied, ‘What is their relation to it? Just some protests somewhere, one more dictator being overthrown, so what? But yeah, we got a lot of support from eastern countries like Poland and Lithuania.’
I asked him if there was anything he would like to say specifically to the people of Great Britain, or to the whole Western-European community.
‘I think democracy is something that every nation has to earn. If we don’t fight for it, no one will.’
He responded, ‘I have nothing to say. Those countries are doing everything they can. They can’t just enter Belarus in tanks and overthrow Lukashenko. We need to do it ourselves. I think democracy is something that every nation has to earn. If we don’t fight for it ourselves, no one will.’
Despite the EU’s diplomatic involvement, it seems that Belarussians can only count on themselves. The situation in Belarus calls for a wider discussion. A discussion on democracy, solidarity and mass mobilisation. A discussion we need to have in order to spread awareness of the significant political shifts which are already happening in Europe.
As Zmicier pointed out, democracy cannot be taken for granted. It is fought for, it is cultivated and protected through direct action. If Belarus succeeds in liberating itself from Lukashenko’s regime, it may serve to remind us that citizens who stand together in solidarity against oppression are a force to be reckoned with.
Photo caption: Summer protests in Minsk, Belarus. The red-white flag is a symbol of democratic Belarus, as opposed to the official, red-green pattern promoted by Lukashenko’s regime (Credit: Wikimedia Commons).