I am a Belarusian and I have never experienced a turnover of power in my country. For 26 years we have had one president, who changed the government from a parliamentary republic into a presidential one. Since then, Alexander Lukashenko has taken absolute control over all spheres of life, first by terrorising the progressive population, repressing dissidents and causing a youth brain-drain abroad for decades, then by making economic conditions unbearable for the whole society.
Belarusians are known for being very patient and tolerant people, but everything has its limit, and Belarus has passed the point of no return. During the recent presidential elections on 9 August 2020, an absolute majority, according to exit polls, received an alternative candidate - Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya - a wife of an initial candidate who was imprisoned prior the elections along with many others this year and previously. Many Belarusians were not able to vote due to a lack of ballots, a catastrophic shortage of voting booths, or polling stations apparently needing disinfection in a country that has never recognised coronavirus as a threat. Despite this, our choice was obvious.
That day I saw so much hope in people’s eyes, I saw unity and aspirations for much-needed change. Yet instead of celebrating victory, people had to take to the streets as a huge election fraud took place, officially giving Alexander Lukashenko 80% of the vote. Voters were deceived in the most impudent way and the dictator showed that people’s opinion means nothing.
Over the next few days, the whole world witnessed the police brutality towards peaceful protesters who simply asked for fair elections. In the three days since, there have been more than 6,000 people imprisoned, beaten, tortured and abused, both mentally and physically. Among them are women and children. Over 50 journalists were detained and intimidated. Special forces used stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas and water canons. Thousands of people, including passers-by and doctors, have suffered serious injuries. Many of those injured have been hospitalised with critical wounds and there have been several fatalities. The regime has used dirty methods of fighting its own people: smashing passing cars signalling in support of protesters, driving police wagons into unarmed crowds and firing military weapons at the windows of those who tried to film what was happening.
Tsikhanouskaya has been reportedly threatened by high-ranking security persons and had to leave Belarus for Lithuania at night. She was held for many hours without access to a lawyer before reading a 37-second statement from a piece of paper thanking voters and calling upon them “not to resist policy and not to take to the squares to prevent risking lives”. Her husband and many representatives of her election headquarters remain imprisoned, effectively taken as hostages by the authorities of Belarus.
Despite the fact that our legitimate president was forced to flee the country, despite the fact that the regime cut off the internet in the whole country, despite the ten-minute trials charging detainees with articles of undermining statehood and threatening terms of up to 15 years in prison, Belarusians continue to use peaceful methods of protest including solidarity chains of women, road blockages and strikes.
With this message, I, on behalf of Belarusians, want to ask heads of states not to recognise the result of the announced elections and ask the business world not to support Lukashenko’s bloody regime. I also call upon the international community to put pressure on the dictator in order to release political prisoners and all who have fallen victim to the illegal actions of the security forces.
We are a peaceful nation and we don’t want civil war, bloody revolution or a coup. We just want to have a chance to choose our future, to use our constitutional rights and freedoms, to live in a just society where human lives matter.