Cities in conflict

Belarus

By Farhan Muhammad

14.10.2020

Lukashenko, ‘Europe’s last dictator,’ or ‘The Cockroach’ has been in a state of tumultuous affairs since the start of August. Following his alleged landslide re-election in which 80% of votes were in his favour.

Belarus as a result erupted into protests with no clear sign of it ending any time soon. Whilst this quarantine season has been rife with protests internationally. Belarus’s took centre stage in media cycles in August due to the parties involved.

The internal conflict helped illustrate the polarising views between Belarus and Russia. The history of which is entrenched deep in old soviet borders. Lukashenko has been the leader of Belarus since the establishment of his office in 1994.

Almost all the country’s opposition leaders have been detained or forced into exile in order for Lukashenko to retain control of the country.  

The protests allowed international agents to direct responses without reprimand. For example, in September the UK imposed sanctions against Lukashenko, his son and six other senior government officials responsible for rigging the presidential poll.  

Most importantly, most nations have responded directly to the brutal crackdown on peaceful protests in Belarus. In which, swarths of video evidence across the internet can back up. Most recently, headlines have picked up on female protestors being targeted especially after the ‘sparkly march’ where 2,000 women took part, wearing shiny accessories and carrying the red and white flags of the protest movement.

Interestingly, the art that came from this movement has been largely a parodied version of old Soviet era posters. This has resulted in some astounding works of art that help explain each element of the protest.

An image of Belarusian opposition leader Maryya Kalesnikava clutching onto a torn passport. The text reads 'Masha, the motherland is calling!
Irakli Toidze's 1941 'Motherland is calling' soviet recruitment poster. In the image a peasant woman is holding the red army oath.

This image is referencing Kalesikava tearing her passport infront of Belarusian police as they attempted to deport her out of the country. It is also a direct parody of a famous soviet era recruitment poster from WWII.

This form of rallying via graphic illustration has been iconic in major protests across the world. With Hong Kong being the most pertinent in this case.

Further female lead hashtags such as #she4belarus depicts a gendered side to these protests following the surge in support for the female opposition leader.

Protestors have been synonymised with the traditional white flag with a red horizontal line portioning running through the middle. In the past this flag was stigmatized during the rise of Lukashenko in 1994, when he focused on it being the image of Belarusian Nazi collaborators, however ignoring its deep-rooted history.

In actuality the flag has been associated with Belarus long before the rise of fascism at the start of the 20th century. Lukashenko’s choice to retain a similar flag to their time in soviet rule depicts the relationship he has with the Kremlin.

In return Lukashenko has encouraged police violence against those carrying the white red flag, inspiring almost all artwork to carry the sentiment.

A defining characteristic of the Belarusian protests were women being the cornerstone to the protest’s success. Three women, in particular, have spearheaded the opposition campaign against Lukashenko’s regime:

  • Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a former English teacher was running in place of her jailed husband Sergei, as the main candidate against Lukashenko
  • Kolesnikova headed Babariko’s opposition campaign, the latter was barred from the race after being jailed on money laundering that he dismissed as political.
  • Veronika, the wife of another potential contender took her husbands place after he fled the country fearing arrest.

All three have joined forces to become the face of the protests. In doing so they have managed to facilitate a direct opposition to Lukashenko and his campaign.

As of writing this article Belarus is now in its 9th week of protesting. With thousands of people still turning out despite continued police threat to open fire with rubber bullets and water cannons. It is unclear if the demands of protestors will be met. However, Belarus continues to be targeted by new sanctions from the EU.

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