My Twitter feed this week, probably like yours, has been filled with terrifying, outrageous but also at points inspirational images from Belarus. The sham of an election that saw Alexander Lukashenko ‘re-elected’ with 80% of the vote has been dismissed and disputed by election observers, the European Union and the US State Department.
Lukashenko has used every tool available to a totalitarian leader. His opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has had to flee the country to protect her family. The military have been deployed against protestors, with public beatings a seemingly normal occurrence. The KGB has been raiding homes overnight arresting anyone considered a threat to the regime. Dozens of journalists have been apprehended. Over 6,700 people have been detained with reports now emerging of torture taking place in the prisons and during interrogations. This is happening on European soil in the year 2020, less than 1,400 miles from London – we cannot ignore it. We must not.
As ever the repressive tools of the dictator rarely silence the population, who seem determined to stand up against Lukashenko and his allies, in numbers not seen in Belarus since the fall of communism.
Yesterday, women wearing white and carrying flowers marched on Minsk and formed solidarity chains in numerous other areas – the protest was clear “Flowers are better than Bullets”. Impromptu strike action has followed at the state owned BelAZ truck factory, with chants that they all voted for Tikhanovskaya not Lukashenko, with other factories seemingly following suit. The protest that touched me most was the protest from the Belarusian State Philharmonic who stood in front of their building with placards stating: “My voice was stolen” as they sang together.
Each of these acts of protest have demonstrated extraordinary feats of personal courage and bravery from a population that is tired and is demanding their basic entitlement of a democratic government that respects the rule of law. Their individual and collective actions are inspirational and it is up to all of us to make sure that they know that they aren’t alone.
Index was established to provide a voice to Soviet dissidents in the 1970s, many of whom were from Belarus. Our commitment to them remains as strong today as it was in 1971. We stand with the people of Belarus against tyranny and repression and we will do all we can to make sure that the world keeps paying attention to their plight.