The civic movement that stands up to Lukashenko

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Belarusian opposition defends democracy protests are neither anti-Russian nor pro-EU

As the European Parliament announced the Sakharov Prize for the Belarusian opposition, President Aleksandr Lukashenko received in Minsk with smiles and handshakes the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence, Sergei Naryshkin. Before the head of the Russian foreign spies, Lukashenko insisted on Thursday that a plot by the West to evict him from power fuels social protests, which add up to his 75th day. “It’s obvious,” Naryshkin agreed, “we see the desire to change the existing system using unconstitutional methods.”

The outstanding human rights award from the European Parliament may be another accolade for the civic movement for democracy and against electoral fraud in the former Soviet republic. However, the authoritarian leader could also use it as another of his points of support in his speech on foreign interference. Since the beginning of the historic demonstrations, the Belarusian opposition has maintained a studied balance: the democratic demands are not anti-Russian and the protests are not pro-European; social mobilizations are a Belarusian affair. A way to claim your own voice, but also to avoid a possible Moscow intervention in support of its strategic ally.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, who has met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has also been willing to do so with the Russian authorities, although the Kremlin, which supports Lukashenko, has put a the former English teacher on their hunt and catch lists.

“The mobilizations are to fight the dictatorship, to fight for human rights. It is our own fight for freedom, against the dictatorship, for human rights ”, says by telephone from Minsk Tania Marinich, one of the 600 people who make up the Coordination Council of the persecuted opposition, who have organized in such a way that the positions of those arrested – except for the leadership – are filled immediately so that the work to promote a peaceful transition is not interrupted by harassment from the authorities. “The Sakharov Prize is huge for us, for the entire Belarusian society, because it means that our voice is heard internationally, that our fight for freedom is on the right track,” says Marininich, entrepreneur and chair of the technology and business commission of the opposition council.

The retaliation of the Belarusian authorities against critics of Lukashenko is increasingly acute. But the mobilizations against the authoritarian leader in Belarus (9.5 million inhabitants) are also increasingly varied. On Wednesday, riot police used stun grenades and pepper spray against participants in a demonstration by pensioners against Lukashenko, and this Thursday, dozens of people with disabilities demonstrated in the streets of the Belarusian capital to demand democracy and an end to violence. police. A few days ago, a long list of prominent Belarusian athletes joined the mobilizations. But Lukashenko maintains for now the support of the Army and the security apparatus on which he has built his regime and is trying to buy time by designing a constitutional reform.

A few days ago, Tijanóvskaya gave him another ultimatum: either he resigns and is preparing to accept new elections or he will call a general strike. The deadline is on Sunday, but it does not seem that the threat of the opposition will alter the man who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 26 years.

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