Since August 9, 2020, hundreds of thousands of heroes in Belarus have been fighting back against oppression, corruption and a blatantly stolen election. Although the opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won more votes, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who had been in office since 1994, refused to step down.
Tikhanovskaya announced her candidacy after her husband, Sergei, was arrested and thrown in jail after announcing his own. Directly after the election, several of Ms. Tikhanovskaya’s staff were effectively taken hostage, and she was forced to read an obviously coerced concession speech before leaving Belarus for neighboring Lithuania. Based on comments she has made since, many people assume Lukashenko and his thugs threatened her children.
Saying that a woman could not possibly be president because “our Constitution is not for women” and calling peaceful protesters “rats,” “trash” and “bandits,” Lukashenko and his security forces (who are still called KGB) pulled out all the stops to end the protests — including shuttering the Internet; beating, imprisoning and even killing protestors; using flash grenades, water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowds; and getting people fired from their jobs and kicked out of universities. Outraged, factory workers and even people who work at state run institutions went on strike, and many in Belarus called for an even more comprehensive one.
In typical authoritarian fashion, Lukashenko repeatedly raided the homes and offices of journalists and human rights activists, after already detaining hundreds of them. He also announced his intentions to change the country’s Constitution. In response, the European Union (EU) issued sanctions on several organizations, as well as President Alexander Lukashenko and dozens of his officials. This included his son Viktor who is his “national security advisor.”
Then, in May 2021, Lukashenko literally skyjacked an airborne plane and forced it to land in order to arrest a Belarusian pro-democracy journalist named Roman Protasevich who had been living in exile in Lithuania.
The following day, a video was released featuring Protasevich “admitting” to inciting disorder in Belarus. The video also clearly showed bruises and abrasions on the journalist’s face, which convinced almost everyone that Protasevich’s “confession” was coerced. Once again, the European Union issued sanctions and also banned Belarus’s national airline, Belavia, from flying over EU territory.
Naturally, Russian President Vladimir Putin wormed his way into the crisis (Belarus is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast). Putin regards Belarus — as he does Ukraine — to be part of what he terms the “Russian world,” which, based on the war crimes Putin is already perpetrating in Ukraine, is obviously extremely concerning.
This concern is heightened by the fact that, not long before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin and Lukashenko announced joint military exercises, permanent joint training facilities, and a new Russian airbase in Belarus — all while a newly organized pro-Kremlin political party held its first meeting in Minsk.
Now this has escalated even further. In October 2022 — after a meeting with Putin, who he is deeply dependent on for financial and security assistance — Lukashenko announced that a large number of Russian forces would be returning to Belarus and that he was forming a “joint regional group of troops” to combat “possible aggression” against Belarus by NATO and Ukraine.
This is the last thing the people of Belarus need. We stand with Tikhanovskaya and the incredibly brave people of Belarus who demand an end to Soviet-style repression, violence and injustice. We are rooting hard for you! Don’t be denied!