Belarusian state factories have been the pride of Aleksandr Lukashenko for years. This Friday, outraged by the degree of repression and violence against peaceful protesters, workers in some strategic industries and companies have left their jobs to cry out against the authorities. Thousands of employees of the popular TMZ tractor factory, one of the giants that has survived since the Soviet era and is one of the symbols of the country, or of the Minsk automotive plant have marched through the center of the capital alongside railwaymen , health professionals, students, teachers, workers, musicians, telecommunications engineers to demand the release of political prisoners, an end to violence, the resignation of President Lukashenko and the calling of new elections. The mobilizations against electoral fraud in Sunday’s elections that a large part of civil society has maintained since Sunday have spread to the factories, one of the pillars of the country, Lukashenko’s bases, and put the authoritarian leader on the ropes.
After years of repression, silencing of critical voices and attacks on human rights, something seems to have sprung up in Belarusian society. This Friday, spurred by the images that emerge after the Internet cuts and the testimonies about police brutality that the detainees who are released are beginning to reveal, different large companies across the country have joined a work stoppage against the scheme that can represent a gap of billions of rubles. “Go away,” they shouted at Lukashenko, with signs with slogans like ‘Down’, many carrying flowers. Lukashenko, who assured that the protesters were “sheep managed from abroad” or “drunkards and drug addicts”, has also tried to minimize the demonstration saying that there were four cats. TMZ employees answered him on a banner: “We are not cows or sheep, we are MTZ workers, we are not 20; we are 16,000 ”. In an attempt to appease spirits, the riot police have not intervened this time in the protests that may mark a new phase in the future of Belarus, the former Soviet republic of 9.4 million people and, for many in the West, still “the last dictatorship in Europe ”.
Daniil Chejovich spent 80 hours with 30 other men in a cell of ten. The 20-year-old blogger says that he was not even participating in the protests but was accompanying his girlfriend home when he was arrested. “They kicked me, they beat me so much on the floor of the detainee bus that I only saw blood. They threatened to rape me with a stick and in fact they tried; It hurt, ”he says on the verge of tears by phone from Minsk. “Mostly they tortured young men. And the psychological violence to which they subjected us… a boy with long hair was cut off on the same bus where the detainees were transferred because they said he ‘looked like a fag,’ says Chejovich, who was released this morning. Another young woman told the Belarusian independent portal tut.by how ten riot police beat her, pulled down her pants and threatened to rape her.
Civil rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Whatch have documented torture and ill-treatment of protesters. Oleg Gulak, veteran activist and head of the NGO Helsinki Committee of Belarus, says the violence against protesters and detainees is “unprecedented” in the country. By the magnitude and by the cruelty. “We are witnessing massive torture during arrests, during transportation and in the detention centers themselves,” he says. One protester died during the protests and another during police custody. The authorities have avoided talking about the second case and say that the first died when a Molotov cocktail was exploded, but witnesses cited by local media say that he was hit by a stun grenade thrown by the riot police.
Lukashenko, to whom the electoral commission gave 80% of the votes compared to 10% of his main rival, Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, maintains his speech. Also at the moment, and although it is very weakened, the control of the state apparatus and the Army. “To begin with: I am alive for now and have not left the country,” he stressed ironically. “You and our children are being used as cannon fodder,” he stressed, insisting that the mobilizations are an “aggression against Belarus” orchestrated from abroad. Meanwhile, the thirty alleged Russian mercenaries arrested a few weeks ago in Minsk and accused of planning riots to destabilize the country, which Lukashenko used to grease his speech on the “external threat” have been returned to Moscow, according to the Russian attorney general’s office. Ukraine, which recognized some of the paramilitary contractors for their involvement in the Donbas war, had requested their extradition for trial.
The protests did not decline despite the fact that Tijanóvskaya has been a refugee in Lithuania since Tuesday, due to a potential threat against her children; her husband has been imprisoned in a Belarusian prison since May. In a movement that may mark the path of protests, the opposition leader has reappeared this Friday with a video message in which she demands a new electoral recount and urges the Government to end the violence and initiate a dialogue with the protesters. “Belarusians will never want to live under the current government. The authorities have turned the peaceful demonstrations into a bloodbath, “said Tijanóvskaya, who asked the EU countries for help to mediate the dialogue and announced the creation of a coordinating committee to help ensure a” political transition of power. ”. A council that will include representatives of civil society, respected Belarusians, professionals from different fields.