Protests have swept the country’s major cities, as demonstrators call for the resignation of president Alexander Lukashenko
On Saturday (September 12), 10,000 women descended on the streets of Minsk, calling for the resignation of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko. The march was just one of many happening across the country over the weekend, and marked the 35th consecutive day of anti-government protests.
Demonstrations began after Lukashenko claimed to have won the presidential election on August 9 with over 80 per cent of the vote. The election is widely seen as rigged, with the EU refusing to recognise Lukashenko as the president, and has led to the largest protests in his 26 years of power.
Videos on social media show groups of women screaming as they clash with what appears to be plain clothed police officers at Saturday’s march. “This is happening in a society that is so patriarchal that Lukashenko is literally known as ‘Batka’ = father,” wrote one Twitter user.
Today’s women’s march in #Belarus saw dozens detained. This video shows them trying to unmask security forces.— Emily Sherwin (@EmilyCSherwin) September 12, 2020
The sound of these women screaming is powerful. This is happening in a society that is so patriarchal society that Lukashenko is literally known as “Batka”= father https://t.co/BRpDV6hl3C
Local news reports that women were detained and beaten – one woman was hit in the face after attempting to remove a balaclava from a security officer’s face. One video shows women linking arms in solidarity as riot police attempt to move them back.
According to TIME, many attendees carried placards that read, ‘You painted my heart with blue pain’, in reference to Lukashenko’s accusation that women had previously painted bruises on themselves to mimic police beatings. Others held portraits of Maria Kolesnikova, who led the campaign to unseat Lukashenko – along with opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and Veronika Tsepkalo.
On September 7, Kolesnikova was abducted from Minsk by masked men who drove her away in a van. According to The Guardian, she was driven to the Ukraine border, but ripped up her passport and refused to cross. Last week, an illustration of Kolesnikova – made to look like a Societ war poster – was projected onto the wall of a Minsk apartment block. It shows her holding out her torn passport.
In July, Amnesty International released a report that said Belarus is targeting female activists in “gender-specific ways”. The group’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, Marie Struthers, said at the time: “The Belarusian authorities are wheeling out practices that smack of misogyny.” The report says that activists had faced threats of sexual violence, while some had their children taken into care.
The women’s march was followed by mass protests on Sunday (September 13), which saw over 100,000 take to the streets in the capital. Demonstrators defied blockades by riot police and carried the white and red flags of the pre-Soviet Belarus republic. The Guardian reports that 114 people were arrested at the women’s march, while at least 250 people were detained at the following day’s protests.
Lukashenko will meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin today (September 14) in their first face-to-face encounter since protests began. Putin, who recognises Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus, has said he will bring Russian police in to intervene if protests get “out of control”.