A long-time opponent of the Belarusian regime, Alexander Milinkevich, a former presidential candidate (2006), is currently in the Grodno region, where he is witnessing the civic mobilization of his people over the past weeks. He observes with a mixture of euphoria and disbelief the scale of the protest, which has wavered Alexander Lukashenko, in power for twenty-six years.
After wavering, does Alexander Lukashenko manage to regain control?
His rhetoric has changed dramatically. During the campaign, he questioned Russian interference. Then, after his talks with Putin, he took aim at NATO, the European Union. Lukashenko no longer owns himself. He is a puppet in the hands of Putin. The strikes in the factories were very unexpected, the workers demanding new elections, the release of the prisoners. Lukashenko tries to frighten the leaders, to push them aside. They are holding on. But for how long, if their wages are threatened? Lukashenko will not accept any compromise. On television, he replaced protesting journalists with Russians for propaganda purposes. It’s a hybrid invasion.
An investigation has also been opened against the opposition coordination committee, whose members are summoned by the prosecution. As for Tsikhanovskaïa, she necessarily has a weaker position, in exile in Lithuania, in Vilnius. She is not a national leader, but she led the campaign very well, saying she would be a transitional president before free elections. In a bottom-up movement, it is better not to have a real leader. But at the present stage, they lack, to lay down the requirements, to draw a perspective.
How do you explain this sudden civic conflagration?
This collective awakening is absolutely incredible. Sunday August 12, in Grodno, there were 40,000 people in the street. It’s the same everywhere, especially in Minsk. In view of our history, we are faced with an unprecedented phenomenon. Since 2001, every election has been different. But there were commonalities from one ballot to the next. It was not just a repeated confrontation between the opposition and the Lukashenko regime. Moscow has always made sure it has a plan. I would sum it up in three points: dividing the opposition, spoiling the country’s relationship with the West, speeding up integration with Russia.
In 2006, the election was marked by terrible repressions, from the start of the campaign. All the public meetings were disrupted, our tires were punctured, there were arrests. But in 2010, there was an opening. The political prisoners had been released and anything was possible. We could even hold meetings in bus stations! In contrast, the opposition was totally divided, as in 2006 everyone rallied behind me.
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