Do Belarusians hold out? “There’s no way to get rid of a dictator

Every evening thousands of demonstrators gather on Independence Square in Minsk to demonstrate against President Lukashenko. “The Belarusian people can keep this up for a long time to come,” says Marina Ulyashyna.

Not only in Minsk, but also in other cities in Belarus, mass demonstrations have taken place since the presidential elections of August 9th. According to the official results, President Lukashenko won, but the opposition speaks of large-scale fraud and demands new elections

“This will be a fight over who has the longest breath”, says Ulyashyna who lives in the Netherlands and follows the situation in her country closely. The protests continue. Meanwhile, Russia urges the EU and the US to keep aloof from the situation in Belarus and this week two prominent opposition members were arrested.

“Every day people disappear, even less prominent Belarusians. They are arrested and taken away. It is total chaos,” says Ulyashyna. But how does the country get out of this situation? “There’s no plan to get rid of a dictator.”

What now?

“Now what? There is no single answer to that difficult question,” says correspondent David-Jan Godfroid. “In Ukraine, Serbia and, to a lesser extent, Georgia, change proved to be a process of months or years.”

According to Godfroid, who follows the protests from Moscow because Belarus allows few journalists, it can go both ways. “Now people still go out on the streets every day, soon every Sunday, then every month. The protest will radicalize, or there will be a certain fatigue.”

The key to breaking the deadlock in Belarus lies partly in Russia, says Godfroid. “If Belarus gets more support from the EU, Russia’s entire western border will be pro-European. They don’t want that.” And the opposition doesn’t have much more pressure. “The Coordinating Board set up by the opposition can’t make a dent in a packet of butter, because Lukashenko doesn’t want to talk to it. And a national strike, which is a way to put pressure on the government, is not going to get off the ground. Moreover, so far all power structures, the police, the security services and the army remain behind Lukashenko.”

Sanctions not enough

Marina Ulyashyna thinks that the solution must come from the European Union. Simply imposing sanctions as the EU is doing now is not enough, in her opinion. “Lukashenko’s surroundings must be given a clear signal so that they realise that it would be better for them to leave. If all the money taps close internationally and Lukashenko has only Russia, he won’t last long”

Ulyashyna would like the EU to “stand behind the people of Belarus” before the beginning of September, because then Lukashenko’s inauguration will officially take place. According to Ulyashyna, the demonstrators in Belarus now receive a lot of support from Poland and Lithuania. Today Lithuania has drawn up a list with 118 names. The country wants to impose sanctions against them. The EU is still working on such a list.

But no one knows if this will make the Belarusian dictator who has been in power for 26 years leave. Marina Ulyashyna: “I have faith in the people. When Lukashenko appears in public with a gun together with his son of 15, we are not afraid. Then we make jokes to each other: ‘The school year begins. What does my child need? A diary, a bulletproof vest and a rifle The cynicism drips off, but that’s our way of survival.”