Farmers and ICT workers walk hand in hand, Belarusians have never been so united

Almost a month after the presidential elections in Belarus, the protests against the results are not over yet. On the contrary. Today tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets again in the capital Minsk.

President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country as a dictator for decades, officially received 80 percent of the votes on 9 August. But the opposition, as well as the European Union and the United States, are convinced that fraud has taken place on a large scale.

Lukashenko doesn’t seem to intend to leave. He uses all kinds of methods to undermine the opposition. The riot police keep arresting large numbers of protesters during the protests. And the authorities raided the large Belarusian software company Pandadoc last week. The top man of the company, Mikita Mikado, supports the opposition financially.

They want to destroy my company

Four of his employees were arrested and are still in jail. “They’re innocent,” says Mikado to News Hour. “They’ve been arrested and are being prosecuted for my views and my activism.”

After he saw the police violence in the streets of Minsk and heard that friends of him had been tortured, Mikado decided to stop standing on the sidelines, he says. The entrepreneur made an appeal on social media to people in the police and the army. “I offered them money and a job if they refused orders to use violence.”

He made the call in a video message:

According to his own words, his fund now helps dozens of agents and soldiers, including some who have been fired or have resigned themselves. “That is why four of my employees have now been taken hostage, while my company has nothing to do with the initiative. It seems that they want to destroy the company, unfortunately.”

“The fear and uncertainty of what’s going to happen is paralyzing the whole industry. I see no future for our industry.”

And even though the IT sector is crucial for the Belarusian economy, journalist Michiel Driebergen has just returned from Minsk. “It has always been very important for the country, even during the Soviet Union. Along with oil, that’s the sector on which the Belarusian economy revolves.”

Mikado fears a recession when IT companies leave the country because of the continued protests, police violence and arrests. Because an end to that doesn’t seem to be in sight. Lukashenko’s position is shaky, but the protesters don’t seem to be able to force a breakthrough.

“It’s a loose situation,” says Driebergen. “The strikes won’t continue because there’s a lot of fear. People can’t afford to lose their jobs. Strike leaders have already been arrested.”

For the time being, the demonstrators are insistent. They continue to take to the streets and demand the release of political prisoners and new elections. Driebergen: “Lukashenko will not be forgiven for what happened in the first days after the protests. There is no more stability.”

Russian interference

How it goes on depends on what Russia does, says the journalist. “Without Putin’s support, Lukashenko will not survive. He no longer negotiates, Moscow decides.”

On state television, Driebergen saw that there is no longer talk of an independent Belarus, as before, but of an independent union with Russia as the only possibility for the country to survive.

If Putin were also to intervene militarily in the unrest in Belarus, which Lukashenko had already alluded to, it would only further undermine stability in the country, Mikado says. The opposition is not necessarily anti-Russian, but “there really is no popular support for Russian intervention”.

“I don’t know how this is going to end, but I’ve never seen the Belarusian people so united and so strong. This is the first time the country has come together as one nation. People from all walks of life, farmers and ICT people, are trying to bring about change hand in hand.”