Women in Belarus no longer underestimated, new strategy proves

Women are too weak to play a meaningful role in Belarus. President Lukashenko, against whom protests have been going on for months, has repeatedly spoken out about women. This proved to be a miscalculation: the key figures and protest leaders of the current crisis in the country are women.

Minsk therefore seems to have changed attitudes towards the female half of the population. In response to the popular womens marches, in which women dressed in white with bouquets and balloons occupy the streets of Minsk every Saturday, the authorities are coming today with a Womens Concert, with seating for 10 000 visitors.

Although no line-up has been officially announced, lists of artists coming to perform are already circulating via Telegram. Female demonstrators have been bombarding them with messages since, hoping that they will cancel. Once again, Minsk seems to have underestimated womens readiness for action, perseverance and creativity.

Poor housewife as role model

Previously, President Lukashenko thought he had little to fear from women on the political stage. Before the presidential elections, he agreed to Svetlana Tichanovskaya standing for election in place of her arrested husband. That seemed harmless, as she was only a poor housewife.

Until the opposition united behind her and tens of thousands attended her campaign meetings. From the oppositions own censuses at polling stations, she emerged convincingly as the winner. Two days after the ballot, she left the country under unclear conditions. Since then, she has been in exile in Lithuania.

The role model Tichanovskaya, as well as her supporters Viktoria Tsepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova, encouraged Belarusian women to take to the streets, say demonstrators with whom the CCeit spoke. For Tatiana Matusevich, Koleniskova, who tore up her passport to prevent deportation to Ukraine, is the big hero. “I am no longer afraid because of her courage

Moral decline

For a long time, women were spared the protests. This was cleverly used. In protests women often formed a human chain around male protesters, who escaped arrest as a result.

Arresting a woman is a moral decay for policemen, Matusevich remarked. “A policeman tried to arrest me the other day, but I saw that he felt uncomfortable. He pretended in front of his colleagues that he was trying to arrest me, but I felt that he was not putting any strength into it” He let her go.

Cult demonstrator Nina

It is nothing new that women play a prominent role in the opposition movement, says the Belarusian-Dutch Maria Ulyashyna. Take, for example, journalist Olga Karasj, who made herself loved and feared with her criticism of the authorities (which forced her to flee to Lithuania). She also points to Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexeyevich, the last member of the oppositions Coordination Council who is still at large.

Perhaps the best-known demonstrator is 73-year-old Nina Baginskaya. She has been taking to the streets with a red and white flag on a long stick since the 1980s, skilfully keeping the riot police at bay. Within the opposition she has acquired cult status: videos of her confrontations with agents are widely shared on social media. Demonstrators jokingly suggest that a square in Minsk should be named after her.

Meanwhile, the authorities no longer seem to underestimate women, with all the consequences that entails. Female demonstrators are being dealt a harsh blow, just as men are being dealt a harsh blow. Baginskaja, too, was almost arrested last weekend. An angry mob prevented this, while the great-grandmother tried to take off the face-covering of policemen.

The inviolability is over: at the womens protest last Saturday, over a hundred women were arrested. Vera in her twenties (who wants to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals) escaped arrest, but was given a weapon aimed at her. “Just because I was expressing my opinion.”

In Zjodzina, a woman was beaten to the ground while filming a cop:

The authorities also launched an offensive against the Belarusian female demonstrators. A spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior called the womens protest embarrassing to see. “That aggression, that screaming, it is unfeminine behaviour”

The accusations and the increasing violence do not inhibit women. “We have long accepted that there is a good chance that we will be arrested, says demonstrator Matusevich. “If we give up, Lukashenko wins and our friends stay in prison for years

She thinks that tackling women only increases the protests. “If the authorities are even afraid of us, we are almost there