When the polls closed in Belarus on August 9th, the Belorussian people did not know what to expect. On the one hand, Alexander Lukashenko had been in power for twenty-six years since 1994, winning election after election and wielding immense power in Belarus. However, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had quickly entered the spotlight as the opposition candidate against Lukashenko, running a platform that criticized Lukashenko’s campaign tactics and promising a more free, democratic Belarus.
As she gained considerable traction among young voters, many believed that Tikhanovskaya would pose a threat to Lukashenko, but when election officials announced a landslide 80% victory for Lukashenko — a number that failed to represent her massive voter base — protests erupted nationwide. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets to protest Lukashenko’s authoritarian grip and the alleged fraudulence of the elections. Over the last couple of weeks, the police detained thousands of protesters and used violent tactics to suppress them, prompting an international response denouncing Lukashenko and rejecting the results of these elections.
Many Americans who have been following these elections see photographs of the swarming crowds of protesters and pictures of police resistance, but they often don’t get an authentic representation of these protests. The RAYA interviewed a 16-year-old Belorussian student to survey his perspective on the turmoil in his country, his stance on the issues, and his connection to Belarus. This survey was translated from Russian.
I’m recording. What is your opinion on Lukashenko? Many people regard him as an authoritarian dictator who’s leading Belarus in the wrong direction, what do you think? The people have a general belief that he has been president for too long — twenty-six years is just too long. I don’t think people are concerned about his political stances, but most of us are getting tired of his long tenure as president and his unwillingness to give up power; the people of Belarus are getting weary. There have been protests in the past against Lukashenko, but they quickly died when Lukashenko used his dictatorial powers. He is again using his authoritarian powers on the people by deploying his police force. He is trying to dissipate the protests using violent police tactics — he’s losing the support and respect of the people.
What do you think about the results of the election? Do you believe that Lukashenko won 80% of the votes in Belarus?
I don’t think he won eighty percent of the vote because most of Belarus’ youth voted for Tikhanovskaya. The people who have access to the internet and read the news online, of course, voted for Tikhanovskaya. Belarussians who get their news from their televisions generally voted for Lukashenko — the news on TV shows a positive picture of Lukashenko, it lies to people. There are people in Belarus who do not have access to the internet, they can only access the news through their televisions, and they voted for Lukashenko. I’m positive that far fewer than eighty percent of the people voted for him.
What do you think of Svetlana Thikanovskya and the platform she is running on?
She wants to conduct fair and free elections. She wants to win the presidency to hold a fair election. The government jailed her husband during his presidential campaign — he was campaigning, and Lukashenko imprisoned him as he was one of the fiercest opponents to his rule. I want Belarus to finally have a fair election.
We had three main candidates for president, but Lukashenko got rid of them once they threatened his presidency. He put two of them in prison, and one of them fled the country. They arrested them and put them in jail on ridiculous grounds: one of them was allegedly taking bribes, another one was stashing a lot of money in his apartment. He removed his opposition using these unethical tactics, and Tikahnovskaya managed to gain the support of the people by calling out these arrests and accusing Lukashenko of rigging the elections.
Have you considered joining these protests?
I haven’t joined these protests because I’m only sixteen years old. To be honest, I would have joined these protests if I were older. I personally think the people protesting — the men and women going out on the streets — are brave and determined. Just in my small town of 16,000 citizens, so many people have joined the protests, it’s a fantastic sight to see. What does it mean to be Belarussian to you? I’m proud to be a Belarussian. Belarussians, in my opinion, are humble and peaceful people. Generally, they never want to argue or cause trouble. Right now, the people are protesting because they are tired and angry about the country’s political situation, but they are still doing it peacefully. I want to bring up an example. When the protesters climb the benches to hold up their signs, they take off their shoes to avoid dirtying the bench. They pick up all the litter after the protests — that is why Belarus is so clean.
Final question. Why are the protesters waving a red and white flag instead of the official red and green flag?
In the past, the first flag of Belarus was white and red. When Lukashenko came to power, he changed the flag to the red and green one you see today. All the main candidates that Lukashenko eliminated from the race promised to officially change Belarus’ flag to the red and white one — it better represents the country culturally and historically. So by waving that flag, the protesters are making a statement against Lukashenko.