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Issue 5/2021: Belarusians. One year in protest

Now available! Issue 5/2021 of New Eastern Europe. This special issue aims to honour the plight of Belarusians whose democratic choice made in August 2020 was shamelessly snubbed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

September 13, 2021 - New Eastern Europe

It is our duty to bring our fight to a victorious end

An interview with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of democratic Belarus. Interviewer: Paulina Siegień

PAULINA SIEGIEŃ: Your life has dramatically changed over the last year. These changes took place even earlier when your husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, decided he would run for president. We all know what took place afterwards. What was the most important lesson that you have learnt as a result of all that has happened?

SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: My life has been in constant change for over the last year and a half. At first, Siarhei decided to run for president, then he was arrested so that he could not submit necessary documents to register with the election committee, which included collecting signatures for his candidacy. My husband gave me these documents along with the power of attorney in case something happened. Nevertheless, the Belarusian election commission did not accept these documents from me and challenged my power of attorney, saying that the candidate must come and sign in person. That is why on the following day, I decided to submit these documents myself, meaning, on my own behalf.

September 12, 2021 - Paulina Siegień Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

One year on. What has changed in Belarus?

The 2020 elections took place in the middle of a pandemic, dismissed by the president as a "psychosis". They were the first elections to be contested by other sectors of the Belarusian elite. Since that day, the situation has changed. Over 38,000 people have been arrested, and over 500 have been declared political prisoners. Peaceful protesters, peaking in numbers at around 250,000 in Minsk but significant in all cities, have been arrested, tortured and in several cases, murdered. What comes next remains an open question.

On August 9th 2021, Alyaksandr Lukashenka held a press conference to discuss the events of the previous year. It was attended by both local and foreign journalists. The de facto leader of Belarus fielded questions in his own style and according to his own perceptions – or stated perceptions – of the world. He expressed his views on the so-called All-Belarusian People's Assembly, on the change of president in the United States and in general about the West's vendetta against his rule, as well as the attacks on his security forces by protesters.

September 12, 2021 - David Marples

Repressions reveal the ruthlessness of the Lukashenka regime

Since August last year, the Belarusian regime under Alyaksandr Lukashenka has instituted a system of repressions which is unprecedented for Europe in the second decade of the 21st century. By the end of July this year there were 604 political prisoners in Belarus, the total number of those imprisoned after August 9th 2020 is estimated at more than 35,000. Thirty-two Belarusian journalists are currently in custody, either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.

For more than 25 out of its 30 years of independence, Belarus has been a country governed by a sophisticated state-run system of repressions. Yet since last year’s presidential elections, these repressions lost their sophistication and reached a different level in terms of quantity and “quality”. There are at least three perspectives to consider when examining what is happening in Belarus since August 9th 2020.

September 12, 2021 - Stephan Malerius

Who bears the costs of the EU’s sanctions?

The current sanctions by the West against Belarus might end up being ineffective, if not counterproductive. They will certainly contribute to the economic stress of the population at large and current independent business owners in particular. But it remains doubtful they will achieve their aim of ousting Lukashenka.

In June 2021, the European Union announced a new package (the fourth one) of sanctions against the Belarusian regime, including sectoral sanctions aimed at restricting commodity exports of oil products and potash. Many have argued these sanctions will force financial difficulties on the state and thus increase pressures on Alyaksandr Lukashenka to step down, making way for new and free elections. Yet the question remains how effective they really will be if the aim is to ultimately bring down Lukashenka and bring democracy to Belarus?

September 12, 2021 - Daniel Krutzinna

The essence of Belarusian solidarity

Thousands of Belarusians have fled to Poland. They include students, pensioners, mothers, and the children of parents who were arrested. Yet, these Belarusians continue the fight, despite the risks. They have formed structures and organisations which provide aid, political analysis and cultural promotion. And they have managed to turn the world’s eyes on Belarus.

Since the rigged presidential elections in Belarus last year, thousands of Belarusians have come to Poland seeking refuge from the repressions of the Alyaksandr Lukashenka regime. Almost a thousand of them have already received political asylum and protection. However, their struggle for democracy in Belarus did not end with their departures. In exile, they grouped, got involved and created initiatives that allowed them to not only maintain a spirit of solidarity, but to continue the fight for a free Belarus.

September 12, 2021 - Magdalena Chodownik Omar Marques

The power of internet as a game changer for Belarusian protests

The Telegram platform and online news outlets have succeeded in covering the events of 2020 and 2021 very well and they were used to announce demonstrations during the peak of the protests. Thanks to them, the sense of unity and solidarity disseminated quickly among Belarusians inside the country and the diaspora abroad.

When the 2020 presidential election campaign launched in Belarus, the government authorities did not pay much attention to the enormous popularity of the online media, especially social media. Being confident in his “elegant victory” (this was the term used by the long-term head of the Belarusian Central Election Commission, Lidziya Yarmoshyna), Alyaksandr Lukashenka did not invest much effort on any inventive campaign tools. His campaign team mainly relied on the monopolised television and radio channels, and state financed newspapers.

September 12, 2021 - Veranika Laputska

The Belarus book

An interview with Kasia Syramalot, author of The Belarus Book – a visual story of Belarus over the past decade. Interviewer: Anastasia Starchenko

September 12, 2021 - Anastasiia Starchenko Kasia Syramalot

Between history and magic

The protesters and Belarusian commentators adopted the role of colonised objects. The scale of the protests surprised everyone. As soon they erupted, the clichéd accounts that the pro-tests represent the birth of the nation were repeated like a mantra. Apparently it emerged sud-denly and Belarusians were formed as a nation in that moment.

A year has passed since the presidential elections in Belarus, which initiated an un-precedented social uprising, often referred to as the Belarusian revolution. Like most revolu-tions, the Belarusian one created its own symbols. Their appearance and dissemination among the protesters had primarily a unifying function. Symbols express the intentions of a revolu-tion. Their interpretation allows us to reconstruct the vision of the future that could emerge on the ruins of the overthrown regime. It raises the following question: one year after the start of protests, how can we describe the symbolism of the Belarusian revolution and can we say it will be an unfulfilled one?

September 12, 2021 - Paulina Siegień Wojciech Siegień

Constitutional reform process in Belarus: recent trends and developments

Constitutional reform is a hot topic in and outside of Belarus. Two approaches are currently underway: one led by Alyaksandr Lukashenka and another by the opposition, led by Sviatlana Tsikhanouksaya.

The need for change to the Belarusian constitution was announced long before the events of 2020, and both Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the opposition have initiated a process after the election. The opposition has emphasised the need for changes to the constitution by the political crisis while Lukashenka’s initial interest in constitutional reform was two-fold: to calm the protests and to assure Russia that he can maintain control over the situation. Based on an official proposal recently announced, the changes proposed by Lukashenka’s constitutional commission do not encompass substantive change to the existing non-democratic model, making it even more bureaucratic and slow.

September 12, 2021 - Hanna Vasilevich

Redefining US strategy in the region

The time has come to strengthen Euro-Atlantic unity on its Eastern flank. A new US-led strategy should be aimed towards redrawing the line between Europe and Eurasia and to send a signal that the transatlantic community and the region of Central and Eastern Europe can be truly united, and that America is back.

The tenacity shown by President Joe Biden’s administration in their attempts to restore unity in the West has made others quickly forget all the tensions within the transatlantic community during Donald Trump’s four years. It is not only interesting to follow all the steps being taken by the new US administration, they also inspire optimism and confidence, creating expectations of geopolitical momentum. However, the consolidation of the West seems a far more complicated matter than previously thought.

September 12, 2021 - Dmytro Tuzhanskyi

Russia at war with COVID-19, again!

Many Russians have refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Several factors explain this. First, people do not trust the authorities or the Russian vaccine. Second, the pandemic is now considered history by many who see no need to get vaccinated. Third, disinformation has created a lot of uncertainty surrounding the vaccine.

In early July 2021 a new wave of COVID-19 hit Russia. This time it came in the form of the more transmissible Delta variant. As a result, Russia began reporting new infections and the largest number of deaths (nearly 800 per day in early August) since the beginning of the pandemic in March last year. At the same time, vaccination rates have remained extremely low, especially when compared to countries in the European Union and the United States. In fact, Russia is the only vaccine producing country with such low vaccination rates. A mere 19 per cent of Russians have gotten fully vaccinated since December 2020.

September 12, 2021 - Agnieszka Legucka

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