Belarusian opponents in neighboring Poland have demonstrated this Sunday in front of their country’s Embassy in Warsaw to ask the European Union to harden its stance towards Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime as a result of the migration crisis it has generated at the border. At a rally attended by a hundred people from different branches of the Belarusian opposition in Poland, the participants stressed the importance of the EU passing more sanctions on Minsk and not legitimizing Lukashenko as an interlocutor.
The Union does not recognize Lukashenko as president of the country due to the accusations of rigging in the August 2020 elections – in which the authoritarian leader was re-elected by an overwhelming majority after 26 years in power – and the subsequent repression of the demonstrations in his against. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke twice by phone with Lukashenko this week to try to resolve the situation of the thousands of migrants crowded on the border with Poland. It was the first time that a Western leader had a dialogue with the Belarusian leader since the elections.
“Today we are trying to get the EU to focus on the fact that the main problem is Lukashenko,” one of the participants, Stasia Glinnik, assured this newspaper. “We want the money to be returned to those people at the border and new sanctions to be approved. Those that already exist touch rather specific people and only affect 5% of the country’s economy ”, added Glinnik, granddaughter of Stanislav Shushkiévich, one of the three signatories in 1991 – along with the Russian Boris Yeltsin and the Ukrainian Leonid Kravchuk – from the famous Belavezha agreements (by which the USSR formally disappeared) and the first president of the new independent Belarus, until 1994.
Although the main target of criticism was Lukashenko, portrayed with a puppet with the word “terrorist” and a sign that read “Go away, rat,” Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin – Minsk’s support in this crisis – have been the other two great black beasts. One of the banners read “Merkel, whose side are you on?” in another, the Belarusian leader was seen with the phrase “Herr Lukashenko ”(Mr. Lukashenko, in German) and two portraits of Merkel and Putin. It is the formula, instead of “President Lukashenko”, that the German Presidency used when reporting the telephone conversations between the two, which the protesters consider legitimation de facto of the Belarusian leader.
“We don’t like talking to terrorists,” says Glinnik. “He is not recognized as president. So why do you talk to him, if he is not the representative of Belarus? It is just what I wanted to achieve with this blackmail ”. Next Tuesday they will demonstrate precisely at the German Embassy in Warsaw.
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The Belarusian opposition in Poland regularly organizes protests, but this Sunday was the first against the “hybrid war” launched by Lukashenko. Tens of thousands of Belarusians reside in Poland, with the largest community in the capital. Post-election repression has led to an increase in arrivals, which Warsaw facilitates, although the main opposition leader, Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, has been sheltering in Lithuania since just after the elections.
Different opposition branches have participated in the rally, such as Christian Democrats or anarchists, a group persecuted by the Minsk authorities that displayed a black banner with the slogan: “Politicians play, people die.”
The assistants have chanted songs like “With will, we will win”, “Long live Belarus” or “Minsk, Warsaw, the same goal”. Quite a few had attached to their backs the white and red flag that was official in Belarus at various times in history and is used today by the opposition. They also displayed posters in Belarusian, Polish and English with slogans such as “Freedom for political prisoners” or “While the EU is trading with Lukashenko, Lukashenko is trafficking in people.”
A group also collected signatures asking the Polish authorities to declare Lukashenko a “terrorist”, along with a poster with the photos and names of 27 Belarusians whose deaths the opposition attributes to the repression of the regime. Among them is the best known case, that of the painter Roman Bondarenko, who died in hospital a year ago after receiving several blows to the head from plainclothes security agents.
Among the attendees is Mariya, who has only been in Poland since April. She says that she was an observer at the elections and that she began “to collect all the evidence that the results had been falsified and to distribute that information.” Then the authorities “went after all the group administrators [de la oposición] and Telegram [un servicio de mensajería que suelen emplear] and one of them was imprisoned under the penal code. I was the administrator of another and I began to understand that they would come after me and that I had to leave immediately. In fact, they came looking for me when I was already here, ”he says.
Aksana (not her real name) collects signatures and calls “for a strong stance against a dictator to be adopted.” In her country, she says, she was one of the organizers of the demonstrations against electoral fraud, but ended up packing her bags a year later. “I left mainly because I didn’t want my taxes to fund Lukashenko. And because they were not going to take long to come for me a second time, “he says in reference to a first imprisonment, of one week.
“We ask for more sanctions,” said Andrey, who arrived in Poland this summer, “but I also think that the Belarusians themselves who are inside have to do something, like a strike. After the elections, many of us took to the streets, it was nice, but things got uglier and uglier ”, he explains.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.