On the Current Situation in Belarus


The situation in Belarus, »Europe’s last dictatorial regime«, is escalating rapidly. The repressions against the protesters, who are fighting for a democratic and constitutional future for their country with admirable courage, are becoming increasingly violent. Out of the seven members of the Coordination Council, the leading committee of the protest movement, two have been expelled from the country and four have been arrested, among them Maria Kalesnikava, who was abducted in broad daylight and has resisted her enforced exile to Ukraine.

Nobel laureate in literature Svetlana Alexievich, the last member of the Council still living in freedom, is being threatened. Only the presence of journalists and European diplomats has prevented her arrest. Most recently, she was forced to leave for Berlin. She is the only member of the oppositional Coordination Council that hasn’t been arrested or detained.

Since the beginning of the protests, more than 30.000 people have been arrested in Belarus. Independent press coverage is severely obstructed. The wave of repressions has been increasing massively since the beginning of October. Everyone working towards freedom, democracy and constitutionality in Belarus is putting themselves in danger. Let’s support them with the means available to us – watching, listening, mediating.

Svetlana Alexievich, who gives voice to those revolting against injustice, oppression and violence like no other in her works, is defying the terror.

15.10.2020, Katharina Raabe, Janika Rüter: Editorial Office Eastern Europe

Links on the Current Situation in Belarus:

You can keep up to date on latest news and developments on the website of the Coordination Council (Belorussian, Russian, English).

»Fokus Belarus«, created by the magazine OSTEUROPA, publishes topical interviews and analyses on the background of the situation (Russian, English, German). The team at www.dekoder.org continuously publishes first-hand articles and analyses (Russian, German). »Stimmen aus Belarus« documents current reports from Belarus in German translation.

On October 4, 2020 our author Olga Shparaga was arrested in Minsk. Before her arrest, the Belarusian media project Reform conducted an interview with her (Belarusian). You can find a German translation of the interview, with photos, here. After her initial release, she gave interviews with Philosophie Magazin (German) and DIE ZEIT (German) about her experiences in prison. On October 9, she was summoned for questioning, detained in the infamous Okrestina Detention Centre and subsequently sentenced to 14 days arrest for »participating in a non-authorised demonstration« as reported by OSTEUROPA (German). Olga Shparaga was released from prison on October 24. In order to escape an imminent subsequent arrest, she has fled to Lithuania. She currently resides in Vilnius where she has joined the Belarusian opposition in exile and is working towards a peaceful revolution in her country.

The 57th day of the protests, at once the 9th Sunday of mass demonstrations, was declared the »Day of Solidarity with the Political Prisoners«. The people gathered in front of the prisons to support the detainees. Arrests, some of them brutal, were made throughout the country. Social media documented a 13-year-old girl being dragged to a prisoner transport vehicle by armed forces in Hrodna. A British reporter has interviewed some of the protesters (English). Since August, more than 30.000 people have been arrested in Belarus. In order to support the detainees, the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) and the German Society for Eastern European Studies (DGO) together with the Belarusian human rights organization Vjasna have launched the campaign 100xSolidarität (Belarusian, English, German). In solidarity with the sponsorship program for political prisoners #WeStandBYyou (English), public figures in Germany demand the immediate release of political prisoners in Belarus: Politicians, intellectuals, scientists, writers, church leaders, musicians, journalists.

Who are the women standing up against Alyaksandr Lukashenka? Radio Liberty introduces them and provides a chronicle of the protests (English). More in-depth information (in English) can be found here.

Silvia Sasse is collecting letters to Svetlana Alexievich (German).

Various Peace Prize laureates demand an immediate end to reprisals against Svetlana Alexievich and the Belarusian population in an appeal for support written by Karl Schlögel (English).

Under the headline »Tears of Belarus« images showing crying people have recently been published on social media. They are shocked by the violence that is used with increasing brutality against the resolutely peaceful protesters. Suhrkamp author Katja Petrowskaja has written a moving op-ed on one of those photographs (German).

The Belarusian human rights organisation »Vjasna« (Spring) keeps a list of the political prisoners in Belarus, which is updated constantly. OSTEUROPA has translated the list and put it online (German).

The Belarusian journalist Franak Viačorka is based in Warsaw and observes the events from there. On September 22, he took stock and, despite all setbacks, has an optimistic outlook (English).

The Deutsche Welle (DW) has compiled a website with their up-to-date reports on the situation in Belarus (German).

Reactions on the Situation in Belarus from Suhrkamp Authors:

»What can we do? What can writers, musicians, artists, public intellectuals do to support the protesters? There is quite a bit: supporting the protests one hundred percent and openly criticising the weaknesses of the protests. The civil society in Belarus hasn’t achieved anything yet, it has only manifested its presence. That is something/a lot, but it is by no means enough.«
Juri Andruchowytsch, Ivano-Frankivsk, 24.09.2020 (photo: © Susanne Schleyer)

»I must say that I have very conflicting feeling about the events in Belarus – of being inspired and useless at the same time. Not being a politician, obviously, I can talk about my emotions – yet I suspect that what Belarus civil society needs now more than emotions are resources, structure, and political support of the Western allies. On the one hand, I am very happy to see that so many people do not agree to live in a situation of tyranny, these are brave people, I am so proud to see their dignity, their yearning for freedom, yet, on the other hand, I am not convinced now that this movement will be immediately victorious and the tyrant will disappear. Perhaps, the very fact that so many people showed their disobedience is already a victory. What has been happening in Minsk and other cities cannot be undone or forgotten.«
Polina Barskova, Amherst, 25.09.2020 (photo: © Ostap Kin)

»Nothing is eternal, especially authoritarian powers. They invariably collapse. And the summer of this complicated year might be the very beginning of the glorious victory. That is why solidarity across Europe is what is much needed to give the brave Belarussians essential moral support. Flash mobs, actions, videos, pictures, posts, pictures, and poetry – anything will count. At least we can recite and share verses and essays by Belarussian progressive writers, poets, and intellectuals like Andrey Khadanovich or Vladimir Neklyaev. Жыве Беларусь. Long live Belarus. You may very soon escape the post-Soviet prison.«
Alissa Ganieva, Moscow, 23.09.2020 (photo: © Greg Bal)

»To be born in Belarus means to inherit historical terror next to the stark, quiet beauty of our landscape, music, and culture of honoring the dead. From a young age, a Belarusian child absorbs the understanding that the outward cleanliness of our cities hides centuries of violence that hasn't yet been processed into memory.«
Valzhyna Mort, Ithaca/New York, 20.09.2020 (photo: © Isolde Ohlbaum)

»What worries me is that most people I talk to about this (a historian, with authors and journalists) are already declaring the movement against Lukashenka to be doomed to fail. They say: Putin is not interested in democratic conditions in his neighbouring countries. They say: Europe is only going to support Belarus half-heartedly, just as it did the Ukraine before that. They say: The military force is backing the autocrat, they have weapons, and what do the protesters have? Their bare hands, with which they rip the balaclavas off the faces of police officers and soldiers. What is that going to do? That’s how sceptics protect themselves against being accused of naiveté and a painful disappointment. I understand that. Every few years we hope for a revolution with a happy end: during the events we regarded as the ›Arab Spring‹ or during the protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. And so many also consider the Maidan to have failed. Now Belarus. But I don’t believe that these kinds of mass protests are about happy ends. It’s about objecting. It’s also about insisting that one has a choice and would like to exercise that choice. It’s about the right to hope. And it’s also about the fact that this is mainly an uprising of women. Their courage is unparalleled. We, in Europe, have underestimated or simply ignored the Belarusian people. Maybe now we can learn from it what civil disobedience can be and how important it is.«
Sasha Marianna Salzmann, Berlin, 03.10.2020 (photo: © Heike Steinweg)

»I experienced the protests and demonstrations in Moscow as a young woman in the late eighties, when there was still a Soviet Union, that is – I remember the rallies with thousands of participants and the previous smaller demonstrations well. […] I felt like I was one with the world, I was part of a comprehensive process of repair, of a restoration of our communal life. Today, it’s more about putting up resistance in dark times and that is a lonely affair. That’s why it is so important that we support Belarus in its loneliness, in its decision.«
Maria Stepanova, Moskau, 21.09.2020 (photo: © Valery Shibanov, Seledka Newspaper)

»Why does Europe need Belarus? To make itself feel good. We can get morally outraged without it costing us anything. We can express our support for the beaten and arrested. Ensure them of our admiration. But we won’t send any soldiers to overthrow the tyrant. […] Why does Europe need Belarus? Maybe as a recipient of the ›European values‹? So that we can tell ourselves that they still mean anything, that someone needs them. We like to export them, without being held liable for the fact that our goods might possibly be of little value in a climate that is socially, politically and geographically influenced by Russia. Russia needs Belarus […], because pragmatism is worth less to Russia than the mere idea of ruling and owning. And it does its utmost to realise that this idea. Especially in its European border regions. It may sound cruel, but it’s not Belarus that decides the Belarusian fate but its usefulness for others.«
Andrzej Stasiuk, Wołowiec, 26.09.2020 (photo: © Brigitte Friedrich)

»Let’s do everything that supports the Belarusian opposition, let’s let them know of our sympathy, let’s organise protest marches and happenings, let’s gather in sombre groups in front of Belarusian and even Russian embassies, let’s side with the fighters, let’s send postcards to Belarus from our free, shiny cities, let’s send emails of support, vitamins or bandages, it’s not really important what we send but that we show solidarity with those who are out on the streets and with the families of the detained. Solidarity is the main thing.«
Jáchym Topol, Prag, 18.09.2020 (photo: © Susanne Schleyer)

»Belarusians practice a new kind of revolution which may become typical for our century: it is a revolution developing virtually without leaders and without definite actions. It brings to mind the philosophical category of rhizome proposed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari […] The authorities fight it by old dictatorial means, employing violent crackdowns, coercion to leave one’s country, mendacious propaganda, etc. This is really repugnant but may be unsuccessful in the long run.«
Tomas Venclova, Vilnius, 20.09.2020 (photo: © Susanne Schleyer)

»When I see the demonstrations in Belarus, I am reminded of past mass protests on the streets – both in Minsk as well as in Kiev. It just so happens that we – Ukrainians as well as Belarusians – are trying to escape the postimperial, postcolonial context with great difficulty, step by step, but insistently and irreversibly. That is complicated, it can only be achieved with great sacrifices, but it seems to me that it is only natural – the desire for freedom, for justice and the insistence on one’s own dignity. I think about the street protests in Kiev in 2001, 2004, 2014 and about the Belarusian’s earlier attempts to liberate themselves from the Lukashenka regime. I believe that these are truly irreversible processes that are certainly going to affect change in the society.«
Serhij Zhadan, Charkivm 22.09.2020 (photo: © Meridian Czernowitz)

Further Links and Articles on the Topic:

»Der Sound des Protests« [»The Sound of the Protest«] Interview with conductor Vitali Alekseenok by Volker Weichsel in OSTEUROPA (German)
To the interview »

»Belarus, Striking: Voices from the Belarusian Uprising« Panel discussion with Darya Zhuk, Andrei Zavalei, Vitali Alekseenok, Tanya Kapitonova and Olga Shparaga, moderated by Valzhyna Mort (English)
To the video »

»Belarus: Warum schweigt ihr?« [»Belarus: Why Are You Silent?«] by Svetlana Alexievich in EMMA (German)
To the article »

Pen International, September 9, 2020 (English)
To the article »

»Svetlana Alexievich Is Not Going Anywhere« by Masha Gessen in The New Yorker (English)
To the article »

»Sehen Sie hin!?« [»Are You Looking!?«] by Iryna Herasimovich in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (German)
To the article »

Statement of the Coordination Council on Abductions, Violence, and Intimidation from September 7, 2020 (English)
To the statement »

»The Pandemic Was Supposed to Be Great for Strongmen. What Happened?« by Ivan Krastev in The New York Times (English)
To the article »

»Spitzentitel« – Volker Weidermann in conversation with Serhij Zhadan about the situation in Belarus (from 25:00 min onwards) (German)
To the video »

»Macht und Gewalt« [»Power and Violence«] – An interview with sociologist Lev Gudkov by Manfred Sapper in OSTEUROPA (German)
To the interview »

»Russia may not need invade Belarus. Its already there« by Hanna Liubakova in The Washington Post (English)
To the article »

»Wie der Dialog in Belarus aussehen sollte« [»What the Dialogue in Belarus Should Look Like«] by Artyom Shraibman on dekoder.org (German)
To the article »

»Belarus – auf Messers Schneide« [»Belarus – On a Knife Edge«] by Aleksandr Morozov in OSTEUROPA (German)
To the article »

Philosopher Olga Shparaga and Director of the European College of Liberal Arts Aljaksandr Adamjanc in conversation with OSTEUROPA (English)
To the article »

Artur Klinaǔ in conversation with OSTEUROPA (English)
To the interview »

»My Country Is Under Attack« by Valzhyna Mort in The New York Times (English)
To the article »

»Belarus: Status quo at what price?« Astrid Sahm on the presidential elections in Belarus in OSTEUROPA (English)
To the interview »

»After a Rigged Election, Belarus Crushes Protests Amid an Information Blackout« by Masha Gessen in The New Yorker (English)
To the article »

»Belarus: Wie eine späte DDR mit Highspeed-Internet« [»Belarus: Like the Late GDR with Highspeed Internet«] by Felix Ackermann in Berliner Zeitung (German)
To the article »

»Four scenarios for the crisis in Belarus« Policy paper by the German Council on Foreign Relations (English)
To the policy paper »

»Belarus – Die Revolution der Anderen?« [»Belarus – The Revolution of the others?«] Debate with Natascha Freundel, Felix Ackermann and Olga Shparaga on rbb Radio (German)
To the broadcast »

»›You Cannot Say No‹: The Reign of Terror That Sustains Belarus’s Leader« by Ivan Nechepurenko in The New York Times (English)
To the article »

»OSCE Rapporteur’s Report under the Moscow Mechanism on Alleged Human Rights Violations related to the Presidential Elections of 9 August 2020 in Belarus« Report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (English)
To the report »


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