Staunton, March 12 – Alyaksandr Lukashenka clearly expected the he would be able to end the wave of protests against his infamous Decree Number Three about the vagrants tax, but the result has been just the opposite – “without politicians, flags or slogans,” Belarusians in cities across the country are continuing to come together and make ever more political demands.
Yesterday, anti-Lukashenka protests took place in Pinsk and several other cities; today, the number and size of protests has grown, despite or perhaps because of official efforts to block the demonstrations by arresting potential leaders and sending out provocateurs, according to Dmitry Galko of Belarussky Partisan (belaruspartisan.org/politic/373314/).
And because there are no fixed leaders, the anger of Belarusians is not only intensifying but spreading with demands now circulating not only for Lukashenka’s ouster but for the complete lustration of all his officials down to the level of collective farm chairmen and village political bosses.
“People are angry and have adopted a decisive position,” Galko says; “they are tired of being afraid.” And they are sharing their anger not only with each other but with journalists. Unlike in the past, he says, he met no one in the crowds who was not willing to speak with the media and to give his or her name.
The demonstrators in Pinsk, mostly middle-aged or older but with many young people among them, complained about rising prices for oil and gas, medicines that cost far more in Belarus than in Poland, official efforts to confiscate chickens and other animals so that people will have to buy in stores, and the shortage of construction materials to build homes.
Some said that the Belarusian constitution “must be holy like the Bible in church” and that leaders shouldn’t be allowed to rewrite it or ignore it at will. Others said that they were fed up with the lies on official television that everything is just fine. And a few said it would be fine if Lukashenka would just fly away and never come back.
“Elderly people open called the president ‘too old’” to remain in office and demanded that he and his team be replaced by younger and more vigorous people, Galko continues. And ever more Belarusians insisted that “we didn’t choose him.” Others did, and now he must go and give way to new people in Minsk and throughout the country.
Earlier, many Belarusians were uncertain about who would be in office if not Lukashenka, but “now this has already become not so important: ‘All the same, it won’t be worse. But however that may be, these people must be changed.’” And they laughed at the idea that Lukashenka was backing down on the vagrants tax.
The Belarusian president may think he can control the situation by the militia; but the crowds say they are no longer intimidated by uniformed and undercover police and that in any case, there are now so many demonstrations that Minsk doesn’t have enough militiamen to send everywhere they might be needed.
At present, there are no obvious leaders of this popular upsurge in anger, the journalist says; but “nature abhors a vacuum” and some will emerge. And he suggests that “they will turn out to be much more radical than the representatives of the opposition. Therefore, the authorities are playing with fire, committing one mistake after another.”
“All this already recalls Yanukovich’s tactics,” Galko says, when the Ukrainian leader couldn’t adopt any sensible policies but instead drove “the situation into a dead end, radicalizes protest,” and ultimately led to his own flight from Kyiv.
Asked what would happen in Pinsk if Lukashenka didn’t listen to the protesters and instead sought to suppress them, one demonstrator said: “if they don’t listen to us, everything will be very bad” because “we are very angry.”