Thursday, September 10, 2020

Half of Belarusians in the Streets Don’t Believe in Talks with Lukashenka, Shelest Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 9 – Many people are suggesting that the crisis in Belarus must be resolved by talks between Belarusians in the streets and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, but Oksana Shelest, who tracks attitudes among the demonstrators, say that half of them do not believe there is any possibility for such talks given Lukashenka’s approach.

            Shelest, who has been talking to the demonstrators in Minsk for several weeks (, draws this conclusion on the basis of interviews with 61 of them (

            In her report about the protesters between August 31 and September 6, the sociologist says that repression has increased but that more people have come out, especially women and students, and that the protesters are increasingly organizing themselves along professional lines or focusing on particular issues like the detention of protesters or demonstrators.

            More and more often people are displaying the white-red-white flag and putting it back up with officials and police take it down. They are also going to the people’s memorial on Pushkin Square where an informal monument to the late Aleksandr Taraykovsky, who was killed by the authorities, has developed.

            The demonstrations have remained peaceful, but as the authorities have used more force, the protesters have taken certain steps such as clustering around women or shifting their location to protect themselves. Sometimes these tactics work, and the siloviki withdraw rather than risk inflicting harm on more people, Shelest says.

            Belarusians remain committed to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who won the vote and who leads the protesters from Lithuania. What is striking, the Belarusian sociologist says, is that protesters rarely talk about other issues besides their basic complaints about lying and repression.. They don’t mention the pandemic and they don’t talk about the economy.

            “Practically all those who took part in the survey,” she continues, “say that they will ‘stand to the end,’” a shift from earlier when often people said that they might withdraw from the streets if repression increased dramatically.  Now, ever more of them talk about the protests lasting as long as two years, although they hope for a resolution sooner.

            More Belarusians are now talking about what foreign countries and especially Russia may do to overcome the impasse.  They doubt that any talks are possible with Lukashenka not because they aren’t prepared to do so but because they do not believe Lukashenka is capable of taking part as a trustworthy participant.

            Ever more clearly, Belarusians in the streets are expressing concern about what Russia may do. Most of them “do not believe” that Russia will intervene militarily. But they do now talk about “the threat of ‘becoming an appendage of Russia,’ losing real sovereignty, and ‘the sale of the country’ in exchange for [Lukashenka’s] holding on to power.”

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