A country to live in - One hundred days of protest in Belarus
That opposition to the state does not always end so well was demonstrated on 11 November 2020 in Minsk when, late at night, six masked men and three women arrived at the popularly named "Ploshtja peremen" (Square of Changes) derived from the song "Kochu peremen!" (I want changes) by underground singer Viktor Tsoy, popular in the Soviet Union. The square was known for its illegal concerts, lectures and oppositional murals and flags. The group of 'tihari' (quietists) began cutting white-red-white ribbons for the umpteenth time, when Roman Bondarenko, a 31-year-old resident of a neighbouring flat, came out to ask what they were doing. Following this, an altercation ensued and the ex-soldier was mercilessly kicked and punched by the masked men. He was taken to hospital in a coma. The next day, Bondarenko died of his injuries. The BYPOL organisation, made up of ex-policemen who have sided with the opposition, established from telephone conversations that the group of hoodlums was led by Dmitri Baskov, president of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation. Dmitri Shakuta, multiple international thaiboxing champion, allegedly delivered the fatal blows.
Meanwhile, since the summer, it is estimated that more than 33,000 Belarusians have been or are still in one of the country's many prisons. While Svetlana Tichanovskaya, the opposition's only independent candidate, managed to flee to Lithuania after the elections, most political activists, including her husband Sergei Tichanovsky, are still in captivity.
Among them was Nikolay Statkevich, chairman of the social democratic 'Narodnja Gramada' (People's Assembly). A party that, like the Belgian PS and the Dutch PvdA, is a member of the Socialist International. His wife Marina Adamovich: 'Nikolay is still in the detention centre in Zhodino. I have not been allowed to visit him in all this time. His detention is constantly being extended. They are allowed to hold him for a year and a half without even conducting a trial.' According to Adamovich, the situation in the country is becoming more dire by the day: 'Every day there are new arrests, searches, confiscations and absurd convictions. The neighbourhoods where there was a lot of action are being taken in hand one by one. The same goes for NGOs, publishers and media. The aim, apparently, is that nothing will be left of the protest movement by summer. That is not to say they will succeed, but they are well on their way. The Home Secretary's speech leaked early this year, about building concentration camps 'for disaffected people' are not out of the blue.
The recently published book 'A country to live in' by translator, journalist and Belarus expert Ardy Beld includes interviews with politicians, human rights activists, musicians and other known and unknown participants in the protests. With a chronology of news and background information, events are followed closely. A close-up look for anyone interested in developments in Europe's 'last dictatorship'.
By: Ardy Beld