Opposition in Belarus: The greatest danger is forgetting

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The silence about the opposition in Belarus to Lukashenko is deafening. 1,498 people are still in jail.

People protest and hold up their glowing smartphones

Anti-government protest in Minsk on August 20, 2020 Photo: Valery Sharifulin/ITAR-TASS/imago

Not long ago, commentators accurately interpreted the complexion or the gauze bandage on the wrist of Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian ruler. Was the dictator sick? In the hospital? Close to death? That may have seemed silly to some, but for a society bullied by Lukashenko, the question of his health is future-defining. If he’s alive, he can keep imprisoning people, depriving them of their freedom. If he dies, then, yes… then what?

Unfortunately, attention to the tyrannized has been somewhat lost in the process. How is the opposition doing?

August marks the third anniversary of the major protests in Belarus against the rigged presidential election. A dictatorship that for decades had aimed at alienating people from each other with its harshness and coldness, at the loss of humanity, had to realize in the summer of 2020 that this society had found itself again. A movement developed that relied on self-organization and solidarity and that reacted to the violence and repression of the state with wit and irony instead of ducking away. I have the deepest respect for this strength, this courage.

The regime has since cracked down on any opposition figures and ordinary citizens who took to the streets for a free Belarus. According to the human rights organization Viasna, there are currently 1,498 political prisoners in prisons in Belarus. 1,498 too many people with a future stolen from them.

Out of fear

Perhaps hardly anyone asks about the members of the opposition anymore because they themselves have fallen silent. Out of fear: Almost nobody in the country wants to talk anymore. Even those who live in exile are careful. And those who want to speak, even from prison, are also prevented from doing so. This has been observed for a few months.

Maria Kalesnikava has been innocently imprisoned for over 1,000 days. Along with Svetlana Tichanovskaya and Veronika Zepkalo, she was part of the trio of women who challenged Lukashenko in the presidential election. When they wanted to throw her out of the country and had already carted her to the border, she tore up her passport. She didn’t want to make it that easy for the regime to get rid of her. Kalesnikava was sentenced to eleven years in prison. Her health is bad, she barely survived an emergency operation. She is repeatedly put in solitary confinement, and now there has been no sign of life from her for almost four months.

There is also no contact with other prominent opponents of the regime: blogger and journalist Ihar Losik, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison and tried to commit suicide there. Viktor Babariko, who wanted to face Lukashenko in 2020 and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was recently beaten in prison and hospitalized. Maxim Znak, a lawyer and lawyer of Babariko, got 10 years in a penal colony. Sergei Tichanowski, the husband of Svetlana Tichanovskaya, has been in solitary confinement for three years.


Lukashenko has continuously sealed off the country. He doesn’t want witnesses, so he locks people up; it isolates them from their families, their friends, and the world.

These people experience torture in the penal colonies. Their isolation, this conscious letting them be forgotten, is a brutal form of wiping out these people, and also violence.

The silence is deafening. But behind it there are voices, people. Their greatest threat is our oblivion.

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