There are 9 million New Year’s wishes in Belarus

By Philippe SchockweilerLex Kleren

Belarus, the landlocked state between Poland and Russia, has been struck with unprecedented six months of permanent peaceful protests and strikes against its autocratic self-proclaimed president, Alexander Lukashenko. We spoke with activists in Belarus but also in Luxembourg about what they expect from the new year.

Lukashenko declared himself the winner of what independent observers and pollsters had called a close race for the first time in the history of the country. After massive election fraud, disappearing ballots, and the immediate blackmail and expulsion of the top contender Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, peaceful protests formed all over the country. The protesters have been persecuted and chased by police and militarized forces ever since. Nearly 100,000 people have been detained in six months, with widespread reports of torture, rape and violent beatings in jails, police stations and prison vans, now confirmed by independent human rights organizations outside Belarus. A new low even for Lukashenko’s standards was reached last week when his top security chief publicly and shamelessly explored the idea of building a concentration camp. However, the protest in Belarus continues, not only inside the country but outside the former Soviet republic as well. In Luxembourg, they gather each Saturday on Place Guillaume draped in white-red-white pagohnia banners.

Only a few hundred Belarusians live in Luxembourg. Some of them work with institutions or in finance – but all of them follow the revolution in Belarus from the comfort of their new home. A new home, where you don’t fear to be arrested first thing in the morning after leaving the house. A new home, that is eerily quiet until a sharp noise from a smartphone notification turns that eerie silence into panic: “What happened? Did a relative get arrested? Are the police beating up people again, are armoured vehicles rolling in the streets again?” Even abroad, it’s hard for Belarusians to escape the violence and clutches of the regime.

A constant state of panic

The expat Belarusians, or as they like to call themselves “the diaspora”, have abandoned the quiet comfort of their new homes: Living rooms are being turned into mobile campaign headquarters and virtual dissident squares. One of them is Lia Maisuradze who lives in Luxembourg and is the unofficial, charismatic maidenhead of the Belarusian people’s movement in the Grand-Duchy. Lia is not exactly a career politician or an activist: However, last summer turned her life upside down: “I’ve been around a bit longer than he has!” she chuckles. With “he” she means Lukashenko of course, who has ruled the country since 1994. Lia was born in 1989, of Belarusian and Georgian parents into the very end of the Soviet Union, when Glasnost and Perestroika had failed to defibrillate the stagnating economy of the once so illustrious Union.

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