2022-08-09

Exactly two years ago, unprecedented protests unfolded in Belarus in opposition to the rigged elections. Tens of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets, businesses went on strike, and opposition politicians urged civil society to stand its ground. Protests and demonstrations did not subside for months, but the supporters of change were unable to win in the violent confrontation. More than 40,000 people were arrested, and many more activists fled the country. The violent repression continues to this day.

The war in Ukraine has overshadowed the political crisis in the Belarusian society. Belarusians, exhausted as they were, have found themselves being accused of weakness and inaction by many a Ukrainian. But despite the involvement of the Lukashenko regime in the war, Belarusians do not want to fight against their neighbors, they continue to battle against the dictatorship with all their strength, and they still strive to make their voices heard around the world. We have approached experts and activists to learn their opinions on Belarus’ significance in the global context.

The Belarusians are a European nation, and we have done a lot to move the country toward democracy, but we unfortunately have an aggressive and authoritarian neighbor. There are many examples in history when countries in a similar situation took the democratic path, which led to seismic changes in entire regions. In February 2022, we saw how our country’s political crisis that seemed to be of no importance to the world could ultimately affect the global landscape. We can speculate that if the West’s reaction to human rights violations in Belarus in 2020-2021 had been more pragmatic, Belarus probably would not have become Russia’s launchpad for an attack on Ukraine. What follows from this? For one, Belarus should permanently remain in the focus of attention. Secondly, it means that our chance for democratic change is still there. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this change will happen soon. In any case, we will not give up  hope, support those imprisoned by the regime, and help each other.

TATSIANA KHOMICH, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST

In August 2020, the world learned of a Belarus that rose up to fight for freedom and defy tyranny. By August 2022, the world has gradually forgotten about that Belarus.  If it is remembered at all today, it is primarily as the Lukashenko regime – a co-aggressor that is helping Russia to wage war against Ukraine. And it is precisely in this situation that we must be constantly reminded of that other, free Belarus.

ALEXANDER FRIEDMAN, HISTORIAN AND POLITICAL ANALYST

First and foremost, Belarus’ geographic location is crucial in Europe – if Belarus were to join the European single border union, everyone would benefit from it. Secondly, the Belarusians have always been tolerant of different religions. Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Muslims have been able to live together side by side. Thirdly, Belarus has many creative and talented young people who, due to a lack of opportunities in Belarus, have gone abroad and are actively launching new projects and participating in innovations. If given the opportunity to work in the country, there will be many useful and new projects not only for our society, but for the entire world.

ALIAKSANDRA HERASIMENIA, ATHLETE, THREE-TIME OLYMPIC MEDALIST

For me, there are two dimensions here: internal and external. The internal one is a way out of the profound hopelessness in which we have lived for so long that we forgot how things could be different. It is the collapse of most of the public initiatives from the days of decorative stability which has cleared a space for new ideas and new people. It is a reboot of the Belarusian project and it’s okay that it is full of amateurs and that a good half of what has been done can’t hold up to any criticism. The new nation is being built by everyone all at once, in all the diversity of intentions and competences. If we screw up, we screw up together. If we win, we win together. As for the external dimension, to an outside observer, it is a tragically beautiful plot about the awakening of an inert electorate that is tired of being the chorus of a mustached clown. A movement without captains or managers. A collective improvisation with a street carnival being chased into a meat grinder of terror. A march of loners in search of a new sky.

MAX ZHBANKOU, CULTUROLOGIST, FILM ANALYST, JOURNALIST

Why is it important to support the aspiration of Belarusian women and men towards democracy? Because in today’s world, connected by globalization, the future of democracy depends on the solidarity of citizens both within democratic countries and across their borders. This is well illustrated by the situation in Ukraine the extent to which the victory of this country depends on the support of other democratic societies and countries. It is the same in the case of Belarus: Belarusian women and men declared in 2020 that they no longer wanted to live under authoritarianism, that they chose a democratic future for Belarus, for which they were ready to risk their prosperity, health, and even their lives. I am convinced that the potential for international solidarity is not exhausted, just as I believe in my own Belarusian society, which continues to resist the authoritarian regime in Belarus.

OLGA SHPARAGA, PHILOSOPHER, FEM GROUP OF THE COORDINATION COUNCIL

It is impossible to discourse upon Belarus in terms of non-(importance). It’s not a thing, not a service; it’s a constant, an integral part. It simply exists, and all my essence is imbued with it, even when geographically I am not there at this moment. Belarus – it is in my heart.

SIARHEI BUDKIN, art manager, head of the Belarusian Council for Culture

We had overlooked Belarus for a long time, not seen it properly, through a clouded prism instead of openly and curiously. Two years ago, our sight became clearer. The Belarusians stood up. Now they are standing up again and again, differently, more quietly and we might well overlook them again. So many friends keep writing to me with the tanks in front of their eyes and the planes over their heads: “We don’t want this war.” If Belarus were no longer the dictatorship it still is, the war in this form would not be possible. Belarus is important because of peace in the world, because of the future of the earth, because of people everywhere.

HEIKE SABEL, ASSOCIATION “TOGETHER INTO THE FUTURE”, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR