The first time Vitaly was summoned to the police station was in August, after taking part in the strike at the Minsk electrical engineering plant. “The police asked me to identify the leaders of the protest in my company, he says in the kitchen of his small family apartment, on the outskirts of the Belarusian capital. They threatened me with criminal charges, but I refused. “
Back at the factory, this engineer and union leader continued his involvement in the unprecedented protest movement that has agitated the country for three months. But the ax ended up falling. On November 2, Vitaly was fired. In the process, he received a new police summons. “This time, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. “
→ INVESTIGATION. Lukashenko in the face of the Belarusian opposition’s ultimatum
Like Vitaly, thousands of Belarusians responded on October 26 to the call for a strike launched by opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya after the expiration of her ultimatum demanding the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko. Alas, the slogan was only partially followed, and the general strike supposed to paralyze the country did not take place.
In the streets padlocked by the police, the thousands of demonstrators who marched in Minsk on November 1 and 8 offered the spectacle of a mobilization in loss of speed, even if, according to the organization of defense of the human rights Viasna, at least 830 people were arrested in Minsk and a few other cities on Sunday. Proof of the limits of an unstructured movement, according to observers. The result, above all, of the war of attrition initiated by the regime to put an end to the protest.
“You are a good worker but you have to choose your side”
Hotbeds of contestation, the universities have been the object of a takeover, with the replacement of several rectors considered too conciliatory. About fifteen teachers have already been made redundant, and nearly 200 students excluded. “On October 26, I was summoned by the director of my establishment to write a note explaining the reasons for my participation in the strike”, remembers Piotr (1), a student of the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts. His dismissal followed within 24 hours.
The pressure has also mounted a notch within companies, especially in the public sector, which employs 40% of the working population. Many strikers have been made redundant, or have had their contracts not renewed. Sergei (1), a programmer at the Peleng factory in Minsk, got involved in the strikes after the fraudulent re-election of Alexander Lukashenko in August. His manager recently summoned him for a “conversation”, which he sums up in one sentence: “You are a good worker but you have to choose your side. “
“Our revolution is only three months old”
Despite the threat of dismissal, he continues to work for the creation of an independent union in his company; witness among others of a mobilization that continues in new forms. “Italian strikes are spreading in the public sector: people come, but hardly work”, says Vitaly, the former engineer at the electrical engineering plant in Minsk, where productivity is said to have fallen sharply. For him, it is the economic slump that will ultimately revitalize the movement. “Our revolution is only three months old, he recalls. In Poland, it took Solidarnosc ten years to win. “
Like him, many Belarusians met by The cross do not perceive the slowing down of the protest as a failure, but as the temporary lull of a convulsive movement lasting. “The demonstrations may lose intensity or gain momentum, other forms of solidarity and modes of action will continue, says political scientist Artiom Chraïbman. Lukashenko can still survive for months, even a year or two, but in the short or medium term, his departure is inevitable. “
“Power cannot stop movement”
Dmitry Strotsev, 57, Belarusian poet
“On October 21, while I was shopping, I was arrested in the street. Men in civilian clothes handcuffed me, forced me into a van, and put a bag over my head. I was taken to the KGB headquarters for questioning, and after a hasty trial, sentenced to 13 days in prison for participating in a demonstration. I found myself in a cell with ten people, people from all walks of life.
We supported each other, I organized a poetry evening. It was a moment of intense fraternity. I understood in prison that power cannot put an end to movement. Whether the protests grow or shrink, there is no going back. Society has changed at the molecular level. And I will continue to protest. “