A rally in support of presidential candidate Svitlana Tsikhanovskaya in Gomel. Photo: RFE/RL's Belarusian service
Amid ongoing protests in Belarus in support of the rivals of incumbent dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka, the flashmob #NotMyPresident (#немойпрезидент) collects stories told by the Belarusians addressed to the acting President about the reasons they do not recognize the existing authorities. In a surprise move, law enforcement officers of different divisions joined the flashmob.
Photographs started to spread on the Internet with the law enforcement officers expressing solidarity with the people: near the shoulder straps, sheets of paper are placed saying “Lukashenka is not my President”, “I am 97%, I stand with the people”, “Sasha 3% is not my choice”, “Free Babariko”, “I gave an oath to the people, not the cockroach”, and the like.
Besides, after another wave of detentions of protesters in Minsk, 15 OMON (riot police) officers submitted their letters of resignation. “The order to confront their own people was the last straw,” said the press piece.
Stories of the former Ministry of Internal Affairs officers, OMON officers and officers from other divisions started to appear on Instagram, too. They tell why they’ve left the profession and why they’re still ashamed. We publish one of them here:
“The moment of my greatest shame happened on July 3, 2011. It was Independence Day, clapping protests in Minsk, a man next to me dressed in civilian clothes kicked a girl on the legs, she fell to the ground, the man picked her up by her hair and threw her in the bus. My heart said, “Knock the jerk out!” but my brain replied, “He is law enforcement, you can ruin your life”. So I froze, just like Harry Potter’s opponent paralyzed with a spell.
Having graduated from the Belarusian State University, Department of Law, I was a lieutenant of the reserve and gave an oath to the Belarusian people. Then I worked as a contractor in the public prosecutor’s office and as an investigation officer at the Investigative Committee. I can’t say I feel ashamed for that part of my life. But not everyone is so lucky as me.
But there is the other side of the coin. Employees are considered slaves. There is no personal freedom, no free time, no right to speak up. There are only hellish work and humiliating payment. You’re indoctrinated: you are nothing. People give up on themselves and a better world.
If your fear of losing your job is the reason to violate your conscience, you should quit your job. This step can help you avoid the situation when, googling your name, your children would find out the harsh truth about their dad that would make them feel embarrassed.
Many people ask me about my path from being an investigation officer to becoming an IT developer. On Twitter, I shared a post about helping with re-training law enforcement officers. Dozens of people texted me that they would be happy to mentor, teach, and help find the job. They would like to help everyone who has to leave the job for the sake of conscience. So we are launching a new project bychange.me.
Every day at the IT office, I meet former law enforcement officers, scouts, investigators, doctors, and prosecutors. Like me, they spent 5–6 years getting a diploma but then had to shelve it. They got out and started living fully again.
PS. I am still ashamed in front of that girl. This shame always remains with men.”
The ongoing pre-election protests in Belarus started after Lukashenka’s main challenger, former Belagazprombank head Viktar Babaryka, was arrested on 18 June, and not allowed to register as a candidate on 14 July. That day, another one of Lukashenka’s competitors, former ambassador to the US Valery Tsepkalo, was also not allowed to register after too many signatures on his application to become a presidential candidate were declared invalid. Lukashenka’s third competitor, popular vlogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was also barred from registering and later arrested.
The slack has been picked up by the wives of the barred candidates. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, wife to vlogger Siarhei, is now a registered candidate and gathering thousand-strong rallies throughout the country in her support. The wives of the remaining two candidates, Maria Kalesnikava and Veranika Tsapkala, have also joined the campaign in her support. The presidential election is set for 9 August; the female trio and the public support they receive present the largest challenge to Belarus’ incumbent president since he assumed power in 1994.
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