Flowers stronger than guns as “Ladies in White” protests spread throughout Belarus

At the first "Ladies in White" protest in Minsk. Photo: Olga Shukaylo, tut.by 

International

Starting from August 12, the protests against a rigged vote in Belarus have taken a remarkable turn – women in white clothes carried flowers and formed chains in different cities to protest against unlawful detentions and violence of riot police. Such protests present a challenge to the brutal riot police — beating women would be shameful and undermine Lukashenka’s regime further. Thus, police officers are faced with a moral dilemma.

After the first deaths of protesters during clashes with riot police, Lukashenka lost the remnants of his legitimacy. Understanding this, some police officers quit. Fascinating videos and photos appear where women hug riot police officers who lower their shields, indicating that they support the people, and even a policeman giving flowers to protesting women. All this culminated in a huge commemoration of the first victim killed by the riot police in Minsk on Saturday, 15th August.

The first human chain formed by women wearing white clothes started on 12 August in central Minsk. Hundreds of women gathered next to the Minsk Komarovsky Market. Four central subway stations were closed in Minsk by the authorities “for safety reasons.” The internet was also shut down for some time. But this couldn’t stop participation in the protests. The rally soon spread throughout the country.

The beginning of the first rally of ladies in white in Minsk, on 12 August after mass detentions and beatings. Photo: hromadske

“I’m here because I care. I feel pain because of what is happening, to both men and women. Lawlessness, arbitrariness. We all stand for the same thing here. We want people in our country to be respected,”

said one of the protesters. Many of them have personal motives to participate in the rally, to protect imprisoned and tortured relatives:

“I know that many of my friends were detained. I don’t know where they are now. Nobody answers, they have no phones. If men are taken away, we will stay with the women here.”

Two police officers tried to stop the demonstration, claiming it was not authorized. The women slowly turned around with their hands behind their heads, as if they were arrested, and walked in a column through Minsk. Then the movement spread to other cities throughout Belarus.

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The main purpose of the rally was to protect those 6,000 protesters who were unlawfully detained on 9-12 August.

Pictures of beaten and tortured men and women circulated on the web as soon as the first detainees were released. Source: Belsat/Nexta Live

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Women brought posters that say: “We want political prisoners back”, “Stop tortures” and “Fair elections.”

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The idea of women in white protesting with flowers is not entirely new. In 2003, Ladies in White was an opposition movement in Cuba. Wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents demanded to release them. White was chosen to symbolize peace.

In Belarus, white color is chosen not only as the color of peace. It is also the color of opposition. Moreover, white is the main color of the flag of the Belarusian nation, the main flag used in the protests, as opposed to the post-Soviet state flag which is the official flag of Belarus nowadays.

The opposition movement in Belarus already has a very female character. It’s three main leaders are women: Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya, Veronika Tsepkalo, and Maria Kolesnikova. The first two had to emigrate to Vilnius and Moscow due to threats.

Closer to victory?

The protests of ladies in white that later were joined by factory workers and other Belarusians proved to be successful. Although it is still far to victory and Lukashenka fulfilling demands of the protesters, the fact that many riot police officers became loyal to protesters or even joined the protests is inspiring.

Women started hugging a riot police officer who refused to raise shield against demonstrators:

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Not all police officers stay with Lukashenka. Many have resigned and threw away their shoulder straps and police signs, filming videos of how they are throwing these signs to a bin or toilet. Some have even joined the protests, giving flowers to the protesting women.

Although those are not the majority of police officers, the popular chant “Police with people” step by step acquires real meaning.

A woman stands close to a riot police officer with the poster: “We have to be protected, not beaten.” Source: Tut.by

At the House of Government, protesters give flowers to a riot police officer who lowered his shield. Photo: nn.by

On 14 August, women also marched near the Belarusian KGB main office. The Belarusian security service hasn’t undergone even cosmetic reforms since Soviet times, bearing the same name as 30 years ago. KGB is responsible for a considerable part of arrests of opposition candidates, including unregistered presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka, as well as ordinary activists and protesters.

Women near KGB. Source: Tut.by

On 14 August, Belarusian women also organized a new creative rally, carrying the biggest white ribbon ever.

Today, on Saturday, 15th August, protests continue, culminating as thousands came to commemorate Aliaksandr Taraykousky who was shot by riot police on the night of August 10.

The funeral procession passed through Pushkinskaya station in Minsk where Taraykousky was shot dead by the security forces on the second day of protests.

Commemoration of Aliaksandr Taraykousky, 15th August 2020, Minsk. Source: Facebook page of belteanews

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