At the first "Ladies in White" protest in Minsk. Photo: Olga Shukaylo, tut.by
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.
“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.
The main purpose of the rally was to protect those 6,000 protesters who were unlawfully detained on 9-12 August.
Women brought posters that say: “We want political prisoners back”, “Stop tortures” and “Fair elections.”
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:
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.
More police officers giving flowers to the women standing in solidarity chains in Zhabinka, Brest region. pic.twitter.com/vMMiAkmUAx
— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) August 14, 2020
Although those are not the majority of police officers, the popular chant “Police with people” step by step acquires real meaning.
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.
On 14 August, Belarusian women also organized a new creative rally, carrying the biggest white ribbon ever.
The biggest white ribbon ever. Belarusian protest is getting more and more creative and impressive. Activists generate new ideas literally every hour. pic.twitter.com/5iu3F7xfdX
— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 14, 2020
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 only thing I can compare the atmosphere today to is “football mad country that has just unexpectedly qualified for World Cup for the first time”.
It’s quite extraordinary given the violence of a few days ago and the fact Lukashenko has not yet left…. pic.twitter.com/BV8FEO5cup
— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) August 15, 2020
The funeral procession passed through Pushkinskaya station in Minsk where Taraykousky was shot dead by the security forces on the second day of protests.