Belarus lives stormy days in the midst of a controversial electoral campaign marked by arrests of candidates and protests against the president, Alexandr Lukashenko, in power since 1994. “The situation is tense and unpredictable,” activist Pável Yujnevich acknowledges to the Efe agency.
The country has registered an unprecedented mobilization of society in the streets before the presidential elections of August 9, driven by aspirations for change and a marked weariness with power after more than a quarter of a century with the same president at the helm of Belarus, opponents argue.
“Never before has electoral support for Alexandr Lukashenko been so low and the authorities understand it perfectly,” says Christian Democrat leader and former candidate for the Belarusian presidency, Vitali Rimashevski, from Minsk.
Hence, according to Rimashevski, the authorities have launched a campaign to silence dissident voices, among journalists, activists and independent bloggers, which has already resulted in numerous arrests.
According to the Belarusian human rights center Vesná, since the beginning of the electoral campaign in the country, in different protest actions, more than 1,000 people have been detained.
In turn, the Association of Journalists of Belarus assured Efe that in the last two months more than 50 professionals from the media have been arrested.
For Yujnevich, an activist from European Belarus, the situation that is being created in Belarus ahead of the elections on August 9, is very “tense and unpredictable”.
“In the spring I thought this presidential campaign would be very bland, with a predictable result,” he recalls. However, the events of the past few months made him change his mind.
On this occasion, discontent with the authorities has spread throughout the country, and is not only palpable in the capital, he maintains.
“Even in the province, where Lukashenko had a lot of support, now everyone is against it,” says the activist.
The management of the Covid-19
Mismanagement of the crisis caused by the new coronavirus has been one of the triggers for citizens’ unease with Lukashenko, who called the pandemic “psychosis” and refused to implement social distancing, opponents believe.
“First the statistics were silenced, then they were not credible … And that seriously affected the popularity of power,” says Yujnevich.
Belarus registers more than 67,000 coronavirus cases and half a thousand deaths from the disease.
In the event of a second wave of the pandemic, political discontent will become an economic one, because “many people have already lost their jobs”, especially among representatives of small and medium-sized companies, the activist warns.
Her words about the satiety of many Belarusians are corroborated by the success of the gatherings called by the opposition candidate Svetlana Tijanóvskaya, who undertook a tour of the country’s regions last week.
She appeared in the elections because her husband, the well-known opposition blogger Sergey Tijanovski, was arrested in May and is in prison.
Last weekend at a rally in Gomel, her husband’s hometown, Tijanóvskaya gathered more than 10,000 people, according to local media calculations, which would make the gathering the most massive ever held in that Belarusian town to over the decades.
Unity around Tijanóvskaya
Lukashenko has disposed of, through the judicial or administrative channels, not only the husband of the presidential candidate, but also two other rivals.
Rimashevski, who was a presidential candidate in 2010 and now coordinates the ‘The right to choose’ campaign, believes that one of the people capable of shading Lukashenko in the elections would have been ex-banker Víctor Babariko, who has been in prison since June, accused of economic crimes.
Another rival, the former diplomat and former director of a technology park Vitali Tsepkalo, who was prevented by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) from registering as a candidate, left Belarus last Friday with his two sons at the threat of arrest.
His wife, Veronika, who remains in Belarus, has denounced that the authorities planned to deprive the marriage of parental authority over their children.
Thus, Lukashenko’s three enemies have had no choice but to close ranks around Tijanóvskaya, whom they see as the only one capable of challenging the power of the current Belarusian president.
He has already attacked his opponent by stating that the Belarusian Constitution is not tailored for a woman, who in the near future cannot take over the country.
But Tijanóvskaya has responded with ease: What the authorities did not take into account when preventing her husband from participating in the elections, is that “behind every strong man there is an equally strong woman,” she maintains.
She states that her “mission” is to win the president to immediately call early elections in which all the candidates eliminated from the current campaign could participate.
“I am not a politician but you must have the possibility to vote in fair and absolutely transparent elections,” Tijanóvskaya said at a rally to his followers.
Yujnevich, an activist from European Belarus and a regular at opposition protests, assures that Belarusian society is now “more politicized than ever”.
“I have seen the presidential campaigns of 2001, 2006 and 2010 and I can say that now the level of politicization in society is colossal,” he said.
“I hope that the authorities will not use force (against participants in the protests),” he said, while considering that the situation in the country, especially after the elections, is “difficult to forecast.”
Added to this climate, President Lukashenko has ordered to reinforce security measures for the presidents after the arrest of 33 alleged Russian mercenaries from the private military company Wagner.
The security forces arrested them in the early hours of this Wednesday. They were allegedly tasked with causing chaos in the country ahead of the elections.
Lukashenko indicates that if the detainees are Russian citizens, “it is necessary to immediately contact the corresponding entities in Russia, so that they can explain what has happened.”
The president maintains that if the Russian authorities “are guilty, they have to get out of this situation with dignity.” “If they are not, then well, we do not have as objective to defame a country close to us”, ditch.
This Thursday, the Kremlin flatly denied that Russia is trying to destabilize Belarus: “Slander has already appeared. Of course, it is nothing but slander,” the spokesman for the Russian Presidency said in his daily press conference. Dmitri Peskov.