Like every political surprise, the snowballing protest in Belarus now seems to have been inevitable. It wasn’t. Like every dictatorship before it, Lukashenka’s regime still appears invincible. It isn’t. Now of all times it is essential for Americans to understand the nuance and the context of what’s happening in Belarus. This could be America. This can still happen in America.
The reports from Belarus are blood-curdling. A photo of a five year old girl with a head injury, with a comment that a police vehicle rammed the car she was in. A video of riot police pinning a 15-year old boy to the ground and threatening him with a flash-bang grenade held to his face. Conflicting reports of a man dying from burns after the same kind of flash-bang exploded next to him: the government claims the man tried to throw it at the police, protesters say police shot at him (update: a video has turned up later that shows the victim bleeding and falling after getting shot in the chest at close range). A video of a man ran over by an armored mobile jail vehicle. Reports of tear gas grenades thrown into apartment windows.
People get grabbed on the streets, in the courtyards, yanked from their own apartments. A teenager reported being forced, along with other boys and girls his age, to stand on his knees in jail corridor for hours, while listening to cries of an adult being tortured in a room next door (https://medium.com/@angdraug/belarus-testimonies-17000cd471b0). Parents are spending days outside the jail waiting for a confirmation that their son or daughter is in that jail and not in a morgue, while listening to similar cries coming out of the windows.
Belarusians, scared into peacefulness by the generational trauma of losing 25% of country’s population in World War II, have not seen violence on this scale since 1944. The Belarusian temperament used to be described as “do whatever, just don’t start a war.” And now the country’s government is at war with its entire population. How did this happen?
Lukashenka has stolen many elections before: not a single election in Belarus since the one that’s made him president in 1994 has been internationally recognized as free and fair. The difference this year was plausibility.
Until this year, Lukashenka consistently polled in double digits, and the common sentiment was that even if the 83% of votes reported by his loyal Central Election Commission were a stretch, in theory he could get a majority or at least a…