August 19, 2020

Culture Workers Pen Open Letter, Join Strikes Across Belarus

MINSK, BELARUS—Workers in Belarus, from dockworkers to doctors, struck last week to protest the disputed reelection of Russia-aligned president Alexander Lukashenko. Among those striking were the employees of the National Art Museum, who engaged in a peaceful protest, and museum workers at the Niasvizh Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage center in central Belarus.

Lukashenko, who has led the former Soviet state since 1994, was reelected on August 9 amid widespread accusations of poll rigging and incidences of police violence aimed at suppressing opposition to his campaign. The incumbent president was alleged to have received roughly 80 percent of the popular vote, with opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya garnering just over 10 percent.

Dissent has spread further since the initial walkouts. On Thursday, artists brandishing signs protesting the election results and state aggression formed a human chain in Minsk. On Friday, hundreds of cultural workers across Belarus signed and released an open letter denouncing the election process and results, and calling for a cessation of violence against protesters, the release of political prisoners, and a new and transparent election. Monday saw state TV workers striking and the Minsk Philharmonic staging a singing protest. At the Kupala National Theater in Minsk, crowds gathered to support director Pavel Latushko, who was fired for his support of the protests, and the theater’s artists, who summarily resigned en masse. More strikes and protests are planned this week.

Tikhanovskaya, speaking from Lithuania, where she has been since the election results were announced, contended that she had likely received 60 to 70 percent of the vote, and that she was ready to return to serve as interim leader. Lukashenko, addressing a booing throng of tractor factory workers earlier today, said that he was open to a referendum but that the constitution would have to be amended first, asserting that he would not hand over his authority “under pressure.” “Until you kill me,” he told the crowd, “there will be no other election.”

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