Arrests of opposition leaders and threat to sack striking workers came after tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Belarus on Sunday.
More than 150,000 people marched through the capital Minsk. They demanded Lukashenko’s resignation in the wake of a rigged presidential election in the eastern European country.
It marked the 15th day of protests—and strikes at key state-owned companies—after Lukashenko claimed victory over liberal candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Andrej, a supporter of independent trade unions and an unemployed worker, has been on the streets of Minsk. “We’ve not been free for 26 years and the feeling now is, ‘It’s time’,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We will win this battle and we will crush Lukashenko.”
Andrej described an “excited” atmosphere during the protests and strikes, with people “shouting in the streets for freedom and rights”.
On one protest “around the city people were just singing songs, the philharmonic theatre had organised some concerts on the streets”.
In the industrial city of Grodno, in western Belarus, striking workers from the chemicals plant headed a thousands-strong march.
But Lukashenko has made it clear that he won’t go down without a fight.
On Sunday convoys of military vehicles drove around the streets of Minsk in the morning.
Lukashenko, clad in riot police gear and brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle, flew above the city in the presidential helicopter. The following day Lukashenko had threatened to shut down firms where workers remain on strike.
Police arrested Tikhanovskaya aid Olga Kovalkova and Sergei Sylebsky, who has led strikes at the Minsk Tractor Factory.
They are both members of the Coordinating Council of Belarus (CCB), set up by Tikhanovskaya to manage a transition to democratic rule.
This body brings together liberal opponents of the regime, a former Lukashenko culture minister, bosses and some strike leaders.
Figures who favour more free market policies are rising in the leadership of the CCB.
One CCB member, Pavel Daneyko, was a co-founder of the Institute of Privatisation and Management in 1994.
The institute was set up to train the managers of state-owned companies in how to squeeze more out of workers.
These sorts of policies will not solve unemployment or other social problems facing ordinary people in Belarus.
A genuine alternative lies with workers fighting for democracy, social justice and a society where they are in charge.
Long legacy of Stalin
Stalinism casts a long shadow in Belarus and eastern Europe.
In Stalinist Russia and the Eastern Bloc the ruling class—the state bureaucracy—behaved in the same way as bosses do under free market capitalism.
Its aim was accumulating profit and to get ahead of international rivals.
After revolutions in 1989-91, these societies transitioned from state capitalism to a free market capitalism.
Ordinary people paid the price of free market policies. Today many mass movements in eastern Europe are trapped between defending parts of state capitalism and looking to the free market.
Minsk tractor works strike leader Sergei Sylebsky says that the lack of oligarchs is “far from an achievement”.
Protester Andrej wants “a market economy” but without oligarchs or multinationals taking over. Neither state capitalism nor free markets offer any alternative for working class people.