Ten of thousands of people took to the streets of Belarus over the weekend in defiance of president Aleksander Lukashenko’s threats and intimidation.
Over 100,000 people joined a “march for unity” in Minsk on Sunday. It marked the fourth week of mass marches that have brought the capital to a standstill.
Thousands more took part in protests and rallies in smaller towns and cities across the eastern European country, including Brest and Grodno. Several thousand joined a Women’s March in the capital the previous day.
The Belarusian democracy movement follows a rigged election. President of 26 years Lukashenko claimed 80 percent of the vote over liberal challenger Svetlana Tichanovskaya.
A carnival atmosphere continues on the big marches despite police intimidation. As the crowd marched near the presidential palace, people began chanting, “Lukashenko—to the police van,” and, “Tribunal.”
The regime is relying on state violence and intimidation in the hope of quelling the movement.
Plain clothed thugs armed with batons chased down and beat up groups of protesters on Sunday.
Unknown men bundled Maria Kalesnikava, a leading member of the opposition Coordination Council of Belarus, into a minibus the following day.
Unofficial walkouts at more than 70 companies posed a serious threat to the regime last month.
The strike wave has stalled for now, although some people still refuse to go back to work and there are a few stoppages.
Sections of the BelAz vehicle manufacturer remained shut last week. Electricity network workers in Ostroshiki Gorodok gathered outside the management building and discussed leaving the state-run trade unions.
And at the Grodno meat packing plant, workers issued a public appeal for a rerun of the presidential election and an end to police violence.
Many workers are taking part in “go slows”—going into work but slowing down production as much as possible to hit the regime.
There are small signs that workers could begin to link political and economic demands and shape what comes next.
The strike committee at the Belaruskali potash ore mines, one of the regime’s key firms, has put demands over working conditions to management.
One message from the committee, focusing on workers’ complaints over ventilation, says, “They took away their voice, now they are trying to take away their health.”
There will be a battle over what comes next if Lukashenko goes.
The Coordinating Council brings together a range of forces, including liberal politicians, bosses and a few strike leaders. Its leadership wants more free market policies, which Lukashenko began pursuing to court foreign investment in the 2000s.
Western leaders are posing as supporters of the Belarusian fight for freedom. But the British military only last week suspended its cooperation agreement with the Belarusian military.
The West and the market offer no genuine alternative for working class people in Belarus.