August 9 marks one year since the contested elections in Belarus. In the months that followed, hundreds of thousands of people regularly took to the streets, convinced that the ballot was rigged, their vote stolen.
The crackdown was so brutal that eventually the demonstrators stopped coming out. People have even been arrested for carrying or displaying the colors of the red and white flag which is the signature of the opposition. According to human rights groups, 35,000 people have been arrested, at least 10 have been killed while thousands have fled the country for fear of the repercussions of last year’s presidential election.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 27 years, sees an alternate reality: sabotage, “scum” protesters and Western plots to destabilize it. He celebrated August 9 this year with a press conference to once again proclaim victory, victory over what he saw as an attempted coup.
The event was called “A Big Conversation with the President” and was broadcast live.
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It went on for eight hours without interruption. Much of the time was devoted to the hymns sung by the audience and the applause.
Meanwhile, President Biden marked August 9 by imposing a series of new sanctions against Belarus, hitting the country’s potash industry, the country’s cash cow and the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, among other entities. This decision followed the United Kingdom which itself imposed similar sanctions. Lukashenko was questioned on Monday about British sanctions.
“You can choke yourself on these sanctions over there in the UK!” thundered the Belarusian leader. “We haven’t had a clue in millennia of this Britain, and we don’t want to have one. You are America’s companion dogs!”
Often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” Lukashenko himself referred to the unflattering nickname today, sneering at it and dismissing it as a misnomer. But former Belarusian ambassador, now head of diplomacy for the National Anti-Crisis Management group, Vladzimir Astapenka, said he and his cohorts would like to see Lukashenko called something worse.
“We have an idea that we are developing to call on the world community to declare Lukashenko a terrorist,” he told Fox News. “Because what it is doing is exactly the crime of state terror, applied first to its own population, then to the citizens of other countries with this Ryanair flight hijacking and third with the promotion of illegal migration, with torture. We believe that there are many legal grounds for saying that this regime is terrorist. “
Lukashenko categorically denied numerous reports of beatings following the protests. But at one point, some prisoners “got” it, but only because they asked for it, by attacking the security services. The former collective farm boss ruled the former Soviet republic with an iron fist, which he is proud of. But the regime’s actions in recent months have been more aggressive than perhaps at any time in recent memory. Lukashenko’s security services forced a Ryanflight between Greece and Lithuania, two countries in the European Union, to urgently land in Belarus in May. According to Minsk, there had been a bomb threat. But the result of the dramatic detour was that a dissident, Roman Protaseivich, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were snatched from the robbery and arrested.
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In recent months, in response to sanctions, Belarus has sent thousands of Iraqi and African migrants through the woods across the European Union’s eastern border in what is known as the new form of warfare. hybrid, amid allegations that many of these armed migrants were imported from their distant homes by Lukashenko for the sole purpose of freeing them in Europe.
And then there was the case of Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimaouskaya. Belarusian athlete, after deadlock at Tokyo airport, managed to gain asylum in Poland after claiming she was forced to return to Belarus for complaining about the way she was pushed in a race she had not signed up for. Lukashenko dismissed this story on Monday and shot him while he was at it.
“She is the 36th in her discipline, the 36th! There is nothing more to say,” he said.
The mysterious death of a young Belarusian in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, has also cast doubt on the actions of the regime and reached last week. Vitaly Shishov was the head of the Belarusian House, which helps people escape repression. He disappeared after jogging and was later found hanged. Some believe that Lukashenko’s henchmen may have killed Shishov to send a signal and sow fear in the hearts of the exiled community. Friends said he had been followed for a while. Lukashenko has today taken umbrage at the suggestion itself.
“Who was he for me and for Belarus?” he asked in response to a question about death. “For us, he was nobody.”
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Vladzimir Astapenka said it is fear and threats that keep Lukashenko in power.
“Repression, repression, repression”, he said in summary. “I would say it is a terrorization of the population and the construction of a concentration camp in the center of Europe.”
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