Updated: Sep 7
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s Press Secretary, Anna Krasulina, Talks About the Situation in Belarus at Vilnius University
Saturday, August 29th Anna Krasulina, press secretary for Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, gave a talk in Vilnius. An open forum between Krasulina and members of the Lithuanian organization, Santara Šviesa, took place at Vilnius University. In the audience there were former diplomats, signatories of the Lithuanian declaration of independence, professors, writers, artists, philosophers, in a word, all manner of Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Russian intellectuals. They were invited to Vilnius University to engage in a discussion with Krasulina on the situation in Belarus.
Krasulina explained how the opposition to Lukashenko’s stranglehold on power first emerged over his dismissal of the dangers of the coronavirus. In Krasulina’s words, “That was when we citizens of Belarus realized that we did not matter to the government at all. He used many degrading words to describe how insignificant we are to the government and how our lives and our health simply do not matter.”
According to Krasulina, when presidential candidates were jailed by Alexander Lukashenko, that felt like the last straw. She shared how Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who she described as “very passionate and spontaneous,” without consulting with anyone, within fifteen minutes made the decision to register herself as a presidential candidate.
Before Tikhanvoskaya and her campaign team set out on the campaign trail, they carefully considered the use of historical Belarusian symbols in their peaceful rallies. They did not want to alienate Belarusian Russians, who make up a large percentage of the population of Belarus.
“We need to make a distinction between Russians and Belarusian Russians,” Krasulina stressed. “Belarusian Russians are loyal to Belarus and we see no difference between us.”
While in rural areas the Belarusian language is still spoken, in the cities only ten to fifteen percent of the population speaks Belarusian. However, Krasulina stressed, “now it is fashionable to speak Belarusian.”
As the days of the protests stretched on, more and more historical Belarusian symbols appeared on the streets—the knight on horseback, the red and white flag. These symbols were accepted by all the protesters, whether they are ethnic Belarusians or not, as the symbols of the peaceful protests. The use of Belarusian symbols has not created alienation between ethnic groups within the country.
Krasulina explained that all over Belarus the election committees have years of experience falsifying election results. It was expected that they would falsify the results at this election. However, in some provinces people working in the electoral offices kept track of the actual votes and leaked that information to the opposition. Based on those “unofficial numbers” they surmise that Tikhanovskaya won 80 percent of the votes. However, legally, there is no way to prove that Tikhanovskaya actually won the election because the evidence has been destroyed. However, people know who they voted for and they are tired of their votes being disrespected and their voices not heard.
On August 9th, the day of the presidential election, the regional electoral offices did not dare officially post the election results because already they felt the pressure of the opposition.
On August 10 and 11 Lukashenko called in special troops, known as the OMON, to beat, arrest, torture Belarusian citizens who had taken to the streets in peaceful protests against the falsification of election results. The peaceful protests were an expression of the people’s free will to choose. The peaceful protesters were met with violence. According to Krasulina, the scale of the violence in Belarus today is horrifying. Victims of beatings, torture, rape, number in the thousands.
On August 12th, after unrestrained violence by OMON troops against innocent unarmed people lasted into the early morning hours, as the new day dawned, there was a deadly silence on the streets. Then, first the women emerged onto the streets, dressed in white, carrying white flowers. They brought their children along with them. They lined up across from the OMON soldiers, who were dressed in black, clad in riot gear, and armed to the teeth. The women offered them flowers of peace.
“It was an incredible gesture,” Krasulina said to the audience, “it was a feminist action.”
Then the men came out onto the streets.
Krasulina spoke about how despite Lukashenko’s propaganda numbers, unemployment is high in Belarus. It is difficult to find a good-paying job. Therefore, she stressed, we should appreciate the financial risk that the factory workers and other laborers are taking by going out on strike.
She spoke about how people are careful to clean up all the litter after a mass protest, to keep law and order, to show the Belarusian government and the world that they are peaceful, respectful people who are simply defending their rights and asking to be heard. She talked about how Lukashenko ordered the traffic lights shut off in the cities to create mayhem between drivers and protesters. The protesters solved the traffic problem by directing the traffic themselves.
Right now, there is no reliable news source in Belarus according to Krasulina. The most reliable sources, she explained is Nexta, which runs on the Telegraph platform. This independent news network broadcasts from Poland and offers a steady stream of video, images, hourly updates, and information useful to protesters. The Nexta editors are careful not to allow trolls to infiltrate their media, or to publish biased news or opinions, either from Russia or the West. Krasulina explained that it is easy to identify trolls because they use the Soviet Russian word for Belarus, rather than the historic name that is used locally.
A former Lithuanian diplomat made a statement that it is not acceptable that the European community is not doing more to recognize the violence against unarmed citizens, stating that the steps taken so far by the European community although good, are not a strong enough response to the human rights abuses perpetrated against the people of Belarus. He noted that countless dissidents, whose names are not known to the West, have been in jail in Belarus for years.
Belarus is a country that has been relatively isolated from the outside world during the decades long reign of Lukashenko. Krasulina spoke about how people in Belarus wish to resolve their problems through self-reliance. She explained that they welcome support from the West, but they take responsibility for the fate of their own country, and the outcome of their peaceful revolution.
Anna Krasulina at Vilnius University, August 29, 2020.