A Proud Belarusian’s Heartbreak
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because millions of Belarusians are watching with fear, hope and bated breath as protests unfold back home.
By Stanislav Zmachynski
This op-ed was not in OZY’s pipeline a week ago. Nor was it written by our usual editorial team.
I’m dedicating this to the young nation of Belarus, the small, landlocked country in Eastern Europe that has been rocked by police violence after the authoritarian incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, claimed a landslide election victory widely viewed by the public as rigged.
Nine days later, Belarus is besieged by a horrific level of violence, including more than 6,000 arrests and at least two confirmed deaths. Many more are likely being covered up by officials.
The popular myth that Belarusians simply aren’t strong enough to stand up for themselves has been debunked.
As a Belarusian citizen, my heart hurts, and my soul is tired. For several days, I watched in dismay as peaceful protesters calling for a recount were met with black-clad riot police wielding stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Yesterday, I spent hours talking to some of the victims and their relatives, collecting True Stories of people who were directly affected, stories of broken bones, threats of rape, military trucks turned into gas chambers, sophisticated torture techniques and never-ending beatings. Belarus, which was the main Nazi-Soviet battleground for years, saw every fourth Belarusian die during World War II. Today, I am hearing comparisons between the methods of the Belarusian riot police and those of the Nazis’.
This is not surprising to me, as Lukashenko has made security the top priority throughout his 26-year tenure as the country’s president and Europe’s longest-serving ruler, regularly arresting and imprisoning democratic activists and pro-Western leaders. The results are a puppet Parliament, censorship, firm centralization of business activities and finances, and the lack of an independent judicial system. Well, the day of reckoning has arrived.
“We, the Belarusians, are peaceful people.” So goes the opening line to Belarus’ national anthem. These words summarize the nation’s spirit at its best. A week and a half into what has become the most widespread protests against the existing political order, you don’t see broken windows or burned-out cars. Instead, families march with young children, dressed in white, roses in their arms. The global Belarusian diaspora stands arm in arm with those back home.
The violence unleashed by Lukashenko backfired. The police have retreated, but it may be too late for the president. The popular myth that Belarusians simply aren’t strong enough to stand up for themselves has been debunked. And now that patience and tolerance have run out, the country’s problems of economic stagnation, mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and the human rights violations have led to increasing demands for new leadership. Such is my hope.
Stanislav Zmachynski is the head of finance for OZY Media
- Stanislav Zmachynski, OZY Author Contact Stanislav Zmachynski