Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko spoke to a crowd of factory workers today as protests against his rule continued in the capital. At one point during his speech he was interrupted by workers chanting “Go away!” But Lukashenko implied nothing was going to change until he was dead:
Lukashenko made the comments while visiting a Minsk factory Monday, where he was booed and a group of workers chanted “Leave!” in unison. It’s yet another sign that the strongman’s traditional support base is crumbling after he claimed victory in disputed elections earlier this month.
“You talk about dishonest elections and want to hold new elections,” Lukashenko told the crowd. “My response to this — we held the elections and until you kill me, there won’t be any new elections.”
In response to his remarks the crowd chanted: “Yes, yes without you.”
There’s video of the incident. Lukashenko doesn’t look too happy but then he never does:
Just look at him while workers are chanting: “Go Away! Go Away” pic.twitter.com/zEiXTjlITZ
— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 17, 2020
Lukashenko to the factory workers:
– You want fair elections?
– We’ve already held the election. Until you kill me, there won’t be another one!
Who’s escalating now?
— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) August 17, 2020
This guy has been in office since 1994, so the idea that he’ll be there until he’s dead isn’t that far-fetched. Later in the same speech, Lukashenko suggested it was time for a new constitution.
Lukashenko told the throng of displeased factory workers: “Even if you shoot me tomorrow there are already other people who are going to work.”
The President said that he would be willing to share power and to change the constitution but won’t do so under pressure from “the streets,” in a reference to the mass protests.
“A new constitution is needed,” he added. “Two options were offered to me. I rejected them because they are not very different from the current one. Work is underway on a third version. Come, sit down and work on the constitution and I will transfer you the powers according to the constitution. But not under pressure from the streets!”
We’ve seen this gambit before in Venezuela. First Hugo Chavez revised the constitution when his rule was under pressure. Then his successor Nicolas Maduro did the same thing as a way to deflect the issue of new elections.
After the speech Lukashenko approached a group of workers and promised not to beat them unless he was provoked. One guy apparently provoked him by filming the interaction. He was later detained:
All you need to know about Lukashenko’s regime. Andrei Sudam, the MZKT worker who dared to argue with Lukashenko on this video, has been detained.
— Tadeusz Giczan (@TadeuszGiczan) August 17, 2020
Meanwhile, there are massive protests taking place in Minsk as people are going on strike in order to protest the election results. Today the workers at the largest state TV station walked out and for a time the channel was broadcasting an empty set.
Рабочие БТ(основного гос канала) вышли на страйк. В итоге в эфире просто играла музыка, а в последствии и вообще был выключен свет. Нереальный респект рабочим БТ за их гражданскую позицию. pic.twitter.com/DHENRw1Gpf
— РБ головного мозга (@belamova) August 17, 2020
Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the results, has offered to be an interim leader until new elections can be held. But Lukashenko seems to be reaching out in a different direction. Over the weekend he had to phone discussions with President Putin:
In telephone calls to the Kremlin on Saturday and Sunday, he sought confirmation that Russia would provide military assistance against external threats, while warning supporters that the country was under foreign pressure.
“Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and our native Ukraine, their leadership are ordering us to hold new elections,” Lukashenko said in a speech. “If we follow their lead, we will go into a tailspin … we will perish as a people, as a state, as a nation.”…
But Putin has stopped short of offering support or an endorsement of Lukashenko, who is facing the gravest crisis of his career. It is likely that Moscow will wait and see whether Lukashenko can survive the next weeks or even days, as protests and labour strikes grow and pressure mounts on him to leave office.
The BBC’s Moscow correspondent wrote an analysis saying there is some concern we’re about to see a repeat of what happened in Ukraine:
Russian TV news bulletins have been making ominous parallels between Belarus 2020 and Ukraine 2014. Ukraine’s pro-Western revolution led to Moscow sending in its special operations forces to annex Crimea and Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine.
Six years on, could Russia’s military intervene in Belarus? On paper, at least, such a move would appear counter-productive. The opposition movement in Belarus is not anti-Russia/pro-Europe – it is anti-Lukashenko. If Russia were to send in troops to shore up the Belarusian leader, it risks alienating the Belarusian people and creating anti-Moscow sentiment.
So the future of Lukashenko and Belarus seems to be in flux at the moment. There are clearly a lot of people eager for Lukashenko to go but he’s saying it will take his death to make change happen. If he’s serious then even very large protests like the one yesterday are no guarantee that he’s on his way out. But if enough people strike, at some point he may be forced into changing his tune.
This is what the protests in Belarus — perhaps the largest demonstration in the country’s history — looked like on Sunday as tens of thousands turned out to oppose President Alexander G. Lukashenko.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 16, 2020