Over the past 10 days, people across Belarus have protested and gone on strike in the aftermath of a presidential election held on August 9th, which is largely believed to have been rigged. From factory workers to news reporters, Belarusians have strongly voiced their opposition to the reelection of Alexander Lukashenko, who supposedly won against candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya with an 80 percent majority of votes, a number that is widely disputed. The arts sector has also voiced their concerns through protests, art, and an open letter signed by hundreds within the arts community.
More than 6,000 protestors have been detained by police and eyewitnesses have reported rampant police and military brutality. Last week, artists joined thousands of women wearing white and carrying flowers who took to the streets in Minsk to form “solidarity chains” as the fifth day of protests swept the nation.
Solidarity has extended beyond the borders of Belarus as artists have spoken out against what is happening in the country. Russian artist Artem Loskutov, known for his politically charged works, created an artwork in solidarity with Belarusian protesters using a technique he developed in 2019 called dubinopis (“nightstick art”) in response to police brutality in Russia. Titled Belarus, Loskutov created an interpretation of the flag of Belarus using red paint on a white canvas. He sold the work through an online auction he hosted on his Facebook for three million rubles (around £30,000) promising that half of the proceeds would go towards Belarusians.
Most recently, though, is an open letter that was released on Monday signed by more than 300 members of the arts sector. The letter coincided with a mass strike of television workers, that included camera crew, hosts, and journalists, on Monday as well as a singing protest staged by the Minsk Philharmonic.
The Minsk Philharmonic have come out in a singing protest pic.twitter.com/2qUvOmCw0s
— Will Vernon (@BBCWillVernon) August 17, 2020
“We, cultural workers of Belarus, are deeply shocked and outraged by the events of the last days in our country related to the elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus, and by the huge and unmotivated level of violence and aggression committed by the official authorities and law enforcement agencies against the people of our country,” stated the letter, in part. Signees raised issues of election falsification citing instances in which polling stations did not release results and instead, election officials quietly fled after votes were taken. It went on to express grievances concerning police and military violence against peaceful protesters, the detention of many Belarus citizens, some who were protesting and others who were allegedly randomly targeted, and the conditions under which those detained are being held.
Ultimately, the letter made four demands:
“1. To stop the acts of violence against civilians and remove the atmosphere of fear from the streets.
2. To release all political prisoners and detainees.
3. To hold new transparent elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus.
4. To provide Belarusian citizens with free access to information and the right to peaceful assembly.”
Unrest in Belarus continues as Lukashenko, who has presided over the country since 1994 has claimed a referendum could be possible but not until the country’s Constitution was amended to allow for it. Tsikhanouskaya, believed to have actually receives between 60 and 70 percent of the vote as opposed to the reported 10 percent, fled to Lithuania following the election. She has since made a video statement that she is indeed ready to lead the country. As frustration grows in Belarus, many are now asking what comes next.