A former high-ranking government official in Belarus, Pavel Latushka has witnessed President Lukashenko’s system of power from the inside.
After a sham election triggered widespread protests, he joined the ranks of the resistance to the regime. Now in political exile, Latushka speaks about the struggle to keep the Belarusian pro-democracy movement alive.
The Belarusian protests began before the contested August 2020 election but exploded in size after it became clear that Lukashenko had rigged the results in his favour. Can you explain how the democracy movement emerged and gathered momentum?
Pavel Latushko: Artem Sakov, Dzmitry Popau, Pavel Seviarynets, Aliaksandr Shabalin, Uladzimir Tsyganovich.
I want to start with these five names. Today, we have 362 political prisoners in Belarus. And as of today, I have decided to begin all my interviews acknowledging their struggle by naming five of them. Europe should know their names. The rigged election was the first protest trigger. The second was the ensuing mass violence. I remember when the internet was switched off and we had a three-day information blackout. When the internet came back on, I remember receiving all these messages on my phone, showing me videos and photos of massive police brutality. It was horrible.
That’s when all of Minsk, all of Belarus decided to take to the streets. The government met these protests with even greater violence. Nine people are estimated to have been murdered over the past eight months. 35,000 people have been arrested and detained. The United Nations has recognised 4600 cases of torture. 500 journalists have been arrested. The list goes on.
Belarusians are angry and feel betrayed. We want our freedom. We are the only country in Europe that has continued to live under a dictatorship.
The movement for democracy in Belarus stands out for two reasons: the prominent participation of women and the involvement of people from the cultural world. Can you explain these two dynamics and what they brought to the struggle?