The IMF decision to allocate almost a billion dollars to Belarus, although Lukashenka continues to hold power in the country, has caused a wave of outrage in society. But the impetus for the new protest was given by one girl. Maryia Zabara started with a single picket and launched a whole stream of protests. We talked to Maryia about the picket near the IMF and the reaction of Belarusians in America.
The funds are issued in Special Drawing Rights (SDR). It is a very liquid IMF payment instrument that can be exchanged for foreign currency or credited as gold and foreign exchange reserves.
“I hear politicians from all countries, including the United States, tell the media that they do not support Lukashenka’s dictatorship and that they will do everything possible to help Belarus. And the next day they turn around and do the opposite. They pass laws, sign declarations, and these declarations do not affect anything,” Maryia is indignant.
She noted that the US Democracy Act in Belarus that was adopted after numerous appeals and pickets by Belarusians strengthens the possibilities of Washington’s sanctions pressure on Minsk and expands the scope of support for Belarusian civil society. The document stipulates that the United States must speak out against any assistance to the current state system.
“This act took much sweat and blood to be adopted. According to it, the United States Treasury must tell all international financial institutions in which they participate that in no case can any funding be given to Lukashenka. And they did not say anything to the IMF, although they must. Here is the question: why sign the act that does not affect anything?” Maryia wonders.
Before the IMF announced its intention to allocate funds to the Lukashenka regime, Maryia did not take part in the diaspora protests. But the situation made the girl so resented that she decided to go from her city to the capital.“I didn’t have time to meet anyone and coordinate the protest. I decided to just go to Washington. After all, I didn’t need to talk to Belarusians, but to Janet Ellen, who works at the U.S. Department of the Treasury,” Maryia says.
She was amazed at how willing Belarusians of Washington were to help after she wrote to their community:
“I didn’t know a single person. But they called me in advance. Said they would bring a tent, food, flags and posters. They even got a permission to protest, although it is possible to picket up to 25 people without permission. But they did so just in case. As a result, I was met in the evening, people came with posters, with art projects, and even got me a megaphone. And it really made the difference, because no one paid attention to me while I was simply standing – and with it I could be heard up to the White House.”
Maryia stood in the picket from morning till night, although she understood that such a picket in itself would have little weight.
“At one point we learned that Janet Ellen was on vacation, but she cancelled the Afghanistan grant. If they really want to, they can decide anything, so no excuses were accepted,” the girl stresses.
Together with new acquaintances from Washington, Maryia decided to put pressure on politicians through personal contacts:
“Belarusians have already made a lot of contacts with politicians, made petitions and talked to senators. At the Zoom rallies, our Belarusians explained to politicians from scratch what was happening. The people on whom the decision really depends should have been explained everything.
Here I realized that it was not they who decided not to care about Belarus, but we just needed to reach them and achieve our goal.”
Thus, a new wave of the campaign against the transfer of IMF money to Belarus began.
“It should be dug from all sides. People who have been in activism and politics for a long time understand that issues are never solved by one thing. The issue is almost never resolved by a huge rally, as well as by writing letters alone. So we spent the whole night writing a letter template that could be sent to any politician around the world. The letter specifically states that Lukashenka had not spent money on the fight against COVID-19 before, so there is no reason to think that he will spend this money on the coronavirus. And the main thing is that Lukashenka is not legitimate and we need to make his entire government illegitimate,” our interlocutor says.
Maryia notes that in some countries the activists managed to meet with politicians who determine the fate of financial assistance to Belarus:
“That is, these are real people, and they can be reached. On Monday, everyone got up together and took a lot of pictures. We sent this collage to all the major media outlets of the United States and abroad. Let’s see how they react to this, although they contacted us from different media.”
Maryia admits that in recent days she has learned a lot about geopolitical relations and international economic mechanics.
“I learned that the IMF does not issue these funds in one day, they are not yet in Lukashenka’s pocket, they can be stopped. Even if the IMF does not give this money to Lukashenka, he will receive it from Putin, but this path should be stopped for the future. Just like Afghanistan and Venezuela were not given money this time.
And I learned that Belarusians can get well mobilized around the world, if necessary. And also, that there are different opinions even in small diasporas, and that people learn to work together, although it is difficult,” Maryia shares her thoughts.
She noted that the fatigue of the people who work with the protest every day is understandable, and the great value is to replace each other over this long distance:
“Belarusians living abroad have no right to give up. Maybe I’m talking too harshly. And I’m not talking about those who have recently fled their homeland and who have a family at home. I’m talking about people like me who have a chance to help. We need to show Belarusians inside the country that we do not forget about them, because we are much safer. I actually believe that I have no right to give up. Of course, from abroad we will not be able to do everything, and the main thing depends on the people inside the country. But this is not an excuse not to do anything outside the country.”