Unity March: Minskers running in rain

For the people who have been taking part in post-election protests, the beginning of September 6th looked just like those of three prior Sundays. Several metro stations were closed, so people were gathering around the Palace of Sports in the vicinity of Nyamiha street. Happy and smiling families were marching with the white-red-white flags, holding the balloons and their messages to the government.

“I come here every week as I am looking for emotional support. Every time I see that there are as many people as it used to be and I take it as reality check. We are still 97% and I would like to thank all the activists who came to our factory to show their solidarity. I also thank the lady who held a banner saying that the workers are the heroes during yesterday’s Female March. We are all heroes in here. You can lose a job, but never the freedom,” Pavel, a striking worker from Minsk Tractor Plant, said.

The rainy weather, however, forced people to return. After a few hours of standing, they started walking chaotically, heading back to the main avenue and passing Nyamiha on their way.

Nyamiha street, Unity March in Minsk. 6 September 2020. Photo: Belsat.eu

Alena, 47, was posing with a huge poster “Ha ha, I am living here”:

“I asked a random guy to give me this banner. I plan to use it from now on. It is my second time today, but I was at the very first get together around Minsk Hero City Stele. At that time I only had a ribbon at my hand, but I am advancing now. I will keep on coming until the regime changes”.

While talking to Alena, we were stopped by a mini bus full of plainclothes men wearing black balaclavas. They were chasing us, and we had to run in the rain at full speed. When finding herself bin the clear, Alena added that ‘she had fulfilled her fitness norms for today’, but that episode would not discourage her”. Alena’s only concern is to bring the banner back home safely. She took a taxi for this purpose.

Liza, 26, met me at the entrance of the bar surrounding the tourist walk-in street Komsomolskaya that I took in order to pass through the blockades made of multiple military and riot police cars: “Hurry up! We plan to lock the doors soon. It is very dangerous in here!”. As I walked in the pub, I saw many protesters totally confused without the internet access. They asked me if I had seen the riot police heading to our location, but in a moment their column was passing by the entrance to block yet another street.

While in a lockdown Liza shared a personal experience: “After the first protest I have lost my husband for 5 days. We were calling everywhere, but he wasn’t listed in any of the detention centres. Then we were told he was transferred from Minsk to Slutsk. He came out without teeth and with damaged ligaments, but I was glad that he is alive and coming back home”.

I started talking to others and they shared multiple emotions; a man from Moscow thought that that was the end of dictatorship in Belarus; a tourist from France was confused whether he could meet his Belarusian girlfriend anywhere around at this time, a waitress from a neighbouring cafe who was nervously smoking outside warned us that there was little we could do to help our heroes at the other side.

Police blocked the intersection of Independence Avenue and Lenin Street. Unity March in Minsk. 6 September 2020. Photo: Pavel Dabravolski / vot-tak.tv / belsat.eu

Mikalai, 37, appeared nearby after a long run: “They are detaining everyone near Nyamiha, but I’ve heard them shouting “Till Sunday!”. He found out that the Internet reappeared and we checked the updates from the Nexta Live Telegram channel. The first update was that the protesters had jumped into the Svisloch river to escape. “Holy s**t!” said Mikalai. We spent some time together and he shared that his friend had panic attacks after being detained:

“They beat him up so much that he is afraid to get out of the house to do shopping. I do see people leaving the protest at the street and using more of partisan strategy. I think we need a national strike to end up with this.”

Many detention buses were passing by us on the way back home, yet we saw more than ten military cars surrounding the Palace of Republic. Each of them contained up to 64 soldiers. Some activists were protesting from inside of a local restaurant and their chants were so loud that one could hear them from miles away. We took some yards and parks not to appear in the sight of the riot police.

‘Sasha, we are not rats, we are people! We have not scattered!’ Unity March in Minsk. 6 September 2020. Photo: belsat.eu

A senior man was passing by us near the building of the national TV. “The way is clean,” he said, suspecting that we were in escape. It looked like a partisan war and we stopped at another pub near Victory Square. We were only relieved by the scene of the military cars leaving. As they circled around the Victory monument, the people at the street showed middle fingers and shouted: “Go away, occupants!”

The atmosphere in the public transport on the way back home is such that people were watching protest videos without the headphones and discussing them in the tram. “Tomorrow we are coming back!” someone said.

Bella Fox, belsat.eu