Strikes begin across Belarus after the authorities fail to fulfill the ‘People’s Ultimatum’
A nationwide strike began in Belarus on Monday, October 26. Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya) announced the strike after the authorities failed to fulfill the demands of the “People’s Ultimatum.” Employees from a number of state-owned enterprises have joined the strike, including workers from Grodno Azot, the Minsk Tractor Plant, the Minsk Electrotechnical Plant, the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant, and Belorusneft. Workers carried out processions at these enterprises, protested outside of them, or refused to come to work all together. Riot police (OMON) vehicles were spotted outside of state-owned enterprises. Officially, many companies report that they are continuing work as usual.
Workers from a number of private companies have joined the strike. Some of companies have declared October 26 a day off, while others have gone on vacation indefinitely or closed for technical reasons such as inventory. Among the striking companies are medical centers, shops, bars, cafes, language schools, gyms, travel agencies, beauty salons, and service centers. MTS employees also joined the strike and went out to protest (according to unconfirmed reports they were threatened with dismissal following the demonstration).
Students have staged protests at several Belarusian Universities and some were arrested by riot police. Students from Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU) and Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics (BGUIR) marched along Independence Avenue in Minsk, where both universities are located. Riot police detained some of the protesters not far from Victory Square, Euroradio reports. Many of the students fled when they saw the riot police vehicles approaching.
Protesting students from Minsk State Linguistics University (MGLU) also headed towards Independence Avenue. According to Tut.by, the students were supported by their teachers. Judging by a video from Onliner, several people blocked the roadway. When special police vehicles drove up to the university, the students fled inside. They returned after law enforcement had left the area.
Students from the Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts (BGUKI), Belarusian State University (BGU), and the pedagogical, economic, and medical universities also conducted protests in Minsk. Students have staged sit-in protests at several institutions, while other demonstrations have seen dozens or even hundreds of students protesting outside of their respective university buildings. Telegram channels are reporting that students from different universities intend to meet outside of BGU’s main building on Independence Avenue later in the day. Students from Brest State Technical University have also been protesting, as have students from Yanka Kupala State University in Grodno. The Belarusian Education Ministry told RIA Novosti that the student protests are sporadic and have not disturbed the educational process in the country.
More than 100 people have already been arrested amid the nationwide strike on Monday. According to the Vyasna (Spring) Human Rights Center, law enforcement officers had arrested 103 people across the country by 1:00 p.m. local time. The majority of the arrests were made in Minsk. In Grodno, at least 32 people were arrested for participating in a demonstration outside of Grodno Azot this morning, reports Onliner (Vyasna has since reported a smaller number of detainees in Grodno). Law enforcement have also made arrests in the cities of Brest, Borisov, Novopolotsk, and Mogilev.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called on private businesses, religious groups, cultural and sports organizations, as well as IT companies to join the strike. “After all, a strike at state-owned enterprises is a lever of economic pressure. And a strike at private companies is a show of solidarity with each other, and this is no less important. People who have decided to go on strike need to see that they aren’t alone in their decision,” Tikhanovskaya said.
Translation by Eilish Hart