For the first time since the August 9 presidential election, the Belarusian government’s supporters have assembled in public. According to various Belarusian media outlets and Telegram channels, roughly 2,000 people gathered in Independence Square in Minsk outside the House of Government to hear a defiant speech from Alexander Lukashenko, who said granting new elections would be tantamount to surrendering to NATO aggression.
“If we follow their lead, we will fall into a tailspin. We’ll perish as a nation!” said the man who’s ruled Belarus since 1994, adding that he refuses to surrender the country even in death. Lukashenko also injected some racism into his speech, warning that NATO will send “black-skinned, yellow-faced, and blonde-headed soldiers.”
Senior government officials are still standing with Lukashenko. Senate Speaker Natalya Kochanova, Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko, and presidential chief of staff Igor Sergeenko were all in the crowd.
Many of the demonstrators weren’t local. Some were brought to Minsk from other parts of the country aboard buses and trains. The area around the rally was also heavily defended. Police officers and Interior Ministry troops readied military equipment and even agricultural machinery. On Saturday, as planning for the rally began, journalists reported that many government workers were ordered to attend the demonstration on penalty of losing their jobs.
Demonstrations have swept Belarus since Alexander Lukashenko declared a landslide victory in the August 9 presidential election. The opposition says the voting results were falsified and protests have intensified over the past week, reaching such a fever pitch that Lukashenko’s 26-year reign in Belarus is now threatened more than ever before. Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to demonstrate in Minsk later on August 16.