On the sixth day of the protest, the opposition in Belarus organized the largest rally in the country's history: tens of thousands of people gathered in Minsk for a "March of Freedom" and demanded the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko. The President mobilized his supporters for a counter-demonstration. In Germany, the Greens and FDP criticize Germany's reaction to the incidents. SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz called Alexander Lukashenko a "bad dictator" in an interview.
In an interview with Bild-Live , Scholz said: "I am firmly convinced that this president no longer has any legitimacy, otherwise he would not react with such incredible, brutal violence." The fact that no one is currently intimidated and that many people are risking a lot is a great hope for democracy for him. Bild also quotes the SPD politician: "If it goes according to democratic rules, Lukashenko will not be in office much longer. We do not accept what is happening there."
In Minsk the opposition shared the same opinion. The protesters chanted "Go!" and demanded Lukashenko's departure. As a sign of their peaceful intentions, the opposition supporters wore white clothes, flowers and balloons. Correspondents for the AFP news agency estimated the number of participants at more than 100,000. The independent news website Tut.by wrote that it was the largest rally since the country gained independence in 1991. Local media also reported protests from other cities. Contrary to their usual line, even the controlled state media briefly reported on the "alternative protests".
The demonstrators pulled a 100 meter long red and white flag through Minsk, which is a symbol of the opposition. Lukashenko had abolished the post-reunification flag. The march was supported by journalists from state television, researchers, business people and high-ranking diplomats. Opposition candidate Svetlana Tichanowskaya, who fled to Lithuania, announced the establishment of a committee to prepare a change of government in Belarus. Lukashenko won the presidential election a week ago, according to the official result, with 80 percent of the vote. The opposition accuses him of electoral fraud.
Discussion about EU sanctions
Lukashenko, who has been ruling authoritarian since 1994, organized a counter-demonstration with around 3,000 people on Independence Square. Lukashenko said he would not "hand over" the country to the opposition and warned against giving in to the demands of neighboring NATO countries and the opposition. The security authorities had cracked down on demonstrations and the opposition last week. Thousands were arrested and two protesters were killed. After her release, many people arrested reported ill-treatment and torture in custody. Belarusian ambassador to Slovakia, Igor Lechtchenia, told the government-critical newspaper Nasha Niva that he was "shocked by the witness reports of torture and beatings".
In view of the police violence, the EU had launched new sanctions against those responsible in Minsk. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) told Bild am Sonntag that a list of names is currently being drawn up against which the punitive measures are to be directed . The EU wants to "specifically punish individuals who can be shown to have been involved in the election rigging and violence against demonstrators". The opposition politician Maria Kolesnikowa sees punitive measures rather critically. She fears that economic sanctions will hit ordinary people above all.
Lukashenko is counting on support from Russia. During a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he agreed that "at our first request, comprehensive aid will be provided to ensure the security of Belarus," said Lukashenko to the state news agency Belta. For its part, the Kremlin declared that it was "ready to provide the necessary assistance." How this help should look like in an "emergency" was not discussed.
"Human rights violations on the EU's doorstep"
In Germany, the Greens expect the German government to take a more critical stance towards Lukashenko in view of the mass protests in Belarus. "The federal government should publicly declare that Lukashenko is not the elected president for them," said the Green Bundestag member and Eastern Europe expert Manuel Sarrazin to Tagesspiegel with a view to the allegedly falsified election. But Berlin and Brussels have still not stopped betting on the "worn-out dictator" Lukashenko, he said. That Belarus' sovereignty could be preserved vis-à-vis Russia is a "naive mistake".
The FDP MP Renata Alt told the newspaper that both the Foreign Office and Chancellor Angela Merkel had reacted too late and weakly. "Gross human rights violations are taking place on the EU's doorstep, and Germany and the EU are watching." It is now important to support the peaceful protests and to bring the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe into play as a mediator. The FDP politician also called on Germany and the EU to talk to Russia about an end to the violence in Belrus and free and fair elections. "You have to avoid a scenario like the one in Ukraine or Prague 1968 at all costs," said the FDP politician.