Thousands of armed soldiers of the interior troops were brought in Minsk on March 25. On the day when the country was celebrating the anniversary of the Belarusian National Republic proclamation, the authorities in fact imposed a state of emergency in the capital.
Belarus marked the 91st anniversary of the Belarusian National Republic on March 25, the event that gave the beginning to establishment of independent Belarus. Organizers of the action, the BPF party, applied for holding a rally from the Academy of Sciences to October square. The Minsk authorities permitted the participants to gather in front of the Academy of Sciences and traditionally permitted a rally not to the city centre, but to Banhalor square, a bedroom district. The action organizers said a decision by the authorities on prohibition of a peaceful demonstration dedicated to the national holiday was unlawful and the people who would come to the Academy of Sciences would choose where they should go.
Oppositionists were preventively arrested ahead of the action. Militia and traffic militia officers in regions detained youth activists, going to Minsk for the demonstration on March 25. Apartments of activist of the civil campaign “European Belarus” and “Young Front” were searched ahead and on the demonstration. Young people were seized national flags, banners, and printed materials. Youth activists were detained an hour before the rally, militiamen were catching them in streets, beating, taking away banners and leaflets.
Nevertheless, some thousands people gathered near the Academy of Sciences at 6.00 p.m. A large number of national and EU flags created an atmosphere of a holiday. Besides flags, Minsk dwellers brought red and white balloons and flowers. Many people came with their families and children.
Leader of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov, former chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich, BPF party leaders Lyavon Barshcheuski, Viktar Ivashkevich, and Vintsuk Vyachorka, coordinator of Charter’97 Zmitser Bandarenka, leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada) Mikola Statkevich, activists of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Zmitser Barodka, Yauhen Afnahel, Paval Yukhnevich, co-head of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Paval Sevyarynets, leader of the "For Freedom" movement Alyaksandr Milinkevich, leader of the “Young Front” Zmitser Dashkevich, leader of the “Young Belarus” Artur Finkevich, People’s Artist of Belarus Zinaida Bandarenka, deputy head of the United Civil Party Lyudmila Hraznova, People’s Poet of Belarus Henadz Buraukin, popular playwright Uladzimir Khalip, and other famous people took part in the demonstration.
Demonstrators were holding huge white-red-white breadths of cloth, streamers “European Belarus!”, “Freedom to political prisoners”, “Belarus to Europe!” Slogans “Long live Belarus!” and “Independence!” were heard all the time.
A short meeting was held in front of the Academy of Sciences. Speakers (opposition leaders, intellectuals, youth leaders) congratulated Belarusians on Freedom Day, expressing confidence that sooner or later the day would be celebrated as a state holiday.
The Belarusian Popular Front Party leader asked those participants of the rally who support Lukashenka’s regime raise their hands. In a silence no one raised a hand. Lyavon Barshcheuski stated that on March 24 applicants sent a letter to Minsk city executive committee stating that Surhanau Street is not adjusted for marching of great quantities of people, that is why demonstrators won’t be ale to go to Bangalore Square where the meeting was sanctioned by city authorities.
The chairman of the organizing committee for creation of the Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Hramada) Mikola Statkevich stated that nobody is going to go “to the swamp, to a ground for walking dogs”. “It is impossible to stand there with the holy white-red-white flag and our sacred symbols,” the politician stated.
At last BPF deputy head Viktar Ivashkevich called on the participants of the action to from a human chain along Independence Avenue holding flags and banners and stand there for an hour, reminding people about freedom Day, political prisoners.
A part of people formed a human chain on advice of Viktar Ivashkevich. But a column of youth of 500 people moved to October square shouting “Independence!”, “No to Union with Imperial Russia!”, “Freedom to Political Prisoners!” the column consisted of activists of the civil campaign “European Belarus”, “Young Front”, and “Young Belarus”.
The young oppositionists managed to walk only 100 meters and their way was blocked by hundreds of riot militiamen armed with batons at intersection of Independence Avenue and Brouka Street. A hundred of riot militiamen formed columns on both sides of the avenue.
Then youth leaders Yauhen Afnagel and Artur Finkevich called upon demonstrators to refuse to be drawn in authorities’ provocations. As said by them, actions of law enforcers against peaceful demonstrators showed the real face of “liberalization” declared by the Belarusian regime.
A column of young people went back to the Academy of Sciences. Young people tried to walk into the traffic area of Independence Avenue, but they were forced away from the avenue. This time they were pushed back by traffic policemen.
The rally lasted for about an hour more. People were standing on the avenue’s border with flags and streamers, chanting “Long live Belarus!”, the cars passing by honked in support, some people joined the chain.
When the rally finished in about an hour, buses and trucks with internal troops soldiers started to arrive from the streets near Independence Avenue. Only from Hikala street, near Yakub Kolas square, 44 buses and trucks with people in uniform appeared! There were even more buses and trucks near the Academy of Science where the rally was held.
A few thousands of soldiers were sent against Belarusians celebrating the national holiday…
Deputy head of the BPF Party Viktar Ivashekvich
Coordinator of Charter'97 Zmitser Bandarenka
Leader of the civil campaign "European Belarus" Andrei Sannikov
Photo by Yulia Darashkevich, "Nasha Niva"
Photo by Yulia Darashkevich, "Nasha Niva"