About 3,000 people took part in the march in the centre of the capital.
This year the rally on March 25 differed from the habitual format of Freedom Day celebration for at least three reasons: far more people have taken part in it than in recent years (about 3,000 participants); there were very many young people and “new faces” at the rally; the organisers and participants “broke the mould” or the plan, expected by the authorities, several times: first when they invited people to gather at 5 p.m. near Yanka Kupala monument, during the meeting near the Academy of Sciences, when they decided to walk to Riga supermarket in Surhanau Street, not to Bangalore Square, and in the end, when the young people refused to disband despite the call of the organisers, and continued celebration, and held a spontaneous meeting near Riga supermarket.
The celebration was held in a festive mood, many people were with their children and families, many songs were sung: hit songs by Liapis and Brutto, songs of NRM and Volski.
The rally started at 5 p.m. in Yanka Kupala Park: in response to the appeal of Mikalai Statkevich and other opposition leader more than a thousand of people came there to lay flowers to the monument of the national genius.
Other leaders of opposition, who came to the monument, were Anatol Liabedzka, Paval Seviarynets, Viachaslau Siuchyk, Uladzimir Niakliayeu, a European Belarus coordinator Maxim Viniarski, young activists Paval Vinahradau, Viachaslau Kasinerau, Paval Yukhnevich, leaders of sole traders Ales Makaeu and Mikalai Charnavus, a filmmaker Volha Mikalaichyk, parents of the Heavenly Hundred’s hero Mikhail Zhyzneuski. Many people had brought flowers, white-red-white flags were unfurled. One of the participants was with a Ukrainian flag, in order to support Nadiya Savchenko.
Participants of the rally were holding posters: “Freedom Day,” “BNR Emerged Without Authorization Of Minsk City Executive Committee,” “Your House Is On The End Of Village [It’s No Concern Of Mine], You Say? House At Village’s End To Burn First,” “Freedom To Nations – Death To Empires.”
People were chanting: “Long live Belarus!,” “We Believe, We Can, We Shall Win!”, “Independence!”
Mikalai Statkevich, Anatol Liabedzka, Paval Seviarynets, Viachaslau Siuchyk, Uladzimir Niakliayeu addressed the people who had gathered near Kupala monument. Stakevich offered to lay flowers and announced that there would be a march along Independence Avenue to the Academy of Sciences, and later people would decide themselves, whether they are going to follow the route to Bangalore Square, offered by the authorities. A poet and politician Niakliayeu read a poem dedicated to Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas. Viachaslau Siuchyk offered to hold a moment of silence to honour those who had laid down their lives for independence of Belarus. Anatol Liabedzka compared the current regime with ” sewage pipe, drifting all kind of decrees and problems”.
After the meeting and laying the flowers Statkevich urged people to form a column and move towards October cinema near the Academy of Sciences.
On the avenue the column occupied all the space from the circus up to the bridge over the River Svislach. People were in a celebratory mood. They marched along the avenue chanting “Long live Belarus!”, “Give Us Land, Freedom!,” “Independence!”, We Believe, We Can, We Shall Win!” Anarchists lit a flare on the bridge. The passing cars welcomed the demonstration with honks, Minsk dwellers were waving hands from windows, came out of cafes, some of them joined chanting “Long live Belarus!” A huge white-red-white flag was unfurled in the head of the column.
Policemen and traffic policemen were almost invisible, people in mufti were filming the rally. During the march several persons in mufti tried to hide the streamer “Your House Is On The End Of Village [It’s No Concern Of Mine], You Say? House At Village’s End To Burn First” with their bodies.
New people were joining the column during its movement, and more than 2,000 people came up the Academy of Sciences. Organisers held a short meeting near Yakub Kolas monument, people laid flowers to the Belarusian poet.
At about 6 p.m. the column of protesters blended into the crowd of those who had come to October cinema near the Academy of Sciences from the start. An address of the chairperson of the Rada of the Belarusian People’s Republic Ivonka Survilla to the Belarusian nation was read out. It said about “seeing each other in a free Belarus before long.”
The chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front party Aliaksei Yanukevich, Anatol Liabedzka, the leader of sole traders Ales Makaeu addressed the meeting. Liabedzka said that “the source of all country’s problems is in Drazdy cottage estate” [where the president and top officials live], and demanded “to bring Drazdy dwellers, Drazduny, to account.” The deputy chairman of the UCP Mikalai Drazdou brought the same poster to the Academy of Sciences.
At the meeting Makaeu announced launching of two campaigns – for collecting 50,000 signatures of sole traders for forwarding to the Constitutional Court a demand to reverse the Decree №222 and for recognition of Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and other human rights activists as political prisoners.
The speech of Viachaslau Siuchyk was a surprise. He offered not to do the bidding of the government and not to march to Bangalore Square, but to march up to Riga supermarket in Surhanau Street. The name of the shop itself symbolizes the European choice of Belarus.
The offer was met by the audience enthusiastically, and people started to line up for the demonstration. Activists of Art Siadziba performed Warriors Of Light for the protesters, and it was a keynote for the procession’s mood.
As they marched to Riga shop, young people who were the majority in the column, sang Warriors Of Light, Hraj by Liapis Trubetskoy, Three Tortoises by Liavon Volski. It was a real holiday. Demonstrators chanted: “Sasha, It’s Enough – People Need Freedom!”, “Where Are wages?”, “Long Live Belarus!”, “Together Forever!” and “Glory To Ukraine.”
At 7.30 p.m. the procession came near Riga supermarket. Despite the proposal of Siuchyk to finish the rally, young people didn’t want to disband, and continued a spontaneous celebration of Freedom Day: they held performances, lit flares, sang Volski’s hit songs to a guitar accompaniment. The celebratory demonstration finished much later than the organisers and journalists had expected.