The protests in Belarus after the presidential election continue. The country is also fighting the consequences of the corona pandemic. Now the country’s doctors are sounding the alarm.
The Minsk doctor Stanislau Salavei has already fallen into the clutches of the judiciary in Belarus twice in the course of the protests against the ruler Alexander Lukashenko. He has just spent 15 days in detention for campaigning for students who had to leave university for political reasons. At the beginning of September he was briefly imprisoned for participating in a Sunday demonstration against “dictator” Lukashenko. “I don’t want to experience that again,” said the gynecologist in an interview with the German press agency. The 31-year-old works in a Corona hospital ward in Minsk.
Unlike many others, he was not mistreated in custody, but he does not wish anyone to come into contact with the power apparatus. Like many doctors, the surgeon took to the streets to protest against violence and the arbitrariness of the authorities. As early as August, he and his colleagues from hospital number 3 signed an open letter in which they requested, for example, no more lethal weapons be used. Violence and aggression should stop. And they demanded the release of peaceful citizens, including many of their hospital colleagues. “Unfortunately, everything is still current,” he says.
Health system workers imprisoned
The health system in the ex-Soviet republic is working to the limits of its resilience due to the massively increasing corona numbers. The fact that many health care workers are imprisoned in this difficult situation or that some are dismissed for their political stance makes the situation even worse. Lukashenko continues to downplay the pandemic – he said in the spring that it was a staged “psychosis”. The virus can be brought down with “vodka and saunas”. He also survived it himself, he claims.
But the second wave has fully reached the country, as the doctor Salavei confirms. “I had to temporarily give up my work as an operating gynecologist and am now an infection doctor in the corona department,” he says. In October he fell ill himself.
More than 1,000 virus deaths
Officially, the statistics show an average of around 1,500 new corona cases every day. So far there have been more than 1,100 deaths. But hardly anyone trusts the information, especially since there was never a lockdown in Belarus and even mass events are still allowed today. The analyst Andrei Jelissejew speaks of a “gigantic manipulation” of the numbers in the country with around 9.5 million inhabitants. “The statistics are manipulated – like in Soviet times – in all areas because they want to show how well the country is doing,” says the director of the East-Center think tank.
“The state media show chaos abroad, while Belarus is coping well with the crisis, according to the propaganda.” Yelissejew assumes that the real numbers are up to 15 times as high – well over 15,000 dead. “We have to assume that Belarus is the country in Europe most affected by the pandemic in relation to the number of inhabitants.” He also refers to official death rates, which show a high excess mortality.
The Minsk political scientist Valery Karbelevich, who has just survived a corona infection at the age of 65, also considers the numbers to be “maximally embellished”. “People were and are above all angry because sporting events, concerts and other things are still allowed – while other countries restrict public life to protect their people.” In Belarus, however, even the recommendations of the World Health Organization are simply ignored.
Also no ban on mass events
That is why the country recently received no credit from the International Monetary Fund for the fight against the Corona crisis. Rather, the leadership blames the Lukashenko opponents for the increase in the number of infections – because of the street protests. Nevertheless, Karbelevich does not expect any further ban on mass events because Lukashenko would then have to forego a lot of other things.
The doctor Salavei, meanwhile, continues to fight against Corona – and for justice. “Much has changed in the course of the protests. There is broad solidarity in society, people stick together in a way that I have never seen before,” he says. He himself received support in the hospital after his release. No dismissal. Perhaps it will help that 4,000 doctor positions are already vacant in Belarus. Lukashenko has always emphasized that everyone who is against him must go.
Doctors earn less than 900 euros
Salavei knows some doctors who have emigrated to Germany, for example – sometimes also in view of the low salaries of well under 900 euros. And he? He thought about it. “But the people here also need us doctors. Here are my family, friends – home. Money is not everything.” Above all, however, the doctor emphasizes, he wants to try to change something for the better in Belarus. “We can achieve peaceful change – without bloodshed.”
Thousands of people in Belarus protested peacefully on Sunday against President Alexander Lukashenko, who is clinging to his office. At the Sunday demonstration, however, security forces were once again sometimes brutal. Videos in the news channel Telegram showed masked uniformed men beating people on the ground. There were many arrests. The Wesna Human Rights Center initially listed the names of more than 120 people arrested. Last Sunday there were around 300, the week before around 1,000.
The biggest actions took place in the capital Minsk. There, demonstrators first gathered in their residential areas and then formed larger protest marches. Many wore the historic white, red and white flags when it snowed.
Security forces are upgraded
Videos could be seen how security forces followed protesters into the courtyards of residential complexes. Again and again people were dragged into minibuses. The media also reported on the use of tear gas and stun grenades. People in other cities also called for Lukashenko’s resignation.
As on the previous Sundays, hundreds of uniformed men from the Ministry of the Interior and the army were out and about in Minsk. Videos showed prisoner trucks, water cannons and other heavy equipment on the streets of the capital. Security forces cordoned off large spaces with metal bars.