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Awakening of Belarus



The first time I visited Belarus was in 2007 when I was photographing activists and dissidents. Even then, thousands of people, mostly students, were protesting against the Lukashenko regime that had taken power in what many western governments believed was a rigged election in March, 2006.

And then I forgot about Belarus, but as the 2020 presidential election were approaching, I had the feeling that this time Lukashenko who was by then in the power for 26 years, would not be able to continue to be the sixth President of Belarus.

I applied for press accreditation at the beginning of June. Like all journalists who applied for short-term accreditation, I was not successful, despite constant calls to the commission that decides on accreditation.

On August 9, I saw out the Belarusian presidential election in front of the Belarusian embassy in Prague, where over 500 Belarusians who live in the Czech Republic came to elect their president. The queue was very long, the summer temperature was in the 30s, and the line moved slowly – people were waiting between five and seven hours to cast their vote. Out of 500 people, only 200 managed to vote.

In the votes from the Czech Republic, the opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won. Tikhanovskaya took up the candidacy when opposition candidates, including her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, a blogger, were jailed or forced into exile ahead of the elections.

The Belarus Central Election Commission declared the incumbent president Aleksandr Lukashenko the winner of the election, with 80.08% of the vote. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya received 10.09%.

It was clear that the elections were falsified. People took to the streets of Belarus to protest, as they had in preceding elections. Riot police, known as OMON, also took to the streets, trying to stop demonstrations by brutal violence.

Somewhat naively, I still hoped that I would get press accreditation. After weeks of waiting, I decided that even without accreditation, I would fly to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The day before my departure, 22 non-accredited journalists were not allowed to enter to Belarus. I decided to try my luck anyway.

I arrived the day before the second Sunday demonstration against the elections, which brought together over 200,000 Belarusians, demanding free and fair elections and Belarus free of the last dictator in Europe.

Minsk. A woman waves a red and white flag, adopted by the Belarusian opposition, from the window of an apartment block high above massed crowds of demonstrators who have come onto the streets to voice their opposition to the 2020 presidential election result, the Belarusian government, and above all President Alexander Lukashenko.
Minsk. Activists holds a sign that reads: “Leave” (ukhodi) during an anti-government, pro-democracy demonstration on Independence Square.
Minsk.A protestor holds a photo of the bruised bodies of demonstrators who were detained and repeatedly beaten by the police in their crackdown on post-election anti-Lukashenko protests.
Maladzyechna. People carry the coffin of Nikita Krivcov. Nikita waved a red and white flag, adopted by the Belarusian opposition, in front of Security forces during protests that erupted following the presidential election that was widely perceived as rigged in favour of Alexander Lukashenko. Then Nikita disappeared. His badly beaten body was found hanging in a forest park on Parnikovaya Street ten days later, on 22 August 2020.
Maladzyechna. The mother of Nikita Krivcov weeps over his flag-draped coffin at his funeral. Krivtsov disappeared after the 12 August 2020 protests that erupted following the presidential election that was widely perceived as rigged in favour of Alexander Lukashenko. His badly beaten body was found hanging in a forest park on Parnikovaya Street ten days later, on 22 August 2020. The mother and Nikita friends do not believe that Nikita committed suicide.
Minsk. White flowers, placed in a sculpture’s arm, symbolize the earlier women’s march against police brutality.
Minsk. Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich surrounded by journalists as she prepares to attend a Committee of Inquiry where she would be summoned for questioning. Svetlana Alexievich is a member of the “Co-ordination Council” that was formed by the opposition to oversee a peaceful transition of power following the presidential elections that were generally considered as rigged in favour of Alexander Lukashenko.
Minsk. Security forces in riot gear block a road into the city centre to stop democracy activists opposing the Lukashenko government gathering for a protest.
Minsk. More than 100,000 protesters were involved in the rally in central Minsk, demanding the resignation of the authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko and the implementation of a multi-party political system.
Minsk. A woman protestor holds a photo of Lukashenko displaying the year he became president and the year when she thinks he should step down. Tens of thousands of Belarusians gathered for ongoing protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Minsk. A man shouts “Long live Belarus” during an anti-government, pro-democracy demonstration.
Minsk. Mass protests continue each Sunday after the election of Alexander Lukashenko.
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Iva Zimova

Iva Zimova, Czech and Canadian born in 1956

. I first developed my photographic eye in Montreal, where I studied photography at Dawson College. But Dawson Collage teaches commercial photography, and in any case I found that I was more comfortable wandering the streets with my camera than being locked up in a studio.

 Montreal’s streets were not enough for me, however, so I started to travel to different places. I became resolved to document the lives of people who are persecuted or neglected. In 1998, during the war in Kosovo, I encountered the Czech NGO, People in Need, and since then I have contributed to their efforts with my work. It’s very important for me to be involved in the environment that I am photographing. To be accepted by the people I photograph and to become one of them is a part of what I do. This takes time, but it allows me to be a privileged witness of social occasions and rituals that would otherwise be off-limits: births, baptisms, spiritual ceremonies, weddings and funerals. I always carry my cameras (one digital and one film camera) with me in my backpack. The pack becomes a part of my body and if I don't have it on me, I feel like I'm missing something. To have my cameras with me at all times gives me the opportunity to photograph anything that I find interesting, at anytime. I am represented by Panos Pictures.”

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