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.