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The Sunday Read: ‘The Battle for the Mural — and the Future of Belarus’

The Daily

The New York Times

News, Daily News

4.597.8K Ratings

🗓️ 10 April 2022

⏱️ 113 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript

Summary

For more than two decades, Belarus existed in an equilibrium of quiet authoritarianism. If the government’s repressions didn’t directly touch them, most Belarusians tolerated them. But over the course of 2020, the country’s history and identity, which never much interested a majority of people who lived there, became something they would sacrifice their lives for. Sarah A. Topol explores the battle over a political mural in a public park in Minsk and considers the future of Belarus. As a remarkable campaign of defiance against an increasingly totalitarian regime, the mural is an emblem of strength and a call for change — but to what end?

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0:00.0

Hi, my name is Sarah Topol and I'm a contributing writer for the New York Times magazine.

0:11.7

For nearly three decades, Belarus has been under the control of an authoritarian president

0:17.4

named Alexander Lukashenko.

0:20.4

Up until 2020, Belarusians for the most part were pretty politically apathetic, content

0:27.0

with things as long as the economy functioned.

0:29.9

There was a kind of agreement that the state provided for the citizens.

0:34.6

The minority opposition that did exist was unpopular.

0:38.8

But then COVID happened and Lukashenko denied it was happening at all, saying things like

0:44.9

you could solve it with a shot of vodka.

0:48.0

This forced people to start paying attention to things outside of their houses.

0:52.6

And they realized that Lukashenko had abandoned them.

0:56.4

The presidential election was scheduled for that summer and three new candidates who

1:01.0

no one had heard of before decided to run.

1:04.2

Remember, Lukashenko was the only president Belarus has had since 1994.

1:10.4

And soon, almost immediately thereafter, all three candidates were either arrested or

1:16.6

taken off the ballot and had fled the country or were behind bars.

1:22.2

Then Lukashenko stole the election.

1:25.1

People were furious, not even because he manipulated the count, but because he did it so blatantly.

1:32.9

They came out to protest and were met by a level of violence none of them were prepared

1:37.6

for.

1:39.3

Days of protest rocked the country.

1:41.9

The security services, known as the saliviki were brutal.

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