By Rania Hassan

Graphic by Cieryl Sardool

“We want democracy!”
“Our president is Sveta!”
“Release our leaders!”

Two continents, two countries, two unnervingly similar stories. Belarus and Burma have found themselves in the clutches of dictatorial governments, but citizens of both have taken to the streets in protest, despite the danger.

In Belarus, it is Alexander Lukashenko, a man who has been in power since 1994, when the country separated from the Soviet Union. After Lukashenko claimed to have won the 9 August 2020 elections and was sworn in as president for his sixth term, citizens protested across the nation, believing the elections had been rigged. Many foreign powers, including the EU and the United States, appeared to believe this as well and released official statements regarding their inability to consider Lukashenko the “legitimately elected ruler of Belarus.”

Alexander Lukashenko
Image sourced from France 24

In Burma (Myanmar), it is Min Aung Hlaing, a military leader who staged a coup d’état against the democratically elected government earlier this year. Unlike Belarus, Burma had only recently broken free of another military-run autocratic government in 2011 (the same government that changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar) and had remained a democracy until 1 February 2021. The leaders of this short-lived democracy were—and many still are—detained by the military, including Aung San Suu Kyi, former State Counsellor (head of government), and President Win Myint.

Neither of these recent incidents have been accepted quietly. Belarusian demonstrators have been determinedly peaceful in the face of severe police violence, many still showing up every Sunday to rallies, though numbers have dwindled slightly in the wake of this brutality. There seems no intention of stopping, of giving in—indeed, it is not an option for them. They are demanding what has been denied them so long—a free and fair election. An election in which an immensely popular candidate like Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (who, despite her immense support, Lukashenko claimed received a mere 10.1% of the popular vote) has a chance. Tikhanovskaya is a human rights activist and was Lukashenko’s main opposition in the 2020 elections. Her husband, Sergei Tikanovsky, was the original candidate for the position until he was arrested last May, leading his wife to announce her intention to run in his place. She claims to have won between 60 and 70 percent of the vote, and has subsequently appealed to Western countries to recognise her as the official winner of the election. It’s also worth mentioning that during the run-up to the election, Lukashenko frequently insisted that Belarus was ‘not ready for a female president.’ Belarusians themselves have continued protesting despite the challenges against them: detention, appalling torture, forced disappearances, media and internet blackouts, and the looming prospect of many more years of dictatorship.

Roman Bondarenko, a veteran, art teacher, and protestor, was allegedly beaten by plainclothes police officers and resurfaced at a hospital hours later, unconscious. On November 12, he died as a result of brain damage. His last known words became a rallying cry, chanted by protestors who continue taking to the streets: “I’m going out.” These words have come to mean “We will not forgive. We will not forget. And we will never, never give up.”

Roman Bondarenko
Image sourced from The Russian Reader

Burmese protesters have also refused to be silenced since that fateful February 1. The day following the coup, protests swept the country banging pots and pans and blaring car horns, making sure their outrage was heard. Demonstrations grew as many went on strike—doctors, teachers, plumbers, engineers, individuals from all walks of life finding themselves side by side, flooding the streets with their indignation, fear, and horror. Yet, like in Belarus, these protesters have remained peaceful despite the harsh opposition they have faced.

Crowds have been shot with rubber bullets, beaten by officers, assaulted with tear gas, sprayed with water cannons, and, most recently, subjected to lethal force. The death toll of Wednesday alone reached 38. And yet the protestors are resolute. These demonstrations have not ceased, nor do they show any indication of doing so. Using the Hunger Games inspired three-fingered salute, protestors have shown they are united against the authoritarian government that has taken over their country, imprisoned their leadership, and disregarded their votes.

But will these demonstrations of unrelenting defiance amount to anything in the long run? Will they have an effect on the state of the countries? It is difficult to say. The demonstrators have, undoubtedly, gained their respective situations global attention and made the world sit up and listen. But Belarus has been fighting the same battle for at least two decades and little progress has been made. And Burma only recently came up for air before being plunged back into the waves of dictatorship.

For more information and context about the crisis in Myanmar, check out one of our other posts on the topic:
The Myanmar Coup
Rohingyas Denied Vote In Myanmar

If you would like to learn more about Belarus and Myanmar and how to help, visit one of the sites below.
Responding to the Myanmar Crisis
How to Help Belarus

Works Cited:

Makhovsky, Andrei. “Belarus police detain dozens as crowds chant against Lukashenko.”
Reuters, 26 September 2020,
Roache, Madeline. “Tens of Thousands Are Protesting in Belarus. Here’s What’s Behind the
Uprising Against President Lukashenko.” Time, Time, USA, LLC., 18 August 2020,
Abdurasulov, Abdujalil. “Belarus protesters battered, bruised but defiant after 100 days.” BBC
News, BBC, 17 November 2020,
“Belarus: Mounting evidence of a campaign of widespread torture of peaceful protesters.”
Amnesty International, 13 August 2020
Thura, Aang. “Myanmar coup: ‘Down with the military – release our leaders!’” BBC News, BBC,
11 February 2021,
“Myanmar coup: Aung San Suu Kyi detained as military seizes control.” BBC News, BBC, 1
February 2021,
“Timeline of events in Myanmar since February 1 coup” Al Jazeera, 23 February 2021,
Roth, Richard, Dewan, Angela, et al., “Myanmar a ‘war zone’ as security forces open fire on
peaceful protesters, killing 38.” CNN , 4 March 2021,

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