“How are you? Was anyone detained?” This is how many people start a conversation in Belarus these days. The police has become increasingly severe in their clampdown on protesters and critics of the regime. On August 9, the day on which Alexander Lukashenko unlawfully declared himself the winner of the elections, a new era started. A van has now become a new symbol of fear. The special police forces often use regular unmarked vehicles to move around the city. They stop near a crowd during a protest and people in black uniforms run out and try to catch anyone they can. Whenever I see a van approach I get ready to run.
Our backpacks also look different now: Many people bring along a toothpaste and other items they’d need in jail. In the early evening you hear the sound of cars and buses honking loudly. Typically obedient Belarusian drivers who never honk for no reason now sound their horn whenever they see people on the street holding flowers or a white and red opposition flag. No one plans anything any more - the only fixture is the next protest. Two decades any protest was something extraordinary in Belarus. These days, we are always asking each other “What demonstration were you on?”