The story of how Belarus’ president broke the space-time continuum to jail his opponent
Yesterday morning Belarus’ president Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Minsk Tractor Plant, one of the remaining Soviet giant factories the preservation of which Lukashenko considers one of the main achievements of his 26-year rule. After a routine inspection, the president came out to the crowd of journalists for a brief Q&A session. In his speech he directly attacked three of his opponents in the upcoming presidential election – Tikhanovski, Babariko, and Tsepkalo – accusing them of causing disturbances, being on Russia’s payroll, and threatening that he has plenty of dirt on them.
Basically, it was his usual talk, there would have been nothing special about it if not for one thing. Talking about Sergei Tikhanovski, an extremely popular Belarusian YouTube blogger whose wife is running for the presidency, Lukashenko, after accusing him of not being a Belarusian, told journalists a story about Tikhanovski attacking a police officer. The president seemed to be very well informed about the incident as he described it in the brightest details.
He called the injured policeman “a young guy, someone’s kid, who joined the force just earlier this year”. After describing the attack, Lukashenko then directly threatened Tikhanovski saying that the policemen are corporate people and he is certain they’ll come up with a way to pay Tikhanovski back.
Again, a direct threat from the president, however wild it may sound, is nothing new in Belarus. What people were actually left puzzled about was something else. No one had any idea what attack Lukashenko is talking about. The election campaign has started just last Thursday. Tikhanovski has been picketing for merely a week and there were no reports of any such incident. And if there were, the state TV would pick it up immediately.
The puzzle was solved later yesterday, some four hours after the Lukashenko’s speech. Tikhanovski was speaking at one of his pickets in the city of Grodno, in North-West Belarus, when he was approached by a group of women who were acting extremely aggressively and were demanding Tikhanovski to answer their questions. The blogger was trying to distance himself from them but the women wouldn’t let him go. After a few minutes, one of the women shouted: “He’s not answering my questions! Get him!”
That moment the police in plainclothes came into action turning the picket into a massive brawl. Multiple videos show that at some point a young police officer was indeed pushed, although he didn’t fall but was caught by one of the protesters and gently put on the ground. The moment he was pushed, however, someone blew the whistle and a special police unit entered the crowd arresting Tikhanovski together with some other people from his team, and dispersing the crowd. For more detailed analysis, here the Belarusian news portal TUT.by is analysing how the incident has been developing minute by minute.
Tikhanovski was arrested and remains in custody where he was already charged with attacking a police officer even though he wasn’t directly involved in the incident. In Belarusian realities, once the charges are pressed there are basically no chances the person won’t be convicted. This way Lukashenko eliminates Tikhanovski for at least the next couple of months until the election campaign is over.
Tikhanovski despite the fact that he doesn’t run in the election himself is one of the main troublemakers in Lukashenko’s ‘oasis of stability’. His pickets attract thousands of people even in the most remote corners of Belarus. The scale of people’s participation in his rallies is something Belarus hasn’t seen since 1994 when Lukashenko was first elected president. Furthermore, the majority of Tikhanovski’s supports are the same people who previously voted for Lukashenko whose popularity is now at the lowest point in 26 years.
Lukashenko is clearly afraid of Tikhanovski’s unprecedented rise in popularity and the number of people his pickets attract. President’s main residence in Drozdy, on the outskirts of Minsk, is now being reinforced with extra layers of barbed wire on its perimeters. The president has also been increasingly seeing Viktor Sheiman – his right-hand man who was accused by the Council of Europe for political murders of Lukashenko’s opponents in the late 90s. He was not an active public figure for well over a decade so his sudden reappearance can only indicate that Lukashenko decided to go with a crackdown scenario. So, now that Tikhanovski is in jail, we are likely to expect the arrests of or attempts to discredit Viktor Babariko and Valery Tsepkalo – the two other real contenders in the upcoming election.
The question remains how come Lukashenko knew about the attack on the police officer before the attack had actually taken place. There are four possible options: a matrix glitch, a break in the space-time continuum, the fact that Belarusian president is a prophet, or that he simply knew about the provocation in advance but mixed up the dates thinking that it had already taken place on the 28th while in fact it was carried out only on the 29th after his speech. You decide which option seems more plausible.
Update from 01.06.2020: On Sunday prime-time news Belarusian state TV outlet tried to explain the president’s ‘prophecies’ by showing a footage of Tikhanovski arguing with a road police officer on May 27 in Mogilev. Despite the whole story being massively manipulated the incident in question might indeed be the one Lukashenko was referring to in his speech.