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← How to be fearless in the face of authoritarianism

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Showing Revision 7 created 11/12/2020 by Oliver Friedman.

  1. On August 12, 2020,
  2. two groups of girls
    went out to protest in Minsk,
  3. the capital city of Belarus.
  4. They put on white clothes
  5. and went barefoot out into the street.
  6. In the morning,
  7. some went to Komarovskiy Market
    in the center of town.
  8. Later that day,
  9. the other group gathered with flowers
  10. at the eternal flame
    under the victory monument.
  11. They stood together holding hands,
  12. and they started to sing
    the Belarusian lullaby,
  13. waiting for the police cars to arrive.
  14. They knew the police
    would pick them up just like that:
  15. barefoot with flowers in their hands,
  16. that they would take them
    to the police station,
  17. beat them up and try to humiliate them.
  18. And yet they did it anyway.
  19. This year, something changed in Belarus,

  20. a country of more than nine million people
  21. that has been ruled
    by an authoritarian leader since 1994.
  22. These young women were protesting
    the latest rigged election result,
  23. which had taken [place]
    just a few days earlier.
  24. Their small expressions of protest
    very quickly expanded
  25. into massive, peaceful,
    women-led demonstrations
  26. all across the country.
  27. Within just a few days,

  28. a few hundred thousand people
    took to the streets
  29. and demonstrations
    have continued ever since,
  30. the likes of which
    Belarus has never seen before.
  31. All this despite the fact
  32. that the president proclaimed
    himself reelected
  33. and that more than 10,000 people
    have been detained,
  34. hundreds tortured
  35. and at least six killed.
  36. Many people wonder why the people
    of Belarus are speaking up now.

  37. What makes them keep taking to the streets
  38. despite unprecedented police violence,
  39. despite state lawlessness?
  40. The answer I hear the most
  41. is that people have become fearless,
  42. and it's something
    we have become together.
  43. Because fear is the province of one.

  44. It feeds on isolation.
  45. It doesn't discriminate:
  46. men, women, children, elderly --
  47. all of us can feel fear,
  48. but only as long as we are on our own.
  49. Fearlessness takes two.
  50. It only works if and when
    we show up for each other.
  51. Show up so that your neighbor,
  52. your colleague, your friend has courage.
  53. And they will do the same for you.
  54. A lot has been made of my own role
    in the presidential election

  55. of August 2020.
  56. How I stepped in to run for my husband,
    Sergei, when he was jailed
  57. and it became clear that the authorities
    would deny him his chance to run himself;
  58. how I rightfully won the election
  59. and became the elected leader
    of a democratic Belarus,
  60. but the official results
    only gave me 10 percent of the vote
  61. and I was forced
    into exile with my children;
  62. how I still fight
    for those who voted for me
  63. and whose voice the regime wants to steal;
  64. how "fearless" I am.
  65. But there were many moments
    when I was frightened,

  66. and I wanted to step down.
  67. I was threatened
  68. and forced to believe
    that I'm alone in this fight.
  69. And yet the more cities I visited,
  70. the more people showed up for the rallies,
  71. the less fear I had.
  72. And then in the days
    before the election in Minsk,
  73. 60,000 people came
    to show their support for me,
  74. and I was no longer afraid.
  75. I never wanted to do any of this.

  76. I was never overly political,
  77. and I never planned to run for office.
  78. I wanted to be a mom and a wife.
  79. But by fate and the will of my people,
  80. I was elevated to this position.
  81. And I accept this
    with a sense of duty and pride.
  82. I will not give up.
  83. And I will show up for people,
    because they show up for me.
  84. Our courage is born from unity.
  85. Our solidarity is our strength.
  86. I also now understand
    that being fearless is a commitment.

  87. It is a decision you make
    every single day.
  88. It is a responsibility you take --
  89. responsibility for one another.
  90. In this regard, I'm no different
    from my fellow Belarusians.
  91. Their support is tangible.
  92. Their solidarity grows in progression.
  93. When there are two of you,
  94. you are daring.
  95. When you're 100, you are brave.
  96. When there are thousands of you,
  97. you are fearless.
  98. And once you are tens of thousands,
  99. you become invincible.
  100. Thank you.