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How to be fearless in the face of authoritarianism

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    On August 12, 2020,
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    two groups of girls
    went out to protest in Minsk,
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    the capital city of Belarus.
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    They put on white clothes
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    and went barefoot out into the street.
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    In the morning,
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    some went to Komarovskiy Market
    in the center of town.
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    Later that day,
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    the other group gathered with flowers
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    at the eternal flame
    under the victory monument.
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    They stood together holding hands,
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    and they started to sing
    the Belarusian lullaby,
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    waiting for the police cars to arrive.
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    They knew the police
    would pick them up just like that:
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    barefoot with flowers in their hands,
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    that they would take them
    to the police station,
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    beat them up and try to humiliate them.
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    And yet they did it anyway.
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    This year, something changed in Belarus,
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    a country of more than nine million people
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    that has been ruled
    by an authoritarian leader since 1994.
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    These young women were protesting
    the latest rigged election result,
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    which had taken [place]
    just a few days earlier.
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    Their small expressions of protest
    very quickly expanded
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    into massive, peaceful,
    women-led demonstrations
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    all across the country.
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    Within just a few days,
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    a few hundred thousand people
    took to the streets
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    and demonstrations
    have continued ever since,
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    the likes of which
    Belarus has never seen before.
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    All this despite the fact
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    that the president proclaimed
    himself reelected
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    and that more than 10,000 people
    have been detained,
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    hundreds tortured
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    and at least six killed.
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    Many people wonder why the people
    of Belarus are speaking up now.
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    What makes them keep taking to the streets
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    despite unprecedented police violence,
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    despite state lawlessness?
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    The answer I hear the most
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    is that people have become fearless,
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    and it's something
    we have become together.
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    Because fear is the province of one.
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    It feeds on isolation.
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    It doesn't discriminate:
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    men, women, children, elderly --
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    all of us can feel fear,
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    but only as long as we are on our own.
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    Fearlessness takes two.
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    It only works if and when
    we show up for each other.
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    Show up so that your neighbor,
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    your colleague, your friend has courage.
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    And they will do the same for you.
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    A lot has been made of my own role
    in the presidential election
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    of August 2020.
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    How I stepped in to run for my husband,
    Sergei, when he was jailed
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    and it became clear that the authorities
    would deny him his chance to run himself;
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    how I rightfully won the election
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    and became the elected leader
    of a democratic Belarus,
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    but the official results
    only gave me 10 percent of the vote
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    and I was forced
    into exile with my children;
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    how I still fight
    for those who voted for me
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    and whose voice the regime wants to steal;
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    how "fearless" I am.
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    But there were many moments
    when I was frightened,
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    and I wanted to step down.
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    I was threatened
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    and forced to believe
    that I'm alone in this fight.
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    And yet the more cities I visited,
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    the more people showed up for the rallies,
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    the less fear I had.
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    And then in the days
    before the election in Minsk,
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    60,000 people came
    to show their support for me,
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    and I was no longer afraid.
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    I never wanted to do any of this.
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    I was never overly political,
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    and I never planned to run for office.
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    I wanted to be a mom and a wife.
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    But by fate and the will of my people,
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    I was elevated to this position.
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    And I accept this
    with a sense of duty and pride.
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    I will not give up.
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    And I will show up for people,
    because they show up for me.
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    Our courage is born from unity.
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    Our solidarity is our strength.
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    I also now understand
    that being fearless is a commitment.
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    It is a decision you make
    every single day.
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    It is a responsibility you take --
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    responsibility for one another.
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    In this regard, I'm no different
    from my fellow Belarusians.
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    Their support is tangible.
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    Their solidarity grows in progression.
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    When there are two of you,
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    you are daring.
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    When you're 100, you are brave.
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    When there are thousands of you,
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    you are fearless.
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    And once you are tens of thousands,
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    you become invincible.
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    Thank you.
Title:
How to be fearless in the face of authoritarianism
Speaker:
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Description:

How do you stand up to authoritarianism? And what does it mean to be "fearless"? In this powerful talk, housewife-turned-politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya describes her unlikely bid to defeat Belarus's long-time autocratic leader in the nation's 2020 presidential election. Painting a vivid picture of how small acts of defiance flourished into massive, peaceful demonstrations, she shares a beautiful meditation on the link between fearlessness and freedom, reminding us that we all have what it takes to stand up to injustice -- we just need to do it together.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
05:44

English subtitles

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