Updated at 18:07,08-09-2017

Opposition activists demonstrate in Minsk in support of historically national symbols

By Alyaksey ALYAKSANDRAW, Naviny.by

Three dozen opposition activists staged an unsanctioned demonstration in Kastrychnitskaya Square in central Minsk on Saturday to mark 21 years since a referendum that was used by Alyaksandr Lukashenka to replace Belarus historically national white-red-white flag and Pahonya emblem with Soviet-style state symbols.

The demonstrators lined up along Independence Avenue, holding white-red-white flags. Some were handing out white-red-white ribbons to passers-by.

The crowd included Zmitser Dashkevich, a leader of the Malady Front opposition group that had organized the event, as well as former political prisoners Mikalay Statkevich and Mikalay Awtukhovich and prominent activists such as Volha Nikalaychyk, Maksim Vinyarski, Leanid Kulakow and Nina Bahinskaya.

Opposition activists demonstrate in Minsk in support of historically national symbols


I could not but come here to shake hands with and support these people, mostly youths, who came here to show that authorities will not manage to take away the Belarusians soul - their national symbols, said Mr. Statkevich.

Mr. Dashkevich expressed a high opinion of the demonstration, saying that it had drawn quite a large crowd. We passed out several hundred of white-red-white ribbons and 90 percent of the passers-by produced a very positive reaction, he said.

Opposition activists demonstrate in Minsk in support of historically national symbols


The hour-long event took place under the watchful eye of more than 20 police officers, both in uniform and plain clothes, who were led by Alyaksandr Barsukow, head of the Minsk city police department.

The policemen made no arrests but drew up charge sheets against many of the demonstrators. Some plainclothesmen used strong language to tell reporters who were covering the demonstration to leave the scene.

In what was seen as authorities attempt to obstruct views of the demonstration, street-washing trucks were driving along the avenues stretch throughout the event, spraying water. Some lanes were closed to traffic.

Opposition activists demonstrate in Minsk in support of historically national symbols


One of the activists put up two white-red-white flags on a lamppost. Some 30 minutes later the flags were removed by street cleaners.

In the 1995 national referendum, held on Mr. Lukashenkas initiative, 75 percent reportedly voted for reintroducing the Soviet-style state symbols, with 65 percent of those eligible taking part in the vote.

Opposition activists demonstrate in Minsk in support of historically national symbols


Mr. Lukashenka argued that the white-red-white flag had been used by the Belarusian collaborators of the Nazis.

After the referendum, the flag became a symbol of opposition to the Lukashenka government and an indispensable attribute of street protests in the country. In this capacity, the flag strongly irritates police and government officials.

Opposition activists demonstrate in Minsk in support of historically national symbols