Charismatic and ambitious, Maria Kolesnikova has recently emerged as the leader of the Belarusian protests. Has it become too dangerous for Alexander Lukashenko’s power apparatus?
With her hearty smile and clear words to Head of State Alexander Lukashenko, Maria Kolesnikova is considered the last prominent face of the opposition in Minsk. While other opposition members have already left the country under pressure and are now in the EU or in custody, there is no trace of the 38-year-old, who lived in Stuttgart for a long time. She was apparently kidnapped on Monday.
For days on end, people are arrested in broad daylight by masked people without identification and kidnapped. “There is total lawlessness. The power apparatus is doing what it wants,” said political scientist Valeri Karbelewitsch of the German news agency in Minsk.
The 65-year-old sees “the usual practice of scare tactics by the state organs”. Kolesnikova could be taken abroad, as could her comrades-in-arms Olga Kowalkowa and Svetlana Tichanowskaja, who is recognized in the democracy movement as the winner of the August 9 presidential election. Or it will soon be announced that she is in custody, says Karbelevitsch.
“I’m not doing anything wrong, obey the law”
Karbelevich does not believe in a political assassination like that of Lukashenko’s opponents Viktor Gonchar, former election officer, and Yuri Sakharenko, Prime Minister of the Interior and then opposition member, in 1999. “Maria Kolesnikova does not pose such a serious danger that the device would physically destroy her. off, “says the expert.
From Stuttgart, Kolesnikova once led cultural projects before returning permanently to Minsk to help ex-bank chief Viktor Babariko realize his political plans. Lukashenko also had him locked up. The popular Babariko was not allowed to run for the presidential election.
Ultimately, however, Kolesnikova had to keep wondering why everyone is arrested or in exile and only she is still running free. “I am not doing anything wrong, I am obeying the law,” she said. As a member of the presidium of the civil society coordination council for a peaceful transfer of power, which Lukashenko opposed, she also had to deal with detectives. But she remained free. It also clearly rejected widespread speculation that it was a Kremlin project and that Russia was protected.
Kolesnikowa seems quick-witted and confident
Karbelevich explains the politician’s disappearance with a general “tightening of the thumbscrews”. Even the big Sunday demonstrations against Lukashenko show that the power apparatus is becoming more and more brutal. “The repression is getting stronger every day, slowly but surely,” says the expert. This is also reflected in the many arrests.
During the protests, Kolesnikova repeatedly formed hearts with her hands, emphasizing that people were now organizing. Nevertheless, the former musician trained on the flute increasingly emerged as a leader. “Mascha, Mascha,” the people called out to her in songs. The power apparatus should not have missed how much the fight in the street is for her, how quick-witted and self-assured she appears.
While Tichanovskaya often struggled with the words in direct conversations in her exile in the EU country of Lithuania, Kolesnikova mobilized the people and made no secret of her political ambitions. Just a week ago, she announced the creation of the Wmeste Party (in German: with each other) – for the fight for freedom. “In the past three months, we have all achieved more together than in the past 26 years,” she said.
Kolesnikova and Tichanovskaya emphasize unity
The party together should give politically awakened people a home. It’s about taking responsibility for building a new society. Its aim is to end the country’s political, social and economic crisis. However, there is little prospect of an official registration of liberal political power. No new party has been admitted in Belarus for twenty years.
The state media, in particular, recently reported a split in the opposition and the two women – Kolesnikova and Tichanowskaya – even a struggle for leadership. But in her first live video appearance, Tichanovskaya only explicitly turned it down on Saturday. She had Kolesnikova turned on. Both women emphasized that the opposition stands together in unity.
Tichanovskaya always made it clear that she only wanted to be president for a short time and then release all prisoners and call new elections – without her participation. She not only paid tribute to Kolesnikova’s brave fight in the streets on Saturday. On Monday she responded very quickly to the disappearance of her co-campaigner: “The state is engaged in terror. The rulers are mistaken if they think this is holding us back.” The more attempts at intimidation there are, the more people take to the streets. “We continue the fight.”