Watching a dictatorship fall one conscience at a time

After a rigged election in Belarus, police are defecting in response to attacks on peaceful pro-democracy protesters.

AP
Former Belarusian paratroopers with a banner that reads "Airborne forces with the people!" speaks to a crowd in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 16.

One of the inspiring images from the ongoing revolution in Belarus shows police officers discarding their uniforms. Rather than follow the orders of the country’s dictator to keep attacking peaceful protesters after a rigged election on Aug. 9, they have defected to the pro-democracy side.

“17 years of service are over ... my conscience is clear ... police with the people,” wrote one police captain, Yeghor Yemelyanov, on his Instagram account.

It is these quiet acts of mental freedom by an unknown number of security forces in Belarus that could soon provide the tipping point for an end to the 26-year rule of strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Some police have clearly broken ranks after seeing at least 6,700 people arrested and two killed. Others have retreated from the streets rather than use force on unarmed civilians.

Their courage must be giving pause to Mr. Lukashenko about continuing the violence and further opening cracks in his security force, which is estimated to be more than 120,000.

Both Russia and the European Union are trying to influence events in Belarus. The small country of 9.5 million is a remnant of the former Soviet empire and a geopolitical pawn. Yet its future may be determined by those with guns and badges admitting to themselves that Mr. Lukashenko actually lost the election. His claim to power is a lie.

The election’s presumed winner, schoolteacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has offered to forgive officers if they disobey orders to shoot. She says Belarusians are proving to the world “that the truth is not on the side of force and weapons, but instead the truth is on the side of the strength of mind, honesty, decency, and courage.”

Police are not the only defectors. Several anchors at Belarus’ state TV stations have quit. Workers at many state factories have gone on strike. Some prison officials have released hundreds of political prisoners. Belarusians, says Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, “are capable of self-organizing, making the right decisions, and standing up for themselves and their nearest.”

Democratic revolutions happen one person at a time, each recognizing the sanctity of innocent life, the necessity of individual liberty, and the equality embedded in universal rights. To show their intentions, many protesters in Belarus wear white and hold their hands in the form of a heart. These symbols have touched the conscience of many in the security forces. And they are helping turn a revolution toward a peaceful resolution.

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