In 50-Yard Square in Belarus, a Country Within (C. J. CHIVERS, 3/23/06, NY Times)

Since a rigged presidential election on March 19, the capital of Belarus has seen a protest like none in 12 years of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s autocratic grip. For four consecutive days, protesters have defied warnings of arrest and bloodshed and stood in a corner of October Square to demand a new race.

Their numbers rise to several thousand each evening, as they form a rally and impromptu dance party on the edge of an ice rink, and then dwindle, hour by hour, until midnight, when this core stands through the night, in two lines, to hold the place for the next day.

It is a frigid, risky vigil, given the Belarussian weather and the government’s history of reflexive brutality against those who dare to stand and call for better lives than Mr. Lukashenko’s island of Soviet nostalgia and corruption has been able, or willing, to provide.

Mostly they are young men in their 20’s. A few look too young to shave. But since Tuesday night, when the opposition’s leaders began to disagree about how best to proceed in their effort to unseat a president they do not recognize, this all-night core has become an independent force in a quixotic struggle.

Their influence emerged when one of Mr. Lukashenko’s two principal challengers, Aleksandr V. Kazulin, urged the protesters to disband Tuesday night and save themselves before the police crackdown.

“There is no sense in keeping them on the square,” Mr. Kazulin said. “We should think about our children, protect them, and not keep them in front of us.”

The protesters refused to go. And they rejected the label of “children,” applied to them by Mr. Kazulin, as well as by Mr. Lukashenko, as they crowded together in the plummeting cold. They formed their two lines, one facing out of the camp, to warn of any advance by the police, the other facing inward, to keep an eye on the behavior of the demonstrators, ensuring that no provocateurs had slipped inside.

After midnight, they occupied a portion of Belarus, a country of 10 million people the size of Kansas, that was no larger than a 50-yard square.

It was a country within.

The standard that a legitimate regime must have the consent of the governed is too universal to be turned back for long.


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