Belarusian politician and protests: Maria Kolesnikova has disappeared

Belarusian politician and protests: Maria Kolesnikova has disappeared

The Belarusian opposition leader is said to have been abducted. The 38-year-old has so far been considered a moderating force in the protest movement.

She seemed to enjoy being able to go to the microphone under a huge white, red and white flag on the past few Sundays and wave to the demonstrators in her hometown of Minsk. In these moments loud chants with their names sounded: “Ma-Ri-Ja, Ma-Ri-Ja”; these are the moments when the Belarusian opposition leader shows her authentic smile.

But whether and when Maria Kolesnikova will next speak publicly about freedom and political reform is unclear. Kolesnikova disappeared one day after another large demonstration against President Alexander Lukashenko, who won the election a good four weeks ago, according to official information, with 80 percent of the vote. It is unclear where Kolesnikova is. She may have been reportedly abducted. The Belarusian Interior Ministry, however, assured that it had not arrested Kolesnikova.

The unmarried Kolesnikowa, who has been in Stuttgart regularly since 2007, where she graduated from the State University for Music and Performing Arts, was also known in Belarus for her lecture series “Music Lessons for Adults”. What she also brought with her from Germany is the knowledge that everyone is part of the political process, that there is no one without politics.

It was actually more of a coincidence that brought the 38-year-old flute player, kickboxer and music teacher into politics. As the art director of the “Ok16” cultural project in Minsk, she worked with Viktor Babariko, CEO of Belgasprombank, which belongs to the Russian company Gazprom, as the bank was the landlord of the premises for their cultural project. And when Viktor Babariko left the bank to go into politics, he asked Maria Kolesnikova to head his campaign staff.

After Babariko’s arrest, Kolesnikova represented his political interests and finally teamed up with Svetlana Tichanowskaya and Veronika Zepkalo to fight together for the election of Svetlana Tichanowskaya.

After her two colleagues left the country involuntarily, Kolesnikova became the face of the demonstrators. She is reluctant to be called an opposition leader. How can you speak of the opposition when you have the majority of the population behind you, she says.

Kolesnikowa is seen as a moderating force in the protest movement. She has spoken out against withdrawing from the joint union treaty with Russia, wants all contracts concluded with Russia to continue, and spoke out against EU sanctions. Lukashenko’s challenger in the presidential election, Svetlana Tichanovskaya, sees the fact that the government may have gotten her out of the way as a further attempt at intimidation.

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