The controversial messaging app has moved huge crowds on the streets of Belarus. But who is its secretive puppet master?
One Sunday in August, two weeks after Belarus’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko declared an implausibly decisive victory in presidential elections, I joined a crowd of around 100,000 people as it moved through central Minsk. Protest in Belarus was no longer the domain of a few hundred hardy opposition figures, and the homemade placards many people carried illustrated how broad the coalition had become: “Let’s drink to love, from the bartenders of Belarus”; “Teachers against violence”; “Working class, go on strike!”
The previous fortnight had been a time of national awakening, as the country united around the goal of ending Lukashenko’s 26 years in charge. As grim footage of police violence circulated on the messenger app Telegram, large numbers came out to demand that their voices be heard.
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