Now, even wearing red and white, the colors of the opposition's flag, can bring heavy fines or arrest, according to activists in Belarus.
So, for the moment, it has come down to the cries from windows and balconies in Minsk.
"In this way, we're trying to show that the protesters are still here," said Marina, a Belarusian opposition supporter who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition that she not be identified by her full name for fear of retribution by the authorities.
Accounts from Marina and others in Belarus offer snippets from a country still firmly under Lukashenko's grip, even as his government becomes increasingly isolated from its European neighbors after a brazen interception of a commercial jetliner flying from Greece to Lithuania on May 23 to arrest an opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich.
"It was another rock bottom," Marina said.
With the Belarus protest movement fizzling under the weight of Lukashenko's crackdowns, some Belarusians are hopeful the opposition will get a boost from the renewed Western pressure.
"The Belarusian crisis was an internal one and Europeans looked at it like, well, the Belarusians are suffering, they are being put in jails, raped, some killed. But it was an internal problem," said Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to prominent opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
“Now, when you have 120 hostages on a plane flying from one European country to another and they fall victim to this unpredictable tyrant, the scale of things immediately changed,” he added.
The European Union quickly declared Belarus airspace a no-go zone and discussed potentially tougher sanctions. On Friday, the Biden administration reimposed full blocking sanctions against nine state-owned enterprises in Belarus and noted it could take further action against “elements” of Lukashenko’s regime.
But Lukashenko — in power since 1994 — can still count on critical support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hosted the Belarusian strongman on Friday at the Russian Black Sea resort Sochi.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would be in favor of Tikhanovskaya and other Belarusian opposition politicians attending next month’s Group of Seven summit in Britain’s Carbis Bay. Three U.S. senators announced that they plan to meet with Tikhanovskaya in Lithuania, where she has been in self-exile since losing to Lukashenko in August presidential elections whose results have been widely denounced in the West as fraudulent.
In response to the biggest challenge to his hold on power, Lukashenko has leaned into the description as “Europe’s last dictator” often used by opposition group and others.
More than 34,000 protesters were arrested, and many described being beaten and tortured while detained. A Belarusian teenager, who was being investigated for taking part in the protests last year, died by suicide earlier this month, leaving a note that said he couldn’t bear the pressure being put on him by authorities, the rights group Viasna-96 said.
Independent media outlets have been targeted. More than 20 media workers who covered the protests remain behind bars, either awaiting trial or serving time, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
Protasevich, the opposition journalist on board the Ryanair flight, now joins that list. As editor of Nexta, a channel on the Telegram social media and messaging app, Protasevich provided crucial crowdsourced information and videos during the protests that helped inform the demonstrators of authorities’ moves and violent responses.
“I would say that now Belarus is under occupation,” said a supporter who left the country. “They obviously oppose the current regime, but they cannot even express it.”
Marina, the opposition supporter who still lives in Minsk, said posting anything in opposition to Lukashenko on social media is dangerous and rarely done anymore. Even clothing is being watched.
She described a young woman who was stopped by police because she was wearing a red jacket with white stripes on the sleeves.
“They forced her to hand over her phone so they could check it,” Marina said. “Then the police told her not to wear that jacket again because it’s considered a provocation.”
Marina is planning to emigrate in July.
Viacorka, the adviser to Tikhanovskaya, said that “it’s difficult to imagine the protests in Belarus in the same way they were in August” because so many people were jailed or fled the country.
“Perhaps this international reaction will give people the inspiration and energy they’ve been lacking,” Viacorka said. “People were missing the feeling that they are not alone, the feeling that the whole world is with Belarusians, so it is possible now this feeling will return again.”
Khurshudyan reported from Vladivostok, Russia.