Digest of Belarusian Analytics: The Logic of Non-Violence
Over the last weeks scholars in Belarus focused primarily on the new forms of street protests, their potential and implications. The fresh public opinion polls demonstrate growing dissatisfaction of Belarusians with the economic crises and how the authorities cope with it. A recent paper also analyzed Poland's efforts to facilitate democratization of Belarus.
The logic of non-violence. Belarusian social researcher Irina Solomatina considers that silent actions are a manifestation of a new type of community that does not fit into the framework of state ideology. An important cornerstone of the Belarusian official ideology is glorification of the Soviet vision of the Second World War, where Belarusians and Russians stood against aggression from the West. The authorities use various public rituals to entrench Soviet values of obedience and deliberately ignore massive repressions and economic stagnation which characterized the Soviet period.
On the other hand, security services violently punish any expression of other values with a particular emphasis on collective actions. The authorities regard the seemingly meaningless act of clapping as a serious challenge. Solomatina predicts development of new forms of non-violent communication of disagreement with the values imposed by the authorities.
Silent revolution in people's minds. Gomel politician Pyotr Kuznetsov believes that authorities were able to bring down the dynamics of "silent protests". However Kuznetsov is confident that the revolutions in people’s minds and in the relations between the government and people havealready taken place.
Can nonviolent methods of protest bring a victory to the Belarusian opposition? Russian Radio Liberty talks with Belarusian experts on the effectiveness of the methods of protest, currently going on in Belarus. Journalist Yuri Drakakhrust draws attention to the important fact that the actions cover not only the capital and also the rest of the country. Pavel Sheremet predicts strong protests of opposition in autumn-winter, before the parliamentary elections, when the economic crisis will become more apparent. Yuri Chavusau, a political analyst, says that government repression can intimidate the participants of the actions, but the demand for a protest in society will remain and could explode at any place at plants, factories, or at border crossings.
Why the political parties do not rebel? Political scientist Yuri Chavusau explains why Belarusian political parties do not participate in street protests. According to his observation, the most efficient and capable parties are “now engaged in internal audit of scarce resources, defining the position in relation to socio-economic crisis, addressing the issue of coalition building up to the upcoming parliamentary elections, or, simply, licking their wounds after a very hard political season 2010”.
Belarusians want reform, not revolution. BISS (Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies) prepared a briefing paper on the basis of an opinion poll conducted by IISEPS on May 20, 2011. BISS draws attention to the growing number of supporters of market reforms (67%) and high levels of anxiety at the possibility of new terror attacks (70%). Comparative analysis of the data also shows an increasing number of respondents who believe that "go on living like that we can not". However, the number of respondents willing to take part in active protests has not increased. According to the BISS, these results indicate that the Belarusians are ready for reforms, but will not use the revolutionary methods. The paper is launching a new series of BISS regular publications, based on data from the independent opinion research centers.
A new public opinion poll. On June, 2011 the Independent Institutefor Sociological and Political Studies (IISEPS) conducted a survey on the most important issues of Belarusians’ life. Deteriorationof the "economic well-being" of Belarusians can be characterized as a true landslide. Thus, the number of respondents who said their financial situation over the past three months has worsened, increased from 26.9% to 73.4%. 81.5% believe that "the Belarusian economy is in crisis", and lay the blame primarily on the president (44.5%) and government (36.7%), but not to the world crisis (27%) or speculators (16.6%). The number of those who are ready to vote for Lukashenka again in the presidential election for the first time since March 2003 has fallen below 30% and amounted to 29.3% (December 2010 – 53%, March 2011 – 42.9%).
Warsaw will do everything to solve the "Belarusian issue". Since July 1, Poland leads EU. Mikhas Iljinski examines the relationship between Poland and Belarus after the events of December 19 and concludes that "during its EU presidency, Warsaw will continue its efforts that the "Belarusian issue" would not disappear from the range of interests of Brussels".
Iljinski notes that because of the Arab Spring the Medeteranian region is becoming more important for the European Union than its East. However, there is a nearly unanimous position on Belarus in the Polish society and the Poles will keep working on their efforts to promote democracy in Belarus – unilaterally and in cooperation with other EU countries. The author hopes that Poland will be able to cooperate with Belarusians in as many areas as possible to balance Russia's dominance.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Lukashenka’s New Information War with Russia
During a recent press conferences, Belarusian TV propagandist Yury Prakopau asked Belarusian President a question: "Why Russia conducts unfair policy towards Belarus, and doesn't help it in the time of crisis, as the EU helps Greece?" Lukashenka answered: "Yury, don't provoke me. I have enough as it is. Everybody understands it anyway. We'll overcome it".
After the presidential election of December 19 Lukashenka temporarily stopped the anti-Russian information campaign and accused the West of supporting a coup d'état in Belarus. During that period the main topic of Yury Prakopau's shows was devious intentions and actions of the West. Lukashenka simmered for a long time when Moscow was making demands to sell enterprises to Russian companies and make other steps towards genuine integration, as the Kremlin sees it. Now, Lukashenka "lets off the steam". Once again, an anti-Russian information campaign unfolds in Belarus.
Yury Prakopau is a presenter of the evening news on the First Belarusian State Television Channel. He can be called a mouthpiece of the Presidential Administration. Lukashenka calls Prakopau by first name only: "Yury", as a close collaborator.
Lukashenka gave Prakopau the opportunity to say in plain language what he was thinking himself of the relations with the eastern neighbor: "The Kremlin ideologists gave an order to their media: say either bad or nothing about Belarus". "All claims of the Russian side to the president of Belarus are explained by the fact that he does not agree to sell out the country. The goal of the Russian policy is to force selling enterprises to oligarchs. They robbed their own country and now they are eager to get to Belarus".
According to Prakopau, the ‘silent protest actions’ in Minsk and other large cities of Belarus on June 15 and June 22, 2011 were “stage-managed in Moscow, like all other anti-Belarusian deeds.” According to him, “the Kremlin experts believe that the Belarusian authorities will lose their ground, facing modern web-technologies.” Prakopau established a linkage between the insidious plans of Russia, the silent protest actions, and the stirred up ‘Tell the Truth!’ civil campaign. He was trying to convince the audience that these were the parts of the same system.
Dwelling about a recent silent protest action, Prakopau noted that several hundreds of drunken youngsters participated in the event. “The leader of ‘Tell the Truth’ civil campaign Neklayev was there. Having got out of jail, he fell back into his old ways,” he added. Prakopau was trying to drive the audience at the notion that Uladzimir Neklayev and other leaders of ‘Tell the Truth’ civil campaign might be sent back to prison, since they act in the interest of Russia and its oligarchs.
Actually, the on-line announcements and news stories of “Revolution through the Social Network” civil campaign, calling the Belarusian people to take part in the silent protest actions, must have been created by professionals. Hardly could bloggers deal with production of such materials.
However, there is little chance the silent protest actions will grow into large manifestations against the Lukashenka regime. Several thousands of protest action participants in Minsk and several hundreds of people in the regional centers are quickly dispersed by Lukashenka’s security agents. The silent protest actions will not cause the change of power in the country. Still, they can lead to the appearance of new political prisoners in the Belarusian jails.
Obviously Russia is eager to drive Lukashenka into a corner and catch him by the throat there. The Kremlin is interested in filling the Belarusian jails with new political prisoners. The news programs of Russian TV channels pay serious attention to the crisis in the Belarusian currency market and the silent protest actions nowadays.
“The Belarusians go out to the streets,” the Russian ‘REN-TV’ reported on June 28, 2011. “The Belarusian rubles have turned into “funny money” and people spend days and nights in queues for the foreign currency. The people stormed into stores. The situation became uncontrolled,” the Russian “NTV” TV channel’s news announcer noted on June 29, 2011. “Russia’s subsidies to Belarus have amounted to USD 60 billion over the recent years.The Belarusian economy will not survive without the Russian assistance,” a Russian political scientist Andrei Suzdaltsev said. “Now, the only remaining chance for Lukashenka is to appear under Russia’s wing. Should Belarus introduce the Russian ruble as its monetary unit, the Belarusian economy will become stable all at once and get rid of quite a few current problems immediately,” another Russian political scientist Viacheslav Nikonov summarized the general idea at the end of the program.
Lukashenka expressed his stern will to stand up to the pressure from the West and the East in his speech, dedicated to the Belarus’ Independence Day, delivered on July 1, 2011:
we are attacked and tested for hardness nowadays. Somebody hates us for failing to march in the common formation and dance to the Brussels tune. Others regard us as an unpleasant example, thrown in their teeth. The country hasn’t been plundered. We don’t have a gap between the provocative luxury and the flagrant poverty. Somebody feels infuriated at the impossibility to buy and sell public positions and spend billions of money from public funds to offshore zones here.
Our enemies treated certain problems we faced in the financial and economic field as a signal to action. Some types, who name themselves politicians through a misunderstanding, inside Belarus and abroad keep relishing the emerged difficulties so enthusiastically, as though they have taken their hand in creating the plight. Calm down! You won’t manage to catch the desired golden fish in the troubled waters. Even more so you won’t be able to force us to our knees.
He continued the topic of resistance to the West and Russia in his speech at the ceremony of opening the military parade in Minsk on July 3, 2011. Particularly, Lukashenka addressed the following words to Russia: “Someone intends to use the weapons of mass informational destruction against us and impose their will on us.”
Lukashenka treats the demand of the West to release the political prisoners as a much smaller danger to independence of Belarus in comparison with Russia’s demands to sell the industrial enterprises, unify the monetary systems, and take other steps towards the ‘real’ integration, as seen by the Kremlin.
Andrei Liakhovich is a contributing author. He directs the Center for Political Education in Minsk.