Digest of Belarusian Analytics: the New Architecture of Street Protests
Belarus Digest begins publishing summaries of the most notable studies prepared by Belarusian scholars and institutions. Digest of Belarusian Analytics will cover the most interesting publications, which are often not available in English.
Devaluation. What's next? Yuri Pshennik, analyzing the economic program of recovery, comes to the conclusion that the Belarusian authorities "are still capable to devalue but not to conduct economic reforms". The Belarusian government has been consistent in repeating all the economic failures of the collapsing USSR – from large-scale pumping of the economy with "empty" money to subsequent devaluation, hyperinflation and freezing bank deposits.
Belarusians have a growing sense of injustice. Based on his latest research sociologist Oleg Manaev of Independent Institute of Social Economic and Political Studies is sure that to attract new supporters the opposition should pay more attention to the economic situation in its programs, slogans and actions. He notes that although Belarusians do not support the regime and many even suspect that the authorities were behind the terrorist act of 11 April, this does not convert into support of opposition.
The new architecture of the street protests. The authorities and opposition should learn the new architecture of the street protests according to Yuri Chavusau from the the Association of Democratic NGOs. Evaluating the action under the slogan "Revolution through Social Networking", he notes that such actions show that there is public demand for a protest: “The opposition should not try to lead those actions – they should come and talk to people, find out what they want”. Belorusy i Rynok analyst Pavlyuk Bykovsky stresses that it is rather difficult for the authorities to deal with such protest activity, since there are no leaders and centers that can be suppressed.
Political analyst Pavel Usov considers that Belarus and its people have become a hostage of the vagaries and absurdities of presidential decisions. "Now Lukashenka is thinking only about that how not to lose his power and keep people in check". Usov observes that Belarusians are willing to revolt for consumer goods. BISS`s previous social contract research showed that Lukashenka has created a new consumer generation, what could turn against him, when they do not have their goods. They are indifferent to independence, freedom, the language, they are only concerned about comfort.
Belarusian Foreign Policy Index. BISS published the second Belarusian Foreign Policy Index for April-May 2011 dedicated to the important trends in international relations with Belarus. In this issue experts analyze five vectors of foreign policy of Belarus: relations with the EU, Russia, China, the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, as well as relations with Ukraine. The authors note that he Belarus clearly tilted to the East. The room for foreign political maneuver is narrowing, while self-isolation trends became more prominent.
Signs of the new information war between Russia and Belarus. Analyzing the relations of Russia and Belarus since the beginning of summer 2011, Andei Fyodarau and Dzmitry Kopal predict a worsening of bilateral relations up to the new information wars. They conclude that the Belarusian authorities are in a very difficult situation and will not be able to be as "independent" from the West and the East as in the past. In economic terms both Russia and the West put forward very similar conditions. The decisive factor is, perhaps political: what direction would enable the authorities to stay in power for a longer period of time.
In principle, the West only insists on democratic reform, including free and fair elections, which the regime could theoretically do. But apparently the Belarusian authorities have doubts about their sucess in free elections. On the other hand, Moscow is not interested in democratic standards, but in gaining political and economic control over Belarus. Gradual concessions of the official Minsk in favour of Kremlin can be explained by the subjective factor, namely their apparent ideological affinity. In the end this affinity may play the most important role.
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.
The Sound of Clapping
Two weeks ago, some people came out into the Minsk city centre on a peaceful protest. A week ago, over a hundred turned up. Yesterday, there were a thousand protesters in Minsk, and also across cities and towns of Belarus. Up to 450 people were reportedly arrested, including journalists. Observers and participants on both sides hold breath to see what the next week will bring.
“Revolution through social networks” is a provocative name for a new kind of popular mobilisation in Belarus. For a country where every political protest was doomed or failed for the last 17 years, it appears over optimistic to either endeavour or support one. Yet both the eroding legitimacy of the Belarusian government and the clever tactics by the organisers make the “revolution” notable.
The Belarusian government is failing on the grounds of economy and ideology. The economic crisis that caused 64% deflation, the five-fold soar of food prices and the 30% increase in fuel price, the lack of available foreign currency – suddenly make the life of ordinary voters very harsh indeed. The economic hardship could be bearable and sustained if the voters had a clear sense of its origins and, more importantly, the vision of their resolution. After all, the neighbouring Poland and Lithuania went through harsher times in the painful reforms of the early 1990s for the sake of re-joining Europe. The Belarusian government, however, is at a loss to present any sense of direction, apart from putting down local fires and blaming indiscriminately. Furthermore, it has to step back on its only policy success – the ideology of Belarusian sovereignty – to allow Russian ownership of Belarusian key economic assets.
With consent as the basis of legitimacy quickly eroding, the government has stepped up coercion to protect its power. This pertains not only the crackdown on the post-presidential election protest six month ago, and the imprisonment of the opposition leaders. More disturbingly for hitherto apolitical citizens, the intimidating black uniform of the riot police and its blinded metal trucks have become ubiquitous in most ordinary daily situations, in broad day light in the central streets and squares of the country. During yesterday’s protests, people were detained and thrown into riot trucks indiscriminately. One no longer needs to be an opposition activist to suffer from the security forces. Once credibly presented as safeguarding the country from disruptive foreign agents, i.e. the opposition, they are now themselves acquiring the aura of aliens and invaders. Belarusians value their privacy higher than anything, and any invasion of it breeds dismay and sustained resistance in the nation known for its guerrilla warfare history.
At the same time, the undisclosed organisers of the “revolution” finally got some things right. They steer well clear of the political opposition who have discredited themselves as hapless and use none of their slogans, chants, or guilt-trip mobilisation methods. They ask their supporters for a minimal commitment: to walk out to the central square on a Wednesday night and, at most, clap. The quiet and reserved Belarusians are much more comfortable with this style of protest. The movement does not yet put forward a programme, as at this early stage it may be divisive. They are simply mobilising discontent amongst the most active social strata, and doing it with great understanding and skill.
The Belarusian government are deceiving themselves if they think that resolute coercion would keep a lid on the raising social discontent. Police repression is intimidating for sure, but it adds to the sense of development that every protest feeds on, and it also deepens the schism between ordinary people and the government that seems to be after them.
The new protest movement in Belarus is yet nascent, and has not spread across the country and social strata. The government may still block social network sites as they have done, and the majority of the population is sitting on the fence politically. But the situation is rapidly approaching a precarious balance. The power will tilt towards the political force that offers Belarusians a convincing and veritable sense of their desired future and a clear direction of development towards it.
Natalia Leshchenko, INSTID