BY KAYLA POP
In August 2020, following the Belarusian presidential election, opposition protests began in the Eastern European country. The protesters, backed by imperialist forces abroad, called for the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko. In response, pro-government demonstrations were also held in defense of Lukashenko.
Since then, political tensions have remained high in Belarus, where the threat of a new color revolution looms. I recently spoke with Nadezhda Sablina, a Belarusian columnist for the Minskaya Pravda, a local paper in the country. Nadezhda provides an anti-imperialist overview for what is taking place.
Kayla: Over the past several months, we have seen Belarusians throughout the country and abroad come out in support of the opposition and for regime change in Belarus. Why is this?
Nadezhda: First of all, it is necessary to dispel the myth that “all Belarusians came out.” Although the protests in 2020 were indeed the most massive of the past few decades, not all of Belarus came out, as they say in a number of media outlets, but rather a small part of Belarusians both in the country and abroad.
The second thing we need to dispel is the use of the term “regime.” In Russian, this word has a clear negative connotation and is used to refer to the anti-popular state system. For example, we speak of fascist regimes when it comes to Germany under the leadership of Hitler. Those who call the current government a regime in Russian usually identify the state system in Belarus with fascism. This is fundamentally wrong. Belarus is a bourgeois state with a strong presidential power, of which had taken the mission of resisting the chaotic liberal domination in the other destroyed former USSR republics. This republic has bourgeois democratic freedoms, yet there is still an unspoken, invisible struggle between two paths of development: either capitalist or socialist paths.
Now to your question. Precisely because capitalism in Belarus is increasingly developing, people feel the deterioration of their conditions: rising prices, dwindling incomes and low earnings, injustice from officials and courts, etc. Due to the fact that liberal propaganda by private media and the liberal-nationalist opposition have been openly active for the past three decades, many people associate the deterioration of the socio-economic situation with Lukashenko’s rule. And since people think that all problems in society are caused by the actions of only one person, then it is only natural that they come to, more precisely led to, the solution that all the problems will be gone with the resignation of the current president.
The protests, which began in August 2020, had been in preparation since the Fall of 2019. A large, well-organized propaganda and agitation campaign was carried throughout the internet, especially through the Nexta telegram channels. This campaign prepared the public for D day – the presidential elections of August 2020. And, I must admit, they succeeded. Liberal tales that we only have to change the president as we will heal, become like Europe, had an effect on many. Then, starting on August 9, a flurry of fakes about the monstrous violence of law enforcement agencies against the “peaceful” demonstrators fell upon the Belarusian people. This prompted more people to take to the streets, even those who aren’t liberals. That is, the protests had a strategy, which tactics were decided by the organizers of these protests in an effort to manufacture a neoliberal coup d’etat.
Kayla: Can you tell us which parties and coalitions are leading this opposition movement?
Nadezhda: Earlier, the liberal-nationalist movement was headed by the parties like the Belarusian Popular Front, the United Civil Party, as well as the movements European Belarus, Young Front and a number of others. Many leaders of these organizations were detained even before the elections and are currently still in jail. Then, already during the election campaign, the joint-headquarters of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya appeared. It was the headquarters of the presidential candidates Sergeiy Tikhanovsky, Viktor Babariko and Veronika Tsepkalo.
After the elections, a Coordination Council was created, which included liberals from various political organizations. But after the organizers of the protests (coup d’etat) were arrested, many of these opposition leaders left for the West. And political centers, such as the Tikhonovsky headquarters, the People’s Anti-Crisis Administration and others, began to form abroad in the West. However, they are more engaged in politicking and fighting with each other for the loyalty of the West and its grants.
So we can say that throughout the duration of the protests, we did not have a single governing organization. Formally, the leadership passed from one person to another, but the real leadership was carried out through social networks, mainly through the Nexta telegram channels, which are backed by the Polish special services.
Kayla: What are the demands of the opposition and is it clear to the masses of Belarusians what their plans are if they assume power?
Nadezhda: Opposition demands remain constant throughout the protests. Their phrasing can sometimes change, they can be concretized, some more points are added to them, but the main demands remain three: 1) the holding of new fair elections, 2) the release of political prisoners, and 3) an end to violence from the security forces. Moreover, the first two demands were exalted on August 8, before the elections had even ended. The opposition does not have a unified program of action if they come to power, because they are divided. The Reanimation Package of Reforms for Belarus, which was at the heart of Tikhanovskaya’s program, has long been forgotten by the opposition. This is because it had been met with sharp negative reactions from the population. Now the opposition says that Tikhanovskaya never had such a program, and the reanimation package of reforms is an invention of Lukashenko.
The opposition continues its anti-popular policy. They call for reprisals against the security forces, as well as against everyone who supports the current government and their families; they continue to plan terrorist actions; they call for sanctions against Belarus; they called for the refusal to hold the ice hockey championship in Belarus and are now happy that the championship will be moved to another country.
Almost no one from the opposition is ready to conduct a dialogue not only with the authorities, but also with ordinary citizens who hold differing views. All this has led to the fact that many Belarusians, who used to be on the side of the protests or remained neutral, saw that the country would face a catastrophe if the liberal opposition came to power. But nevertheless, there remain people who oppose Lukashenko and support those who want to overthrow him, and this is mainly proposed by the liberal opposition.
Kayla: Do you think this movement is popular with the working class in Belarus?
Nadezhda: No, it’s not popular. People with liberal views are, of course, everywhere, including among the workers. But even on the hot days of August, workers did not come out to protests en masse. Liberals had to look out for them at checkpoints and persuade them to go out to protests. There is a video of a workers’ meeting that took place in the at of some factories at lunchtime, and it was clear that few workers came out: somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of workers of the plant. And even then, not only those who support the protests came out, but also curious or simply interested workers.
Kayla: What can you tell us of the human rights violations and police brutality, as alleged by the opposition?
Nadezhda: “Violation of human rights” is a long-known trope of which the powerful hide behind to attack governments they dislike. There are no human rights at all in a class society. And we see proof of this in the modern world at every step, when a handful of the rich have all conceivable and inconceivable rights, while the oppressed and poor, who make up the majority of the world’s population, do not have basic rights to work, affordable health care, education, even the right to life.
As for the actions of law enforcement agencies towards the protesters, I do not think they can be called brutal. First, the actions of the militia and the military were first provoked by paramilitants and ordinary aggressive protesters, who purposefully went to attack law enforcement officers and smash government buildings. Already on the 9th they had weapons, Molotov cocktails, special uniforms prepared to agitate. And at first, the state militia were inactive, calling for dispersals. Only a little later, when it became obvious that trained fighters were in the forefront of the protest crowd, ready to smash, maim and kill, the state militia and military were ordered to use special means against them and detain them. Of course, those who simply walked in the crowd and who could not be separated from the paramilitants during the arrest also got hit. Secondly, as I have said already, from the 9th, a wave of fake claims about state militia violence fell upon the Belarusians. There were many publications about those who were raped, beaten to death in isolation wards, killed, etc. This, of course, was devastating and it was very difficult at first to figure out where the truth was and where was the lie. Moreover, there have been no refutations from the state, the real state of affairs was not reported.
With all this, one must understand that the Belarusian militia is still not the Soviet militia and that different people work in it. Some of them used excessive force, for example, when they struck their truncheon at an already lying person. Nevertheless, these individual facts of abuse of power does not mean that the state militia and internal troops in general acted incorrectly. Their actions were generally justified and necessary. If not for their organized, professional work, then in our country, perhaps, there would have already been a real war and fascist pogroms.
Kayla: Why do you think this opposition movement is so popular in the West and why do you think there is little to no coverage of those who are patriotic/pro-government?
Nadezhda: It is popular in the West because the West is the opposition’s organizational and financial center. There, in the West, are especially those who are interested in protests and the change of a strong, independent government in Belarus to a puppet, liberal administration. Lukashenko is trying to pursue a policy in the interests of the people, and also, unfortunately, in the interests of a part of the Belarusian bourgeoisie. In any case, he is trying to pursue a policy independent of the imperialists, to strengthen the national economy and develop the social sphere. Belarus has many strong, world-class production facilities. Take for instance our BelAZ, Belaruskali, Minsk Tractor Plant, Minsk Automobile Plant and others. We have our own heavy and light industry, developed agriculture, etc. We are quite strong competitors in the world market, and this is how we hinder them, the imperialists. In the era of the crisis of capitalism, the destruction of Belarusian factories will give a breath of air to decaying imperialism, and will give it the opportunity to delay its death a little longer.
And this explains why in the West you will not find information about Belarusian patriots and pro-government movements that defend not Belarusian capitalism and the bourgeoisie, but the Belarusian people, their independence.
Kayla: What is something you think westerners should keep in mind as we will see in the coming months more organized anti-government protests in Belarus?
Nadezhda: They need to understand that Western governments and the big bourgeoisie behind them have never acted in the interests of the masses of people in history. Westerners can see by their own example that their governments are indifferent to the hungry, unemployed, often disenfranchised residents of their own countries. Why would their governments care about the welfare of other people?
You need to understand that behind every word, every action of a politician, of the big media, there is a specific class interest – namely, the interest of the ruling capitalist class. You need to be able to discern this interest. You live in imperialist countries, so your governments and media will reflect the aggressive policies of imperialism. Therefore, they will support those movements in our country that are beneficial to imperialism, and not to the Belarusian people.
We, working Belarusians, are the same people as you are. We want to decide our own destiny, but at the same time we are ready to unite with other peoples in our common struggle for justice, against hunger, poverty, lawlessness, against wars, and ultimately against imperialism, which brings all these troubles to people everywhere. Both our president and we ourselves always invite everyone to visit our country and see with their own eyes how we live. Then you will see that we live in a clean, calm, developed country, that we are a hardworking, peaceful people and that we are able to sort out our problems ourselves, without the intervention of the arrogant Western governments.