Staunton, March 8 – The most dangerous moment for any authoritarian regime is when its population ceases to be afraid of its rulers and recognizes that it has within itself the strength to organize civic resistance to them. According to three Moscow experts, such a mental revolution has now taken place in Belarus.
Andrey Suzdaltsev of the Higher School of Economics says that the protests in Belarus reflect the increasingly difficult economic situation that country finds itself in and the sense of people there that without Russian help things will only get worse (eadaily.com/ru/news/2017/03/07/u-belorusskogo-obshchestva-ischez-strah-pered-vlastyu).
But instead of sinking into angry passivity, Belarusians have taken to the streets, a remarkable development given Lukashenka’s history. Indeed, it represents “almost a revolution.” Fear of the powers that be has dissipated and “the population by some sixth sense understands that the authorities can’t control them and are afraid of the protests.”
The reason for this change, Suzdaltsev suggests, is that Belarusians can see that Lukashenka is waiting for a loan from the IMF and knows very well that if he uses his typical methods against the protests, “the chance to receive such credits will be reduced and the situation in the economy will become still worse.”
What is especially important to understand, the Moscow analyst says, is that the Belarusian demonstrations are the work of the population itself rather than of any opposition groups. “However strange it may seem,” he says, “the opposition has proved incapable of controlling these protests” or of making them into “anti-Russian” actions.
Instead, what is occurring, Suzdaltev continues, is “civic resistance and civic protest. One can thus conclude that in Belarus a third force has appeared – civic resistance which is capable of self-organization. This disturbs everyone both the powers that be and the [existing] opposition.”
The Moscow analyst says that he expects the protests to grow because Lukashenka gives no sign that he is ready or able to do anything to address the real problems of Belarusian life.
Bogdan Bezpalko, a member of the Russian Presidential Council for International Relations, agrees. For 25 years, he says, Minsk has pursued a policy which can be described as “socialism on the basis of Russian assistance.” With the declining in such subsidies, that system can’t survive.
“At present,” he says, “the only available source for credits in Belarus are the citizens of Belarus, especially those who work abroad including in the Russian Federation.” The vagrants tax is intended to extract money from them, and people have responded with the kind of anger one would expect.
“Ideologically,” Bezpalko continues, “Belarusian nationalists are seeking to take over this protest” given that they are “the only ideological force in Belarus which is capable of doing so because all pro-Russian movements have been completely suppressed.” What remains are “openly fake structures” without any real authority or power.
The protests will continue to grow, he says, even if Minsk and Moscow resolve their differences because Russia can no longer afford to subsidize Belarus as it did in the past. That means Minsk will always be looking for alternative sources, both within its own borders and in the West.
And Kirill Averyanov-Minsky extends that argument by suggesting that “the only opponents of the authorities in Belarus today are Belarusian nationalists who are not popular in the population. But people have to follow them because there is no pro-Russian anti-Lukashenka alternative. As a result, these protests will increase the social capitalization of the pro-Western Belarusian opposition” by default.
According to the Russian analyst, the protests in Belarus “will not be crowned with success” because those in the streets will not be able to compel the regime to drop the vagrants tax decree. But what may happen, Avernyanov-Minsky says, is that someone will appeal to the ILO and Minsk will thus have a face-saving way to drop the decree.