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August 19, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8901

Russian Liberals Believe That The Growing Protest Movement In Belarus Will Be Replicated In Russia

August 19, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8901

In Russia, the crisis in Belarus has been the top story, the second story and the third story in the news. The kinship between the two peoples, the obvious political parallels and the repercussions of Russia's ally possibly defecting to the West have captured attention of Russians of all shades of political opinion. As Moskovskiy Komsomolets' veteran columnist Aleksandr Minkin put it:

"We are the only ones in the world who look at Belarus with such attention, with such burning curiosity. We are watching a movie about ourselves.

"In the USA, in India, etc they don’t know anything about events; just as fishes are disinterested in the incomprehensible, unknown life of hares.

"For the neighbors (Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine), [the events in Belarus] is politics: can one derive benefit and how? But for us this is life itself. Our life, our blood is flowing. For an entire whole week, the politically free Internet and media showed: this is what reality looks like."[1]

Russian liberals are giddily following the event in Belarus, buoyed by the hope that the political change that appears to be occurring in Belarus can happen in Russia as well. Below are two examples of this train of thought. The first is by Professor Yevgeny Gontmacher, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, and the second is by Rosbalt columnist Sergey Shelin:


Belarusians demonstrate against Lukashenko in front of their country's embassy in Moscow (Source: Ria.ru)

For Gontmacher the events in Belarus prove that the arguments frequently advanced by Kremlin surrogates that Russian civilization is distinct from Europe and a composite of European and Asian values are bankrupt. He wrote:

"They constantly assure us from the loftiest platforms that Russia is not Europe. We, they say, have some kind of "special" values ​​that are in no way compatible with the rotten West. From this perspective, the events unfolding before our eyes in Belarus are curious.

"This country is obviously the closest to Russia in almost all parameters of social life, culture, history: the almost universal use of the Russian language, the common Soviet past, which is still alive in pieces, the absence of a border between our countries, and finally the Union State. "They have had Lukashenko for 26 years, and we have had Putin for 20 years with the prospect of extending this period to 36 years. Even Ukraine, that seemingly, is likewise a country close to us in all respects, from the beginning it is not that similar to Russia as is Belarus.

"And here we see how practically the entire active part of Belarusian society closed ranks against Lukashenko and his regime. And the 'core population' chose, and supported this impulse.

"What do the Belarusians want?

"First of all, respect from the authorities for the dignity of each individual person. This is basic value of precisely European civilization, built on the fact that the state serves people, and does not use them as cannon fodder or any other expendable material. All of European civilization's main institutions follow from this: human rights, real, not imitation democracy, decentralized power, the rule of law. So: the Belarusians want exactly this, although many of them cannot yet clearly formulate this. But the leaders, who will be nominated by society, will voice this and will be supported.

"And one more circumstance: the engines of the protest were 'millennials' - people who grew up during these 26 long years of Lukashenka’s rule. They are 25-40 years old, they did not live in the Soviet Union, but they constantly visit Poland and Lithuania. And sooner or later the aged, thoroughly Soviet Lukashenko turned out to be a man from another era. His desire to extend his reign for several more years through the so-called 'elections' became the trigger that revealed the situation. A new, finally post-Soviet generation of those who will lead Belarus is entering the political scene. And this is irreversible, you cannot trample upon demography.

"Now let's look at the Belarusian lessons for Russia:

  1. "There is no alternative to European civilization with its basic values for us as well. Of course, we are a very diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. But this is our advantage, which will allow us to look very worthy against the general European background

  2. "Demography is inexorable for Russia too. And we have actually formed that array of 'millennials', who are ready to take responsibility for the country.

"In order for the situation to be revealed, only a pretext is needed. the current events in Belarus make the appearance of this occasion really nearer."[2]


Yevgeny Gontamacher (Source: Polit.ru)

Sergey Shelin believes that the events in Belarus exploded some of political science's most hoary theories that had served as guidelines for the repressive policies of Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin. He commented on the situation:

"I cannot predict what will happen in Belarus tomorrow or in a week. I believe predictions are impossible...

"Quite normally, our experts-political scientist made their collapsible scientific predictions, because they consider it their professional duty to enlighten the public how the future will turn out, even at the risk of being far off the mark.

"Just ten days ago, most analysts pointed out that Lukashenko’s regime was too strong to be unraveled by some electoral failure. And now Russian experts are almost certain that the dictator has already fallen. Of course, the radical nature of this shift in understanding is explained not by some newly revealed scientific precepts, but by the changing direction of the wind.

"Every intellectual is a bit of a political scientist. That is, he knows the word 'elite' and is aware that dictatorships fall apart only if a schism in their 'elite' begins. And as long as the 'elite' is united, the people can be indignant as much as they want to. The leader will hold on anyway.

More knowledgeable intellectuals will add that grassroots organization is also needed to remove an autocrat...

"In light of these two 'scientifically-based' rationales, at the beginning of August the situation in Belarus looked completely hopeless for its people. Lukashenko’s ruling stratum was as solid as a granite slab, and did not show even the slightest signs of schism. And the masses lacked someone at the helm. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is not a leader, but a symbol. The “NEXTA live” offline Telegram channel cannot provide a substitute.

"What however is most important is that not only the intellectuals but also the leaders departed from these same erroneous although scientific conclusions both in Belarus as well as here.

"As Putin and Lukashenko are also 'political scientists', their understanding about how to organize a successful and safe government for autocratic rule are built on the same myths. "First, under no circumstance should one allow a repeat of perestroika, that is, the aforementioned schism of the 'elites'. And secondly, it is necessary to render 'color revolutions' (CR) impossible, that is, mass riots organized by opposition structures and presumably directed from abroad.

"For decades, both leaders have tirelessly labored to make 'perestroika' and CR completely unthinkable in the two countries.

"The monolithic nature of the “elite” was achieved by training, filtration, selective (and sometimes not so selective) repression and keeping it [the elite] in a state of permanent panic. And the prevention of CR was provided by painstaking identification and weeding out of any opposition infrastructure...

"Our unsophisticated autocrats failed to grasp that they are acting in a new reality that does not obey the old rules. Belarus and Russia are not the 'banana republics' of previous centuries. Educated communities that experienced the information revolution are starting to respond to the archaic bosses in an unconventional way.

"In Khabarovsk, even two months later, the successor to the arrested [former governor] Furgal was not accepted by the people and [his appointed successor] only partially performs his leadership functions. However, what is usually considered an organized opposition with an action program, offices and activists didn’t manifest itself there.

"And in Belarus, protests and strikes on an unprecedented scale happen as if by themselves in a manner unobserved by political science, without leaders...

"But it should be noted, just in case, that if the dictatorship really falls, the schism within the 'elites' will occur anyway, albeit during the last days of its existence. When the ship is clearly sinking, those seeking to escape from it will be falling over themselves. And the leaders of the masses at such moments materialize as if from nowhere.

"Our autocrats imagined that they’ve foreseen everything and wisely defended themselves against any problems that had frightened them in the past. That grandiose, malodorous and fatal conceit was an attempt to leave the peoples without a future. Now the peoples are making their response."


Sergey Shelin (Source: Dsnews.ua)

 

[1] Mk.ru, August 15, 2020.

[2] Echo.msk.ru, August 16, 2020.

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