Commentary  Opinion: Long Live Belarus

“A peaceful revolution is taking place […] It is neither a pro-Russian nor anti-Russian revolution. It is neither an anti-European Union nor a pro-European Union revolution,” said Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in her address to the European Parliament earlier this August.


The world is witnessing unprecedented protests in Belarus since the disputed election in early August. People young and old are out in the streets protesting nearly three decades of political repression and police brutality, and the overwhelming consensus from the top of the opposition leadership down to average college students is this: Belarusians are going to fight till the end, autonomously, freely, and peacefully.

However, with the political dynamic in Belarus now all but stalled, the outlook of the movement is complicated. The opposition against contested “President” Alexander Lukashenko has seemingly won the hearts and minds of many Belarusians, but the reality is that Lukashenko has continued to exert decisive control over the state apparatus with plenty of tanks and riot gear and thousands of trained security officials. He is not giving up his power easily. As many geopolitics experts have anticipated, at this point, an extended standstill between Lukashenko and the opposition is all but certain.

No one knows for certain what is going to happen to Belarus three months from now or three years from now. Will it be like Ukraine and enter into a prolonged geopolitical dispute? Will Russia intervene? Is it going on a path of irrevocable Europeanization? Will Lukashenko forfeit his power or will he carry on?

“A peaceful revolution is taking place […] It is neither a pro-Russian nor anti-Russian revolution. It is neither an anti-European Union nor a pro-European Union revolution,” said Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in her address to the European Parliament earlier this August.

For a better picture, I decided to hear from people who are living in Belarus directly.

One student who requested to appear under the name Lyubov makes it very clear that she is against Europeanization or Westernization, at least not through a brutal revolution. She then asks me, “Would you want to see a civil war happening in your country?”

Later, she goes to clarify that, “Personally, yes, shifting to Europe is much better than staying in a post-soviet country… For the younger generation it will be easy, but for boomers.. It will be kind of an insult.”

Another student who chooses to go by the name Kostya says that Lukashenko, with his autocracy, is leading the country in the wrong direction. “As far as I know, more than 80% of people I know want to change the government.”

When I asked about the public’s opinions on Tikhanovskaya, the opposition’s presidential candidate, he says “it depends on the person.”

Kostya is also against violent revolution. He believes that what young people like him really need, for the time being, are jobs and economic opportunities, not regime change through bloodshed.

“I want to see Tsepkalo (a Belarusian entrepreneur and diplomat) lead the country in creating a silicon valley right here in Belarus, bringing jobs and reviving the economy,” says Kostya in his text message.

For the anti-Lukashenko movement in Belarus, peaceful, non-violent actions as a strategy is not only necessary – most importantly, it can be effective. 

A similar sentiment is expressed by Tikhanovskaya in her address to the European Parliament earlier this August. “A peaceful revolution is taking place […] It is neither a pro-Russian nor anti-Russian revolution. It is neither an anti-European Union nor a pro-European Union revolution.”

Being sandwiched in between Russia and the European Union, Belarus is in a particularly precarious position.  On one hand, people want Lukashenko out; On the other, a violent regime change will likely open the door to uninvited foreign interventions.

For the anti-Lukashenko movement in Belarus, peaceful, non-violent actions as a strategy is not only necessary most importantly, it can be effective.

Even though the sixth-term president is supported by Belarusian security forces as of now, some experts have predicted that in an optimistic scenario, the population continues to exert pressure on Lukashenko; then, some members of the law enforcement will defect, prompting his inner circle of security officials to crumble, leading to his eventual downfall.

Ideological turf wars do not lead to a free and prosperous future, but peaceful actions of today can. “The end is inherent in the means. Everything we do is infused with the consciousness with which we do it. Violence will only create more violence. Only peace will create more peace,” says Marianne Williamson, the first Belarusian-American U.S. presidential candidate, in a freestanding tweet.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the article belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect those of The McGill Daily editorial board.

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