Belarusians Expected a Maidan but Instead have a Revolution, Kagarlitsky Says

Belarus city file photo, adapted from image at state.gov

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, August 19, 2020)

Belarusians expected a Maidan like in Ukraine with a dispute about falsification of election results leading to the ouster of a dictator; but what has occurred, as a result of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s earlier successes and recent failures, is the beginning of a revolution with many more far-reaching consequences, Boris Kagarlitsky says.

In a lengthy interview with Kazan’s Business-Gazeta, the Russian political analyst says that “Lukashenka like many dictators who are first were progressive and did something useful for the development of society ended by becoming a hostage of his own success” (business-gazeta.ru/article/478217).

Map of Belarus and Environs, adapted from images at cia.govBecause he worked to preserve heavy industry, Lukashenka now faces a genuine labor movement, something the rulers of Russia and Ukraine who did not take the same steps do not – and as a result, protests against him have spread to more groups more quickly than has been the case in the other two Slavic countries.

Lukashenka also changed Belarusian society in another way that has come back to haunt him. Two decades ago, the cities and the countryside were two different worlds. But he has modernized the countryside in ways that now make it more like Minsk and other cities – and thus those on whom he thought he could count are no longer there.

Alyaksandr Lukeshenko file photo, adapted from image at usembassy.govIn recent months, the Belarusian leader has made one mistake after another. He held elections rather than cancelling them, he allowed someone to run against him the entire opposition could agree to support because she was no threat, he massively falsified the elections, and he has been half-hearted, at least so far, in using repression against the crowds.

Lukashenka will be ousted either by those around him if they can ever agree to do so or by the people in the streets who will then prove less united than many now think, Kagarlitsky says. Instead, there will soon be new divisions between the liberals in the Minsk demonstrations and the nationalists elsewhere. That will define the next steps in the revolution.

The Belarusian liberals expected a Maidan but they are now in the midst of a revolution, he argues. “A Maidan is a development which presupposes the use of small groups of activists who create the image of a popular protest.” But a revolution involves more people in more places and evolves with time as alliances change.

Those who want Lukashenka out now will likely be at each other’s throats in the future.

Kagarlitsky suggests that “the siloviki and senior bureaucrats will remove Lukashenka from power. How long will this take? From several days to a few months, but this will happen.” If the people do it, they will form councils and take power directly. But what this means is that once Lukashenka is gone, then the revolution will really take off.

A Maidan ends with the departure of a dictator. But a revolution is exactly the reverse: “When the dictator leaves, everything begins in earnest.” New leaders emerge and movements unite and divide with ever more radical ideas emerging. And thus it will last several years and be open-ended as far as its current participants are concerned.

Russians, both officials and the population, are watching Belarus for this reason among others, Kagarlitsky continues. As early as the September 13 elections, Russians could face similar challenges and perhaps offer similar responses, with massive falsifications on one side and massive protests on the other.

The Kremlin doesn’t know quite what to do. It is in “a panic” about both Belarus and Russia as well. What is important to keep in mind is that Belarus at least will not develop in the same way Ukraine has either on its own or because of some possible involvement by the Russian government.

Compared to Ukraine, “Belarus is socially, culturally and structurally a completely different country. There is no comparable division between west and east, there is no language problem as there is in Ukraine, there is no pressure on Russian, there is a different social structure.”

“By its social structure,” in fact, “Belarus is closer to the Donbass” than to Ukraine as a whole. It is “much less agrarian and more urbanized and industrialized.” Consequently, to expect things to develop as they have in Ukraine is to ignore all these realities, the Russian analyst says.

The Belarusian revolution will continue for several years, Kagarlitsky continues. He says that he thinks clashes between the workers and the liberal opposition will be inevitable. Hopefully this will be peaceful and via elections; but other outcomes are certainly possible – and everyone should be alert to that.

[featured images are file photos]
[article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/belarusians-expected-maidan-but-instead.html]