View profile

The “What comes after the revolution?” Belarus edition

The “What comes after the revolution?” Belarus edition
By Weekly Focus (beta archive) • Issue #2 • View online
This newsletter was part of the beta version of n-ost’s Weekly Focus and originally published on August 26, 2020. 

Dear cross-border friends,
Something unexpected happened in August. After 26 years, it has suddenly become very clear that Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime cannot survive much longer, at least not in its current form.
People are openly demanding new elections and a change in the status quo. And as a majority now proudly and openly admit, they voted for Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, the candidate of change.
It’s hard to think about the future when you are still in the moment. Nevertheless, we thought it was a good time to imagine what might follow the revolution (or “revolutions”).
To put the protests in perspective, this week’s editorial team is formed by journalists from Belarus and a range of former Soviet republics who in the recent past had their own share of experiences with protests and regime changes.
🇧🇾 Everything was forever until it was no more
"You know, I cried today. I didn't believe this was possible. When you live in a dictatorship for 26 years, it seems forever. I can now imagine how my parents felt when the USSR fell apart." – Facebook post by Belarusian journalist Franak Viačorka (facebook.com/viachorka/posts/10157775114437169)
"You know, I cried today. I didn't believe this was possible. When you live in a dictatorship for 26 years, it seems forever. I can now imagine how my parents felt when the USSR fell apart." – Facebook post by Belarusian journalist Franak Viačorka (facebook.com/viachorka/posts/10157775114437169)
Only a few months ago, no one in Belarus would have dared to imagine that the situation in the country could so substantially improve. Today we are filled with surprise and some delight as we watch a phenomenon unfold that anthropologist Alexei Yurchak once described as “Everything was forever until it was no more”.
This miraculous change started when Lukashenka emerged as the only leader in Europe who officially denied the existence of the coronavirus. In response to the government’s negligence, over a thousand volunteers formed a quasi alternative ministry of health to provide assistance to hospitals all over the country. 
Next, several people who had never before been involved in politics announced their presidential bids. One of them, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, became a candidate only by accident – partly because the regime didn’t take her seriously as a contender.
Following the election, she even became the symbol but not the leader of the protest. The protests in Belarus are in fact leaderless. According to the research project “Voice of the streets”, people of all ages, professions and ideological preferences are participating in the protests, united in values, not political orientation.
The ultimate trigger for most of them was the violence used against the protesters from August 9 to 11 and the subsequent abuse and torture of the detainees.
Today, the general demands of the protesters still seem to be connected to the regime’s original sin: crying for fair elections, freedom for all political prisoners, an end to the violence, and ensuring that those responsible are held to account.
The protest still has no leaders and it seems like Belarusians no longer need them. The violent suppressions caused an unprecedented wave of self-organization. Medical professionals are providing psychological assistance, mechanics are repairing damaged cars for free and families are taking care of victims’ children. 
Suddenly, we see increasing levels of trust in a previously very distrustful society. A society engulfed in protest and not yet articulating a clear and positive vision for the future – but this is natural for a country where not so long ago everyone believed that Lukashenka would reign forever.
Yasia Karalevich-Kartel is an editor and co-founder of https://citydog.by/, a Minsk based digital lifestyle magazine with a focus on fostering a sense of identity, community, and civic engagement among its readers.
Yasia Karalevich-Kartel is an editor and co-founder of https://citydog.by/, a Minsk based digital lifestyle magazine with a focus on fostering a sense of identity, community, and civic engagement among its readers.
🇺🇦 Number of the week
In response to the abductions, beatings, and killing of peaceful protesters in Belarus, civil protests did not stop, but rather intensified. The Belarusians, who are fighting for fair elections and freedom from the dictatorial regime of Lukashenka, said: “We will not forget!” 
But, as the Ukrainian experience shows, remembering it is not enough to bring the guilty to justice. With time and enough propaganda, anyone’s memory can start to fail. And it will take years of work from a civil society, and immense political will, to put Lukashenka and his henchman in a paddy wagon.
Six years after the Maidan in 2013-2014, where 78 protesters were killed and around 2,000 people recognized as victims, the investigation into the revolution is still ongoing, in part due to resistance from beneficiaries of the old system.
The work of investigators was obstructed by their own leadership and courts freed suspects from arrest so they could escape to Russia or to Crimea, the Ukrainian territory seized by Russia in 2014. 
Maidan lawyers began a hunger strike to ensure that the probe would continue and launched further protests when their cases were in danger of falling into the hands of the former lawyer of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych.
Up until today, out of the 445 people who were reported as suspects – among them high-ranking officials and law enforcement officers – only 44 have been officially convicted.
Tatiana Kozak is a Ukrainian journalist and editor at graty.me, a media focused on criminal justice reporting.
Tatiana Kozak is a Ukrainian journalist and editor at graty.me, a media focused on criminal justice reporting.
🇦🇲 Revolution is not a slow-burner
Republic Square, Yerevan. Protesters gather during the Armenian "Velvet Revolution" in 2018. Photo: Vardan Azatyan
Republic Square, Yerevan. Protesters gather during the Armenian "Velvet Revolution" in 2018. Photo: Vardan Azatyan
While a revolution may burn brightly as it starts, the warmth it leaves behind is brief. For a short historical moment, it makes social antagonisms disappear, strangers start to look at each other as family and the impossible becomes possible. It is a period too magical to miss.
No wonder Armenians are following the Belarusian protests with envy; it reminds them of their own non-violent “Velvet Revolution” of 2018.
Why envy? New Belarus is a dream, but new Armenia is a reality. We got rid of Serz Sargsyan, an usurper with more than a passing resemblance to Lukashenka. But societal changes didn’t happen as quickly as we hoped and a lot of opportunities were missed.
Armenian students haven’t achieved educational reform, striking workers suffer poor working conditions, flat tax reforms are further deepening economic inequality, and natural resources continue to be exploited without scrutiny.
We truly achieved a lot – but not enough. Maybe we didn’t keep the fire going long enough. We didn’t define our dreams beyond democratic elections and although we flooded the streets, parks, and squares, we never dared to be specific about our goals.
Of course, drawing parallels between the two countries can be misleading, but revolutionary energy is surely the same everywhere. Indeed, if Belarusians march in the streets of Minsk now, they are at the right moment to imagine what the new Belarus should look like.
While the workers shout “ukhodi” (“go away”) to Lukashenka, it’s also time to discuss the future of the factories. What kind of health care or military reform do you want? Should the constitution be changed? 
Time is working against the revolution: the beneficiaries of the old system will try to divide society again by spreading hate and manipulation when the revolutionary momentum is gone.
It’s hard to discuss these issues while fellow citizens are being tortured and killed, but now is the moment when Belarusians should start thinking about their concrete plans for the future.
Knar Khudoyan is a Yerevan based journalist focused on Armenian politics. She works for the Media Initiatives Center https://mediainitiatives.am/.
Knar Khudoyan is a Yerevan based journalist focused on Armenian politics. She works for the Media Initiatives Center https://mediainitiatives.am/.
🇬🇪 Ideas not persons!
In 2003, during Georgia’s “Rose Revolution”, people demanded the resignation of president Eduard Shevardnadze – a symbol of corruption, inequality, injustice; as well as constant power cuts.
Unfortunately, the protests remained focused on his person, not the system. Shortly after, Mikheil Saakashvili, one of the leaders of the “revolution”, came to power with a stunning 96% electoral support. But his victory would be followed by immense disappointment.
His “revolutionary” government initiated the total deregulation of the market and, as a result, we experienced a growing economy along with increasing inequality.
Yes, the government successfully eliminated low-level corruption, built roads, renovated building facades and fixed electricity problems. But people didn’t live in a socially just state, the judicial system didn’t improve, and the retirement system still kept pensioners from living with dignity.
The remaining defects of the system became most visible in 2012, when media outlets showed footage of torture, abuse and rape in the prison system. The same evening, people went to the streets demanding change.
In a matter of two weeks, Saakashvili was replaced by a new “messiah” – multibillionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. However, media coverage shows that the police system remained violent.
In order for the Belarusian resistance to succeed, it needs to focus on the new system people want to live in, rather than on a single person who they hope will redeem them.
Basti Mgaloblishvili is a journalist at the social and political online platform https://publika.ge/.
Basti Mgaloblishvili is a journalist at the social and political online platform https://publika.ge/.
🇲🇩 Don’t fall for the geopolitical narrative
Protestester in the main square in Chisinau, January 2016. The two puppets in the front are part of the miniature trains for children that are driving along the square during winter holidays. Photo: Maxim Andreev (newsmaker.md)
Protestester in the main square in Chisinau, January 2016. The two puppets in the front are part of the miniature trains for children that are driving along the square during winter holidays. Photo: Maxim Andreev (newsmaker.md)
Moldova’s story is an example of how crucial it is to understand ways in which geopolitical considerations can be manipulated to divide a nation: In 2009, after years of Communist party rule, a majority of Moldovans voted “pro-European” parties into the parliament for the first time. 
But over the next 10 years – under the signboard of “eurointegration” – the country was captured by a corrupt bunch. They, with oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc leading the way, promised to secure the country from Russian influence. 
As part of this effort Moldova restricted the transmission of Russian news, sent Russian diplomats out of the country and declared Russian deputy-prime-minister Dmitry Rogozin persona non grata – all while stealing a billion Euros from the state budget and repressing both civil society and the opposition. 
Although Moldova staggered from one protest to another from 2015 to 2019, the opposition remained divided on the question of “friends and enemies”.
Plahotniuck exploited this situation for years and his media holding continued to distract society by fueling fears of an imminent Russian threat, showing that divided societies with no common agenda have no power and no voice. 
Even after Plahotniuck fled the country in 2019, Moldovan society is still sharply split between “pro-Europeans” and “pro-Russians”. And this year’s presidential electoral campaign is again building on these geopolitical myths.
Lukashenka is already framing the protests as being funded by the West, and claims that their aim is to break Belarus away from Russia.
If the protesters in Belarus ignore this, and stay focused on forming a real agenda for the future, it will be a sign of hope for Moldova, as well. And also a lesson to learn from.
Olya Gnatkova is a Moldovan journalist and editor of the independent media https://newsmaker.md/ with a focus on human rights, social issues, and culture.
Olya Gnatkova is a Moldovan journalist and editor of the independent media https://newsmaker.md/ with a focus on human rights, social issues, and culture.
This week’s coordinating editors: Krisztian Simon and Christian-Zsolt Varga.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Weekly Focus (beta archive)

This is an archive of the beta phase that was produced between August and December 2020. Find our official newsletter here: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/weeklyfocus

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue