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  Silent revolution in Belarus: inanticipation of changes

Liudmila Kazak
2011 09 28

The actions of national authorities which resulted in the devaluation of Belorussian ruble and sharp jump of prices brought the most active citizens into the streets where they arranged a new form of protest campaigns. No slogans, no banners against the current regime, and strictly non-verbal gatherings: just clap, every two or three minutes. The first protest campaign organized by a group of activists took place on 1 June via the social networks VKontakte and Facebook, but then law enforcement institutions seemed not to notice that. Later gatherings were held every Wednesday, at 7 p.m. in the biggest and smaller Belorussian cities: people simply gathered together and expressed their opposition by clapping. Many of them were seen being detained.

On 29 June, at 7 p.m. about 1500 people took part in the protest campaign in the October Square in Minsk. In order to block the silent protests, the city authorities decided to organize a disco for youth. Police consolidated its forces by attracting the volunteers. According to the information in social networks, teachers required students to spend the evening in the square’s disco. Although the campaigns were organized every Wednesday, everybody knew that the main protest will be held on 3 July, on the Independence Day.  Although the participants were well prepared, they didn’t manage “clap off” Lukashenka. Fragmented groups stood far away from the tribune, close to the square entrance, and police officers practically blocked the “suspicious” youth. Belorussian authorities took all possible measures, including the tear gas, to disperse protest. The police chief Igor Yevseyev announced that citizens would not be punished for applauding soldiers or veterans. It was the first time when citizens were afraid to applaud even during president’s speech.

Youth and active internet users are the main participants of the silent protests. Viacheslav Dianov, the administrator of the Internet community „Revolution throuth the Social Networks“, said that one of the goals of these campaigns is to attract more working-class people since they are the basis of the society. According to him, workers will go to streets as soon as they run out of money, and that will be the beginning of the major protest campaign (according to forecasts, it‘ll happen this autumn). According to D.Melyancov from the Belorussian Strategic Research Institute, the economic situation of the country is not too bad to expect the support of the working-class. We must not also forget other factors: a huge feeling of fear and the ability of Belorussians to survive under any circumstances. Besides, many of them still have some savings. He also said that future events will depend on actions of Belorussian authorities in stabilizing the country‘s economy. According to the professor of sociology Oleg Manayev, a sudden economic downturn in spring and summer determined the negative attitude of citizens toward the authorities, and added that „today three out of four citizens suffer financial loss and half of them say that situation will even get worser“.  Lauras Bielinis, a Lithuanian political scientist called the events in Belarus „the immanent maturity of alienation of Lukashenka‘s regime“ and said that changes in the country are the result of the psychological perception of the current regime.  According to Lauras Bielinis, people don‘t believe that those in power can change the economic situation, they are not sure about their jobs and are afraid of unemployment, whereas the authorities respond to the above protest campaigns traditionally: they try to „freeze“ the situation.

Today protest campaigns have a new format, but this has nothing to do with „silence“. These are spontaneous social movements of citizens who, differently from the supporters of opposition, were  not active formerly. According to the political scientist K.Ohman from the Germany-based Bertelsmann Foundation, this is the most dangerous campaign for  Lukashenka‘s regime. The expert of this foundation I.Petz said that now protests have acquired a new quality and cover not only Minsk but also the majority of province towns and settlements. Moreover, besides the educated young people protests are attended by the middle class people whose standard of life has been increasing before the financial crisis.

Professor Oleg Manayev reminds that similar situation in Belarus was in spring of 2002 when Lukashenka‘s raitings dropped down to 26 percent after elections, and when members of the opposition experienced certain euphoria. But then Belorussian authorities managed to stabilize the economy with the help of Russian subsidies, and reduced dissatisfaction of citizens.

Thus, the future of Belarus depends on the national authorities, i.e. on their ability to improve the economy and standard of life of its citizens. In this situation there are two possible scenarios. The first: if A.Lukashenka manages to fill the economic gap, upheavals will slow down. The second: if this is not the case, ordinary citizens might go to streets without any political campaigns. K.Ohman anticipates the second scenario and says that „it will be a hot autumn in Belarus“. According to him, Lukashenka‘s regime „has practically come to an end“. This explains such a fierce response of the authorities toward the silent protests.

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