By Paul Goble
Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s latest round of repressive actions, combined with a “middling” economic performance, have been just enough to keep Belarusians from returning to demonstrate on the anniversary of Chernobyl and on May Day despite predictions to the contrary by leaders of the earlier anti-vagrant law protests.
According to Andrey Yegorov, the new repressive acts in combination with this “middling” economic performance have been just enough for the authorities to “receive middling loyalty” from the population (thinktanks.by/publication/2017/05/02/andrey-egorov-problema-sotsialnoy-napryazhennosti-segodnya-ne-reshena.html).
The protests in February and March, the director of the Center for European Transformation says, reflected both the seasonal nature of Belarusian actions – they usually take place in the early spring or early fall – and a specific and absurdly unjust action by the Lukashenka regime.
In March, he continues, “repressions – both massive with regard to participants and targeted toward the leaders of the opposition ended the mass quality of protests. The authorities were able to present street actions in the traditional way, that is, to have people again associate them with the opposition and with repression” rather than with issues close to their hearts.
“The harsh actions of the militia raised the bar for participation in actions, and new leaders have not appeared, Yegorov says. As a result, the largest wave of demonstrations in Belarus for five years has at least for a time passed, and that is likely to be true for some time even if the economy gets worse, as long as the powers don’t do something stupid.
It is difficult, he continues, to specify when the social contract between a regime and its population will snap. It may continue for a long time despite a deterioration in the economy that would seem certain to provoke it. What is needed is “a trigger,” and that is something the regime typically supplies by choosing to do something outrageous as with the anti-vagrancy decree.
According to Yegorov, a new trigger could be the bankruptcy of an enterprise or government cutbacks or taxes that affect a large number of people. But “if such events don’t occur, protest activity may rise in periods of traditional increases” – the spring and fall – and decline to almost nothing otherwise for a long time to come.
It is common ground, the scholar says, that “the Belarusian economy is stagnating, but the average pay of 300 to 350 US dollars a month in equivalent terms allows people to survive in a more or less middling way. For that middling life,” Yegorov continues, the people are prepared to show “middling loyalty,” not genuine support but also not clear opposition.