By RFE RL
By Michael Scollon*
(RFE/RL) — After methodically working to bring about political change with more than eight weeks of nonviolent protests, Belarusians woke up to find their fellow postelection demonstrators in Kyrgyzstan got what they wanted in just a few hours.
Kyrgyz outraged by the official parliamentary election results were quick to the draw in using a measure of force to get across the message that they believed the October 4 vote was rigged against the opposition, storming the parliament building and headquarters, ransacking the presidential office, and freeing figures they consider political prisoners within hours of the start of protests. Before long, electoral officials had annulled the results of the vote and announced plans for a repeat election, and the country’s leadership was in hiding.
Contrast that to Belarus, where people took to the streets en masse on August 9 after it became apparent that Alyaksandr Lukashenka would be named the winner of yet another presidential election despite clear signs that the opposition had strong popular support. Two months later, in the face of unrelenting but peaceful protests, Lukashenka has vowed not to stand down, has secretly sworn himself back into office, and has used extreme force against demonstrators.
“In one day, they managed to change the political leadership in Kyrgyzstan,” Paval Latushka, a member of the Belarusian opposition Coordination Council that is tasked with paving the way for a smooth transition from Lukashenka, told Current Time. “I think that many Belarusians look at this — they are probably surprised by this and are thinking about it.”
’60 Days, And What Do We Have?’
Many Belarusians have shown that they are indeed thinking about it, but while some may envy the Kyrgyz protesters’ achievement, others are pointing to stark differences between the situation in the two countries and calling for a continuation on their current path of nonviolent resistance.
Writing on Telegram-based “courtyard chat” channels that have emerged as a means for people to anonymously discuss ongoing demonstrations against Lukashenka, some were clearly reconsidering the merits of their long-game approach.
One contributor on the “Minsk: What kind of people, what kind of town” group addressed the elephant in the room.
“Revolution in Belarus: CC [Coordination Council], [opposition leader Svyatlana] Tsikhanouskaya, the support of the West, Nexta, strikes, marches, flowers, cakes, and ‘clever’ intrigues. The result? [Government forces] continue to kill people, endless arguments, and 60 days have passed,” the contributor wrote.
“The revolution in Kyrgyzstan?: the people came out and from the first day they beat the shit out of everyone,” the contributor continued. “The result? six hours, the police don’t understand what hit them, and the president hopes to hold out until morning.”
‘We Are Not Kyrgyzstan’
But others on the thread were undeterred. Some noted that presidents were driven from power in Kyrgyzstan by protests in 2005 and 2010.
“To anyone who harbors bright illusions about Kyrgyzstan. They have had their third revolution in 15 years. Experience teaches them nothing. We have a more ambitious process,” wrote a contributor identified as VP, who said the Belarusian protests followed the course of tolerance and discourse set out by the liberal English philosopher John Locke. “We are on our way with Locke. Guys — they’ll write textbooks about us later. Long live Belarus!”
Nexta, the Poland-based opposition media outlet referred to in the chat, tweeted that there was “a small but crucial difference between the situation in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan.” In Kyrgyzstan, Nexta wrote, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov “ordered the security forces not to open fire and not to shed blood.”
There are other notable differences between the two former Soviet republics, including that ousting leaders in Kyrgyzstan is not exactly new; the Central Asian state features multiple opposition alternatives, whereas Belarus has been under Lukashenka’s rule for nearly three decades; and the influence of ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan.
Latushka, a former diplomat and culture minister who has joined the opposition, addressed what he described as the two countries’ unique characteristics in his video interview with Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
He said he had seen social-media posts that said that “we, the Kyrgyz, are quick people.” While stressing that he was not characterizing Kyrgyz as violent, he said that he would alter that phrase for his country to “we, the Belarusians, are peaceful people.”
“We say to the authorities again and again: we will never get tired of this [peaceful protests],” Latushka said. “It is necessary to negotiate peacefully. The authorities have no legitimacy either in Belarus or outside of Belarus. It’s a road to nowhere, a dead end.”
With additional reporting by Current Time
- Michael Scollon is a senior correspondent in RFE/RL’s Central Newsroom in Prague.