By Paul Goble
November 7, the anniversary of the what the communists called the Great October Socialist Revolution that brought Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power and led to the formation of the Soviet Union, used to be the most important state holiday in the USSR and the socialist bloc.
With the collapse of communism, almost everything about it has changed. Most former Soviet republics have made it a day of memory. And Russia too has not celebrated it since 2004, although Vladimir Putin in the best hybrid tradition this year sponsored a march recalling the 1941 event when German forces were at the gates of Moscow (polit.ru/article/2016/11/07/parades/ and stoletie.ru/na_pervuiu_polosu/legendarnomu_paradu_1941-go__75_let_311.htm).
Some communist loyalists nonetheless organized marches and meetings in many places across the Russian Federation and elsewhere, but only in three places – Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and the breakaway republic of Transdniestria – was it marked as a state holiday. The situation in Belarus is especially instructive of current attitudes and the prospects for the holiday.
In a commentary for Russia’s Lenta news agency, Minsk writer Pavel Yurintsev argues that for both officials and the population of Belarus, the November 7 commemorations remain “a holiday by habit” rather than any special commitment to Bolshevism or the glorious Soviet past (lenta.ru/articles/2016/11/07/revolution/).
He quotes Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s observation that “if people are accustomed to mark this holiday, then there is no reason to do away with it.”
But if the holiday continues in much the same form – military parades and so on – as in Soviet times, the messages have been changed. Now the country’s leaders stress that they mark this anniversary because the revolution opened the way to the acquisition of Belarusian statehood rather than to the building of communism.
That shift has its roots in the 1990s, Yurintsev continues, when Belarusians turned to Lukashenka because he promised a return to the stability of Soviet times along as a basis for Belarusian patriotism. He restored soviet symbols and saw no reason not to exploit the holidays of the past to solidify his position.
However, with the passing of the generation that grew up in Soviet times and the rise of a generation that came of age only after the end of the 1980s, that is changing, and Lukashenka and his regime are reacting accordingly, the Lenta journalist says. The rising generation is more Belarusian and less Soviet than its predecessors, and the regime knows that.
As a result, he continues, Lukashenka has made “a transition from demagogy around the common Soviet past to demagogy around the uniqueness of the Belarusian ethnos,” and the issue of the continuation of the November 7 holiday has become ever more openly discussed and debated in Minsk.
This year, one politician allied with the government called for doing away with the event and in its place offering a more Belarusian-centered holiday (interfax.by/news/belarus/1215317). That is likely to happen soon, Yurintssev says, and thus “Belarusians will make yet another step to say farewell” to what had been the common Soviet past.
Another indication of the way the winds are blowing in Belarus also occurred today: opposition figures held a demonstration in front of the Belarusian KGB to demand that the country stop commemorating the Great October Socialist Revolution because of that event’s criminal consequences (regnum.ru/news/polit/2202289.html).