By Paul Goble
The Lukashenka regime, “like many other post-Soviet authoritarian” systems, rests “not on the total support of the citizens but rather on their total indifference to what is taking place in their own country,” an indifference which the Belarusian leader like Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovich in 2013 has violated, Vitaly Portnikov says.
As a result, the Ukrainian analyst says, those who have come out into the streets of Minsk, Homel, Mohylev, and Vitebsk are “not the usual Belarusian opposition,” but rather the Belarusian people who “had never been especially interested in politics” and viewed Lukashenka and his regime as something to be endured (graniru.org/opinion/portnikov/m.259359.html).
Now, because of Lukashenka’s desperation to find money for his regime given that Moscow is no longer supplying it and no one else is likely to, the Belarusian dictator has awakened the population from its lethargy. And as was the case in Ukraine four years ago, it is the people in the form of a nation rather than the opposition that is now in a position to make history.
Neither Lukashenka nor most commentators appear alive to this possibility preferring instead to focus on elites, either within the country or abroad, and dismissing the possibility that ordinary Belarusians are now the prime movers in this drama.
Thus, Lukashenka has moved to arrest and otherwise harass his more well-known political opponents, and many analysts have focused on the role that Russian agents – or more rarely Ukrainians or the West – may be playing. There is just enough evidence of such activity that it seems plausible to many, especially given the dismissive attitude to Belarusians.
But each weekend is bringing fresh evidence that none of these supposed organizers is playing the role many have expected or assumed is necessary given the remarkable passivity of the Belarusian population in the past – and even more compelling evidence that the Belarusian people have now entered history as actors.
Slow to anger and cautious in accepting anyone from the outside of their local communities as a leader, the Belarusian people like the Ukrainians at the time of the Maidan are taking their fate into their own hands. One can only admire this genuine popular rising and hope it will quickly be successful against a brutal and increasingly out-of-touch dictator.
And one can also hope for something else: a recognition by Russians and people in the West that the Belarusians are not the backward and passive people outsiders portray them as being and instead more committed to the values of democracy and popular rule that others talk a lot about but don’t always practice.