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The "Unfriendly" Dictator of Belarus

With the Ryanair flight ordered to land and the arrest of a right-wing opposition figure, President Alexander Lukashenko became enemy #2 of the West (after Putin, of course). Western hypocrisy and Russophobia doesn’t make Lukashenko “anti-imperialist,” any less brutal, and certainly not socialist. Paul Jay is joined by Polish journalist Malgorzata Kulbaczewskawho and Bulgarian journalist Boyan Stanislavski for a nuanced and deeper analysis of this volatile region.

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget the donate button and subscribe and share and all the buttons. We’ll be back in just a few seconds to talk about Belarus.

On May twenty third, Ryanair Flight 4978 was a regularly scheduled international passenger flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania. While in Belarusian airspace, it was diverted by the Belarusian government to Minsk National Airport, where two of its passengers, Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were arrested by authorities, apparently on the orders of the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. The flight was escorted to Minsk by a Belarusian fighter jet under the pretense of a bomb threat. The act was denounced by the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, NATO, and some civil aviation authorities as an act of air piracy and state terrorism, a violation of international law, including the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.

The Western media hit the roof, denouncing Lukashenko as an authoritarian pro-Russian dictator who should be isolated as an international pariah. So just who is Lukashenko and why is he now enemy number one? OK, number two, after Putin. For starters, Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It’s bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. It has a population of around nine point three million. During the days of the Soviet Union, it was an industrial powerhouse.

Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, which was considered the last free election to have been held. He’s been accused of many human rights violations, including a report issued on September 1st, 2020 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that declared that its experts had received reports of 450 documented cases of torture and ill treatment of people who were arrested during the protests following the presidential election. The experts also received reports of violence against women and children, including sexual abuse, rape, and assault with rubber batons. There seems little doubt that Lukashenko is a brutal, authoritarian dictator, to use a phrase the Western media prefers. But why does Europe and the United States get so worked up over his abuses when so many other such regimes are considered allies?

Now joining us to answer this question is Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat. She’s deputy editor of the Polish left wing website Strajk and she’s a journalist for Trybuna Daily and is an expert in Eastern European politics and the modern history of Russia. She’s now preparing her PhD thesis on the Catholic Orthodox relations in the Russian Empire. Also joining us is Boyan Stanislavski, a Bulgarian and Polish activist, journalist, editor, and publisher. In the late 90s, he was active in the Polish left and later in the labor movement, particularly in the Polish Labor Federation, the All Poland Trade Union Alliance. And since 2012, he’s been editor in chief of its magazine. He’s a contributor at Baricada (or Barricade) and he’s also a Polish correspondent for the Bulgarian National Radio.

So Małgorzata, start with kind of the bigger geopolitical picture and then we’ll get more into the domestic issues of Belarus and regional politics. But the question again is: Why are they making such an issue of Lukashenko when we’ve seen things like this, including even bringing down airplanes, and it hasn’t caused such an uproar in the past?

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

Well, Paul, thank you for having me on the show. Thank you for inviting me here. And as for the question, the question is absolutely justified as we hear horrific news similar to that which came from Belarus, all over the world, but I think that the answer is very simple. Lukashenko’s Belarus is in Eastern Europe. It is the only state in the northern part of Eastern Europe that is not yet an ally, if not a vassal, of the United States. Belarus under Lukashenko has been conducting its own foreign policy regarding Russia and the West, balancing possible profits from being associated with the Russian Federation and cutting ties with the European Union. But I definitely think that Belarus is not a satellite in the way the Baltic states are or as Ukraine has become. It is definitely not what Lukashenko wants. So a democratic opposition has been supported for over a decade by neighboring countries of Belarus, who, for both historical and very current geopolitical reasons, want to see another government in Belarus. So Lukashenko is steering towards better relations with Russia, but what he definitely wants is to keep the power for himself and not to make, as I said, his country yet another satellite of the United States. Why is there so much interest in denouncing his actions and criticizing him for being undemocratic and why is the western media are so concerned with the fate of Roman Protasevich and other Belarusian protesters? Well, I’m not going to say that Alexander Lukashenko is a great guy and that we should look to Belarus as an example to follow. I don’t think he is. He came to power in 1994, as you said, representing the hope of Belarusians to not share the fate of their neighbors, which were badly hit by the neoliberal transformation started after the fall of the Soviet Union. Lukashenko has ruled for over 20 years and I would risk saying that he became quite demoralized after being at the head of the country for so long. And so right now, he’s also fighting to survive and keep ruling Belarus. He really doesn’t imagine his future outside of the country or not being the president of Belarus. I know that some left wing commentators even think he might be moving towards a kind of socialist state. Well, he is definitely not. But nevertheless, we must say that he is trying to keep his state independent of western influence and until until last year he tried keep balancing between Russia and the West. And this is not something the United States or the European Union would like. They wanted another Ukrainian Belarus. They wanted the country to steer definitely in the western direction, which would also mean the end of Lukashenko’s rule, something to which he would not easily agree.

Paul Jay

When you look at the situation that gets triggered by the forced landing of the Ryanair airplane, it seems to me you have to parse this. There’s the hypocrisy of the West. As we know, the Americans actually even forced down a plane with Evo Morales looking for Snowden.

Boyan Stanislavski

They actually ordered the Austrians to do that for them. So the Austrians acted on the behalf of the Americans, so it’s a cascading kind of thing.

Paul Jay

Cascading hypocrisy.

But also Lukashenko is, as far as I can understand, I haven’t been there and you guys are a lot closer to the situation, but as far as I get it, he is a brutal dictator. Most of what he’s accused of sounds legitimate, so you kind of have to separate the issues. There’s a right of the people of Belarus to resist against the reactionary regime. On the other hand, there’s the geopolitics and the role of the West in manipulating these struggles.

Boyan Stanislavski

Yeah, you’re totally right. I think that this is the problem that I have with the West and with its foreign policy, particularly with Washington’s foreign policy, because there’s this absolutely justifiable grief from the part of the Belarusian population that wants to protest against Lukashenko. And I think that the reasons and the premises for that protest were absolutely genuine. The point is only that you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. In Poland, in Belarus, in Russia, in France, in the United States, in Canada there is one reason after another for protests, for mass mobilizations and we can talk about it until, to use the American expression, until the cows come home. And there are problems everywhere. I’m totally for opposing regimes, brutal regimes, those that use repression, state repression, violence against their own citizens. And this is the case in Belarus, but this is also the case in France and this has been the case in France for the last three years. And I got to tell you that I hate these kinds of comparisons, but still, Lukashenko, brutal as he might be and brutal as he is, the brutalization of the protesters never went to the extent of what we observed in France.

So I think we really have to have a sense of proportion when we want to discuss issues like this. And of course, I do believe in the right of the citizens to defend themselves against repression or to even defend their positions that the powers that be don’t want to consider. But there is an element here that we kind of just ignore, which is the Western hand in the whole of it. And when you look at this guy, Protasevich, he makes the impression of being like a classical case of a regime change agent. He’s been one of the founders, if I remember correctly, Małgorzata please correct me if I’m wrong, of the next Telegram channel and a kind of video channel linked to that which is based out of Poland. And they actually apprehended him during his trip from Athens to Lithuania. No one’s talking about what he was actually doing in Athens. And he was participating in the so-called Delphi Forum together with the former ambassador of the United States in Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. And Geoffrey Pyatt, I’m not sure whether people in America or internationally are actually familiar with this person, but he’s a very important American bureaucrat and he’s not just a hawk. He’s a guy who wants to take down Russia. This is his mission. This is his obsession maybe. So he met with this guy over there and I guess, and this is just my speculation, I don’t have any evidence for this, but I think that the Belarusians might have suspected that he was carrying something from Pyatt or from other people like Pyatt that he met in Athens to Vilnius, where the star of the Belarusian opposition, Tikhanovskaya, resides. And they wanted to know what that something is.

So I’m not sure whether they did actually find anything or not. But one thing is certain, they made him sing. And once he was put in prison, judging by everything I read in the Russian and Belarusian media, it looks like he gave them everything. Like all the sponsors, all the connections, all the contacts. And then, of course, they made him go on the Belarusian TV and say all those weird things, which was a totally North Korean standard. But this seems to have been on the part of Lukashenko and his regime, a very clever move. It reminds me actually of what happened in Russia in the beginning of the 21st century when Putin was scratching his head wondering, “what’s going on here?” Not being able to actually identify the players, the international players and the internal proxies of those international players. So one day he actually ordered the special task force in his Secret Service or the police to break into the headquarters of the Russian Open Society Foundation. I can’t remember exactly what year it was, but it was in the beginning of the 21st century. And they didn’t steal anything, no money was touched. They just took the computers and the hard disks. And the next day, the entire Open Society was on Putin’s desk with its legs widely spread.

So I think that this was pretty much the same kind of thing. That’s what they wanted to finally get to. Who’s behind it? And also, let’s not forget that there’s this story, which I initially didn’t believe, but the more I read about it, the more convincing it started to seem, about the alleged coup attempt against Lukashenko and his family and some very important Belarusian bureaucrats, which was apparently stopped by the Russian secret services. So I think that Lukashenko, had he fallen during those protests, there would be no democracy, there would be no human rights and stuff like that. Despite all the things that a Western audience hopes for after Lukashenko is removed, what would follow would probably be a wave of huge repression against Lukashenko, he might have ended up dead, I could easily imagine that, and against the many people that still support him because it’s only in the Western mind that when there are dictators or authoritarian leaders that they have no support. Everybody’s against them, but they’re still there. And with Lukashenko, everybody has been against him since 1994, but he’s still there against the will of the entire population. Well, that’s not true. He has enjoyed for a long, long, long period of time, for two decades he has enjoyed a lot of support, decreasing support, but a lot of support. And he still does enjoy a lot of support. Not 88 percent, like they say in the fake election results, but I can bet that it’s over 50 percent of the population. And also, he does enjoy a certain amount of support, not only based on his policies, which are bad policies and I agree with Małgorzata, but also on the basis of nostalgia and fear. People are nostalgic about the Soviet Union on the one hand and also they don’t want to see the Ukrainian scenario, for example, happening in Belarus. Or they don’t want to be a puppet state of the United States or the European Union like Poland or the Baltic states, or Bulgaria and Romania, for that matter. And they don’t want to be NATO.

And there are many, many contradictions which the Western media never presented. They’re not even interested in this. To organize an anti-Russian opposition movement in Belarus is something super artificial, almost impossible. And those attempts by people like Protasevich and the likes of him and the NGOs that, from the point of their emergence, are sponsored and basically funded by the West. They are not a point of reference in terms of the internal Belarusian political process, which is a dictatorial one. And Lukashenko definitely has resorted to some major authoritarian measures, particularly over the last five or six years. And Małgorzata spoke about him trying to maneuver between the west and the east and trying to be clever. Well, I think he only thinks he could be that clever, but in fact he fears that the closer he gets to Russia, the more his family and his clan and his bureaucracy are going to get eaten up by the much more powerful bureaucracy and oligarchy that operates in Russia. So he wanted to kind of prevent that. And in order to be able to prevent that, he had to lean a little bit towards the west. But the West doesn’t want Belarus as it is right now. The West, if it comes to the point of making a choice, is going to put a gun at their head and they’re going to say, like the European Union said in 2014 that Ukraine must make a civilizational choice regarding whether they’re going to be with Russia or whether they’re going to be with the EU and the collective west. And Ukraine wasn’t prepared to make that kind of choice. It was forced to make that choice and you see what happened. And Belarus all the more is not prepared to make such a choice. But also the other element of fear is that Lukashenko couldn’t go too much towards the West because he would have been taken down by his own army which is, on an operational level, pretty much tied at the hip with the with the Russian army.

So, at the moment the situation is that he doesn’t seem to have much of a choice. Now he’s got to wait and he’s got to be very obedient to Putin who saved his, perhaps even life, if we take the story of the alleged coup attempt seriously. And obviously now the West has achieved the effect exactly opposite to what it intended to achieve, that being to drag Belarus even further from Russia. Well, now it’s closer to Russia than it has ever been since the moment of the fall of the Soviet Union. And it depends on Russia totally in any aspect, really. And it’s obvious to any thinking person that knows anything about the region that now the fate of Belarus is in Russia’s hand and Lukashenko’s fate as well, and that what follows after Lukashenko will be decided by the heavy hand of Moscow and no one else. And I think that that’s the situation we’re facing. And again, as much as I hate Lukashenko’s political culture, his ideas, I think it’s not the role of the West to, first of all, make the choice for the people regarding who is going to rule there and what way they’re going to go. And also, I do not quite think that this is necessarily a better alternative. People tend to think that because Lukashenko is a dictator, everything will be better than Lukashenko. Well, I’m not sure. How about you just go to other Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, for example, where I’m from, and you ask them about the civilizational degradation, about the level of destitution they’ve been experiencing over the last 30 years. And how about you ask them if they preferred to have this and the “democracy” that we have or if they would have preferred to have someone like Lukashenko who would have been an authoritarian leader, his equivalent in Bulgaria, but we would have preserved something from the old times.

Boyan Stanislavski

And this is pretty much what Belarus now is. It’s an open air museum. If you go there you will see pretty much the 80s. Everything is clean. The public transit works fantastically well. Public services are available free for everyone and so on and so forth. People’s standards aren’t too high because the Eastern Bloc was pretty poor in the 80s. But, it’s nothing in comparison to the destitution, for example, in places like Bulgaria or Romania.

Paul Jay

Małgorzata, you said something interesting which was that some of the left in the West, I think it’s a pretty small fraction, but some are talking about Lukashenko as an anti-imperialist, a socialist. Talk a little about the history of that. There is a lot of state ownership in Belarus, but what does that mean in terms of what kind of system it is?

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

Lukashenko came to power in 1994 promising people that they will not suffer the fate of Lithuanians, of Ukrainians, of Latvians, and all other nations of the Soviet Union which faced neoliberal capitalism in its worst possible version. And after being elected he kept his promise and he stopped massive privatizations. So the biggest factories of the Soviet era were preserved in Belarus. They kept working as state owned enterprises and still factory workers are really a force in Belarus. Let me just remind you that during the protests after the presidential elections, factory workers were the strongest group on which the opposition counted. If the factories stopped because the workers went on strike, Lukashenko would be forced to give up. However, the strike did not turn out as massive as they counted and so Lukashenko survived. Nevertheless, there is one important thing you need to remember when you think about the Belarusian economy. The Belarusian sate owned economy worked excellently when Belarus was a part of the Soviet Union. It was really the best time in the modern history of Belarus, and I even would say it was the best time in the history of this land ever because the factories were all integrated with the industry of the whole country. Money was invested in social housing, in building cities. The money was invested in the people’s welfare. All of that was possible when Belarus was a part of a bigger system. As an independent state Belarus will will never regain full stability without Russia’s support. They have virtually no natural resources. Once big part of the country in the south was degraded after the Chernobyl catastrophe and so there can be no agriculture in this part of Belarus.

Belarus is a landlocked country, so without imports from Russia, without raw materials coming from Russia, all of the state owned economy will collapse. And even now some of the factories are working more for ideological reasons, rather than purely for economic reasons. And Lukashenko realized that if there is no socialism in a single state, then there will definitely be no socialism in Belarus alone and he began steering towards a kind of mixed economy. He made some concessions to local entrepreneurs. He encouraged the development of certain sectors. So, for example, the game World of Tanks came from Belarus because computers and all of this modern software stuff was encouraged very much. Lukashenko tried to get young people to invest in the leisure industry and small local businesses. He thought that he could raise a class  of local entrepreneurs who are absolutely incomparable to oligarchs and still get a kind of mixed system with a state owned core while pretending to be a European version of the Soviet Union. Sadly this did not work, as it could not because as Lukashenko started to take the interest of businesses more into consideration he inevitably became less concentrated on the welfare of working people. A few years ago the retirement age in Belarus was raised. It has been lowered since then, but the fact that such a reform was possible had a devastating effect on the Belarusian people. And I think also that Lukashenko started to pay less attention to the qualities and, for example, to the fact that salaries in Belarus outside of the city of Minsk were not going up over the last decade. So it turned out that on one hand, Belarus has kept its state owned big enterprises. It has also kept the Soviet style symbols. On the other hand, it started to experience the typical problems of a peripheral states where people are migrating from smaller towns and villages to the capital. People are not happy with the low wages. People see that there is a growing inequality between those that live close to the power center, to Lukashenko, and  the ordinary people.  And I think this sense of discontent that was growing very slowly in Belarus was also a factor that contributed to why these protests were so massive. I would like to say that the people who were protesting did not ask to destroy all they know in order to build a new reality. They basically wanted somebody to take over the system that Lukashenko built in order to steer it into a more pro-social direction.

I had the opportunity to talk to some people who joined the protests even though they had never been active in politics. And talking about the risks that are connected to Lukashenko’s fall, even telling them that Belarus could share Ukraine’s fate did not really make an impression on them. It was even surprising to me, as a lot of relatives in Ukraine and they are pretty familiar with what happened in that state. However, they truly believed that by walking out into the streets and replacing Lukashenko with someone else, they would keep what was good in the system and make it even better and make it more democratic and oriented toward the people.

This does not change the fact that, as Boyan said, Lukashenko still has a base of supporters and that those people who protested in Minsk and other cities would not say they are a tiny minority, but indeed, they are still a minority. I agree with Boyan that had the real election results been announced, it would have probably given some 60-65 percent to Lukashenko, but if there is one third voting for change then that is definitely something big. Especially in Belarus, where for the first decade of his rule Lukashenko was viewed affectionately by the population. It was not propaganda. People were really happy with having such a leader and the lack of liberal democracy was not greatly suffered from at the time.  However, I also think that people in Belarus came to a point where they thought that their system could not collapse. And that it can only be made better if there is a more social leadership on the head. Sadly, they are not really into  geopolitics and they do not really understand that if Lukashenko fell then he would perhaps be changed  by somebody who introduces hardcore neoliberal policies.

I remember an incident last summer when Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition, was participating in the economic forum in Poland and she sat behind a table with a group of Polish politicians and all of them agreed that Belarus must undergo drastic transformation. It must be modeled after what important in Poland in the beginning of the 90s. The woman did not object to that so basically that is something that will happen in Belarus if Lukashenko falls. And this is indeed tragic because I am sure that nobody in the protesting crowds wanted such as scenario. I acknowledge, however, that there is a group of young Belarusians educated in Poland and are fascinated with Poland as it is today. And they think that by removing Lukashenko, you can get healthy democracy, more social state, and a state that gives opportunities to everybody at the same time. I know that there are people who think this is possible. And If you tell them that that plan underwent a period of real misery for most of the citizens, they say, “OK. You had this experience, but you went through it and now everything is fine.”

Boyan Stanislavski

For them. For them, everything is fine. That’s very important because they get very serious state assistance. When you’re a Belarusian student or opposition leader or an NGO member or something, you’re going to get a lot of assistance from the Polish state. And for you, life is amazing. They’ve got their own TV station here which is slandering Lukashenko. That’s their job. It was established 15 to 20 years ago. About 20 years ago they established Belsat. And its sole purpose is to organize the Belarusian community here in Poland around it and against Lukashenko and to pour money into it via all kinds of NGOs and other agents of regime change organizations. So that’s obviously one segment. And I think, if you’ll allow me to elaborate a little bit on the composition, so to say, of the protests and who is for what, from what I gather, of course, there are those vanguards of the protest and those are people who are on the payroll of all the American backed organizations. And they are not very democratic really. People seem to think that they are, but they aren’t. If you want to see beyond the mainstream narratives, you will see that in Ukraine, those people that were funded by the U.S. are not really the lightest bulbs in the democratic world or democratic values. And the same goes for Belarus. You’ve got ridiculous people, such as Belarusian nationalists. Belarusian nationalism in itself is a ridiculous notion. You cannot really have Belarusian nationalism if you know some history of Belarus. You could be maybe some kind of follower of German colonists. That’s the furthest you can go if you want to be a true, genuine Belarusian nationalist. But those people, the vanguards of the protest, the NGO members, the professional anti-Lukashenko organizers, professional citizens, professional human rights defenders definitely don’t care. They would probably like to see Belarus going whichever way towards the west. And some of them believe that and some of them are cynical about it. I can’t guess the proportion, but obviously it was their job.

Boyan Stanislavski

Now, apart from that, we’ve got a large sector of the of the Belarusian youth that definitely did support those protests without actually ignoring that factor, the leadership and their ideas and so on and so forth. Now, why? Well, it’s because they are naive. And I said previously about Belarus being the kind of open air museum of the 80s. It’s the repetition of the story of the eighties in Poland or in Bulgaria or in other Eastern European countries. People said that we’re going to have socialism, but we’re going to make it more equal. We’re going to have democracy. We’re going to keep all the social benefits, the social system, the entire construction. And on top of that, we’re going to build some some extras like human rights here and democracy there and so on, and so forth. Then we’re going to have the entire decorum and things are going to be colorful, like they were in the West in the 80s while in Poland or in the Eastern Bloc when the economies were falling apart, they were gray and bleak and everything was somehow worse in general. So I think that they look towards Poland, they look towards the Czech Republic, they even travel there because although Lukashenko is a dictator, he hasn’t banned traveling. So you can travel and you can go back and no problem. And they see the surface. And when you come to Warsaw, particularly to the center, and when you get state assistance on top of everything, of course you’re going to say it’s great. You see the skyscrapers and the subway, brand new. The pavements are clear, the sidewalks are clean. The cafes and bars and nightlife and all kinds of stuff that people in Belarus definitely deserve to have. Why shouldn’t they get it? But, it comes at a cost and they don’t see that cost and they don’t see what kind of future the leadership of last year’s protests has for them as a surprise. And they don’t know anything about what happened over the last 30 years in Poland or in the Eastern Bloc in general. They just see the West pretty much in the same manner that the protesters saw the West in the 80s in Poland or other Eastern European countries. They saw that things are great there. But, they didn’t see the unemployment. They didn’t see all kinds of stuff that are just part of the daily life of the working class in those countries, even more so now than 30 years ago, 40 years ago.

Boyan Stanislavski

So I think that that’s another sector. And the difference here, which I think is important to mention and one of the major weaknesses of Lukashenko, is that, exactly like the late bureaucrats of the Soviet Union, he doesn’t invest anything in convincing this kind of marketing. Putin, for example, he and his administration and the local governments invest tons and tons of money and effort, real, genuine effort to convince people that they live in the best possible of all worlds and that the European Union is is just a terrible place to live. And of course, it’s exaggerated because they just focus on all the problems that the countries in the European Union do have, obviously. And there are some major, major problems, like, for example, Bulgaria being a third world country by all indicators, despite the fact that it’s formally in the European Union. So they will exploit that kind of stuff or violence against the yellow vests, for example, which was a major, major thing in comparison to even events in Belarus, let alone the kind of repression of the protesters supporting Navalny, who means nothing, just to throw that thought in regarding Russian politics. And Lukashenko didn’t do that. That’s why those people were left to kind of cultivate this naive understanding that in the West, everything is fantastic, and that Europe is great and that the West is the best. So this is probably the beating heart of the protests. That’s how I imagine it.

Paul Jay

Is there no part of the protests that does not want to be associated or under any kind of submissive position to the West? They don’t want what’s been happening in some of the other Eastern European countries. On the other hand, they don’t want Lukashenko. Is there a kind of progressive left?

Boyan Stanislavski

Well, on the fringes of the movement you are able to find that. Unfortunately, according to the knowledge that I have, I can see in Ukraine, in Belarus, in Bulgaria, and in other Eastern European countries that the problem of the left is that it models itself on the Western European left. And this is something that doesn’t bring any results because the understanding, the political culture, the general culture, is totally different and those kinds of things aren’t just going to work. And I’m afraid that because of those self-inflicted wounds, politically speaking, that the left in Eastern Europe has suffered over the last thirty years, there is an element of that and it did support the protests, but it’s a marginal thing.

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

Let me just mention one thing. There are some groups in Belarus that model themselves after the western liberal left, and this is a way to nowhere, I agree with Boyan. There is yet another question however. Lukashenko did a lot over the last 15 years to not let the workers organize because, as you can imagine, if there are state owned enterprises in Belarus along with really huge centers of the working class, even in the capital, this would have been a fertile ground for left wing, social democratic or even just trade union organizers. Lukashenko does not want to permit that and that is why the workers in Belarus are all supposed to belong to a non-obligatory state based trade union which actually does nothing serious for the workers apart from some social benefits for New Year’s Eve or something like that. And many independent efforts to organize were not welcomed by the factory leaders. I would even say that some of those people trying to organize the workers from below were actually persecuted. So was the anarchist movement in Belarus that emerged at the beginning of the 90s. So if the workers in Belarus wanted to hear some other alternative program that was anti-Lukashenko, but not liberal democratic there would be no one to present such an alternative to them. I would like to stress once again that this is a result of Lukashenko’s conscious policy which focused on creating a loyal class of owners and a small business class and he hoped to build up on these people. And on the other hand, he was absolutely ruthless to some independent attempts to organize the working class. And that is why now in Belarus, theoretically, we have a socialist party which has a lot of members and is even represented in the Belarusian parliament, which really means nothing with the state’s current political structure. But also its role in the real politics is limited to zero because their voice is not something that Lukashenko will listen to.

Boyan Stanislavski

And if you ask about left wing participation in the protests there, he says there was an absolute merging of the movement. But it is not because they are not honest people, it is also because there was no ground for an independent socialist movement to grow in Belarus over the last decade. And indeed, some of the organizations also made the mistakes Boyan was talking about, such as trying to repeat the Western model of being left wing that is prevailing today. And  I also want to point out one more thing. In the beginning of the protests there were also left wing activists that were arrested. They were also put in prison. And also the organizers of the political strike at Belaruskali, which is one of the biggest state owned enterprises in Belarus, was also sentenced to prison for their participation in the protests and for organizing strikes. And nobody in the Western media really paid attention to those people. Nobody even noticed that there is a fraction in the Belarusian protest that is coming with its own program. One that is standing for the achievements of the social state while also seeking to make it democratic. The Western media preferred to notice another tiny minority, those being the Belarusian nationalists calling for the de-communization of Belarus, throwing down all the statues of Soviet leaders, changing the names of streets connected to communist movements that are still left in Belarus. So you’ll see the priorities of the West. They want to portray the protest as a liberal movement, which it is definitely not. And it is very sad for me to say that the prospects for the left wing opposition in Belarus now is really very bleak because the opposition figures were thrown in prisons. Now in Belarus, it is illegal even to show on the media a protest that was not agreed upon with authorities. So if there is an illegal demonstration and a journalist shows up there, he is also guilty  of a crime.

Paul Jay

So if a journalist goes to a protest that wasn’t sanctioned by the government, the journalist is committing a crime.

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

Yes. He can’t show this event because it was not sanctioned by the authorities. And so if Lukashenko’s regime was authoritarian before, it is now even worse. At the same time, there are very few protests for genuine democratization because, as I said, there was no way to support a workers’ opposition, a truly left-wing democratic opposition over the last decade.

Paul Jay

OK, this needs to be a longer conversation. So let’s wind this up for today. And we’re going to do another session on this and not only more about Belarus,  but also we’re going to expand the conversation to more of the region, the whole rise of authoritarianism, the role of the West, and the role of Russia. So this is just the beginning for this. So I thank you both for joining me today and I hope you’ll both come back again soon. And we’ll carry this on because clearly it’s this part of Europe that is so much at the center of the contention between the United States and Russia. And certainly in the Western media, there’s very little attempt to actually understand the politics and the people of this area. So we’re going to try to really pay attention here. A quick last word, Boyan.

Boyan Stanislavski

I wasn’t really going to make any particularly smart closing remarks. I just want to say that things are terribly bad, of course, in terms of dictatorial measures that are applied by Lukashenko. But, when Małgorzata spoke about journalists not being able to actually report on certain events or live stream on various social platforms, what immediately struck me was the thought of the Spanish gag law (https://edri.org/our-work/restoring-freedom-of-expression-in-spain-end-the-gag-law/), which I think is still in place and states that, for example, you are not allowed as a journalist or as a citizen to report on evictions. You are not allowed to do that. It’s explicitly forbidden to record and play publicly how evictions unfolded. So it’s not unique to Belarus. But again, it’s no excuse for Lukashenko. Two wrongs do not equal one right and I totally stand by that. But I think it’s very important for people to be able to look at the bigger picture and to not get carried away and demonize Lukashenko or Putin or whomever.

Paul Jay

OK, thank you both for joining me.

Boyan Stanislavski

Thanks.

Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat

Thank you.

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget the donate button and all the buttons. And as I say, we’re going to carry this discussion on for quite some time.

END

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5 Comments

  1. fantastic coverage and I agree with Boyan 100 percent. following Mintpress News and his coverage as well as speaking with Jay Watts, the Central Organizer of the Communist Party of Canada, this is clearly yet another color revolution and the West infiltrating movements or straight up setting up another imperial regime change plan and we really can’t get behind it and we really shouldn’t be duped by these tricks the powers that be stage upon on us. a true anti-imperialist movement, even a left movement even if they wouldn’t vote for Lukashenko can’t support efforts to oust him, because of all the obvious reasons and do we really want to see Western backed oligarchs win again when we know from Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Libya, Congo, and the list is endless the West NEVER backs true socialist/progressive forces and we leave the nation always in a worst state, so to all Western do gooders leave Belarus alone, China alone, and keep your white person western saviour complex. or white person’s burden to yourself. Hands of Belarus and as Boyan was explaining enough with the double and triple standards.

  2. I have been in touch with a representative of the Minsk Socialist Circle, a loose group of faculty and students at institutions of higher education in Minsk. They take the position that leftists in Belarus should not support the opposition protests because even if successful they will bring to power a government that will privatize state enterprises. The new owners will close them down and strip their assets, leading to industrial collapse like in Russia in the 1990s. An interview with the representative of the Minsk Socialist Circle is here: http://www.wspus.org/2020/11/whats-going-on-in-belarus/

  3. Fascinating discussion. Thank you. It strikes me that overarching threats pose challenges to peoples around the world in different ways and we are stuck between two poles neither of which is very appealing yet at the same time one is relatively better than the other, depending on your class position. What is the way out of ‘lesser evilism?” Lukashenko or a NATO puppet state? Assad or Al Queda/US domination? Ortega or the Chamorros/CIA? No doubt some situations offer a door number 3 more than others. In the US we can still take to the streets in mass protests even if the two party system is controlled by $.

  4. Thanks for this conversation. At the end, the guests mention instances in Belarus and Spain of making it illegal for journalists to do their job, to report on and even attend non-approved protests. The US has its own version: “ag gag” laws that make it a crime to investigate violations of factory farms and the like.

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