Belarus: crackdown and gestures

Submitted by AWL on 13 October, 2020 - 3:08 Author: Pete Radcliff

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, opposition candidate in Belarus’s rigged 9 August election, declared on Telegram on 13 October:

“The regime has 13 days to fulfill three main requirements: 1. Lukashenko must leave. 2. Street violence must stop completely. 3. All political prisoners must be released. If our demands are not met by 25 October, the whole country will peacefully take to the streets with the People’s Ultimatum.” Evidently the opposition assesses that it is strong enough at least to have a chance of this “ultimatum” having at least some force.

Sunday 11 October saw street protests again across Belarus. They were a lot smaller than previous. In part, because of heavy rain. In part, because of fierce repression. Since August, large demos in Minsk had been left alone by the state security forces, who waited for the demos to disperse before harassing small groups. On 11 Oct, the state security forces attacked everyone.

Alongside that repression, Lukashenko seems to be showing a sudden desire for compromise. On Saturday 10 October he visited the Belarus KGB prison and met some of the imprisoned opposition leaders held there. Hardly a fair or equal discussion, when one participant holds the others in indefinite imprisonment.

After the meeting, two prisoners who claimed to have taken part in the meeting with Lukashenko were released. Yuri Voskresensky, the campaign manager of one of the barred presidential candidates, Eduard Babariko, claimed he had been asked by Lukashenko to draft possible amendments to the constitution.

If this is true, it is unclear whether Voskresensky would be acting on behalf of Babariko or other imprisoned oppositionists.

If Lukashenko is looking to make deals, in the hopes of meeting Putin’s demand for results and placating some in the opposition, it would most likely be through Babariko, the least radical and most pro-Russian of the barred presidential candidates.

Lukashenko has now made a statement about possible changes to the constitution over who has control of the election process. He has also talked about an “inclusive process” of further constitutional changes and the need for tax reform.

Over the last two weeks there have been several discussions between Putin and Lukashenko. They come before the “Unbreakable Brotherhood” exercises by Russia’s close allies, due to take place from 12 Oct — in Belarus!

Neither Putin nor his alliance is strong at the moment. Armenia has pulled out of the military exercise because of war with Azerbaijan around Nagorno-Karabakh. Kyrgyzstan pulled out due to the overthrow of its government on 5 October after a siege of its Parliament.

As in Belarus, the uprising in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek was a response to claims of rigged elections. There has been speculation that this might encourage protests against Lukashenko.

There have been few reports of further workers’ organisation or strike activity in Belarus. Eyes may be on Lukashenko and Putin.

There are risks that under Putin’s pressure and a mixture of threats and promises from Lukashenko, a deal may be done with unreliable elements of the opposition like Babariko.

Babariko may not have much public following despite his imprisonment. However Maria Kolesnikova, probably the most visible and charismatic of the opposition leaders, does, and she was brought into politics by Babariko’s earlier campaign. (Kolesnikova refused to attend the prison meeting).

The democracy movement’s dependence on the liberal leaders of the opposition has always been a weakness. That is why workers need to be organised independently: through the popular, if still weak, independent trade union movement, and further, politically, into a collective class-conscious force that can make sure that Belarus’s battle becomes one for workers’ democracy and workers’ organisation across Putin’s empire.

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