Plans for a pro-Lukashenko mass rally of “250,000 to 300,000” in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Sunday 25 October ended up as a fiasco.
Nominally, the rally had been called by the “official” Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB). But the FPB — which claims a membership of some four million in a country with a population of less than ten million — functions organisationally and politically as an extension of the government.
Since the rigged elections of early August it has backed Lukashenko and denounced his opponents at every turn. FPB leader Mikhail Orda says:
“ The most important values of Belarussians have always been peace and tranquillity. Certain foreign forces want to take this right away from us. They promise ‘mountains of gold’ but in reality they want to deprive us of work, wages, pensions and other social guarantees. These people will rejoice if enterprises have no orders and workers no work.”
In the middle of last week the FPB announced that it had lodged an application to stage a “super-meeting” in Minsk in support of Lukashenko. “Everyone who is not indifferent to the fate of our country” was invited to attend the rally, the purpose of which was “to show who is the master in this country.”
According to Orda: “People are very tired of what is going on. People understand what they can lose. This led to the idea of giving them the opportunity to demonstrate where they stand. I will say even more: To show who is the master in our country. Not someone from abroad, but us — we are the masters of our soil.
“‘We’ are not just the trade unions. It is all our social organisations: youth, the (pro-government) Union of Women, Belaya Rus’ [White Rus’ — pro-government ‘social’ organisation] and members of the armed forces.”
According to Lukashenko, the “super-meeting” had been called by the FPB in response to popular demand:
“The drive simply came from people. People have got tired… People want peace and quiet. That’s a good thing. We understood this without a war. People understood what they have to lose, they became rebellious: we want to go (to Minsk), to demonstrate, to show that we are many.”
No sooner had the “super-meeting” been announced than the press began carrying reports of the pressure being exerted on workers by employers and “their” trade union to attend it. According to the news agency TUT.BY:
“We continue to receive hundreds of reports from state employees and from employees of organisations and enterprises about how they have been made to take an interest in a trip to Minsk, including bonus payments (added on, or withdrawn), time off in lieu, and threats of dismissal or non-renewal of contracts.”
By 23 October the “super-meeting” had been cancelled. Although supposedly called by the FPB, it was Lukashenko himself who announced its cancellation.
In a rambling speech Lukashenko gave a hodgepodge of reasons for its cancellation: problems of crowd control, city centre traffic paralysis, security risks, Covid-19, the stage was too small...
But in the Salidarnasts newspaper political analyst Andrey Yegorov gave a very different analysis of the reasons for its cancellation:
“Firstly, it turned out to be quite complicated to convince people to go. Some people started demanding written instructions. Secondly, it was not simple from a logistical point of view — bringing that many people to Minsk from all over Belarus, and getting them home again.
“Thirdly, I think that the authorities were afraid that this meeting could be used by protestors for their own goals and could end up being used against the authorities. Some will remember the official meeting in support of Ceausescu which finished so lamentably for him.”
The “Ceausescu meeting” was a rally organised by the Romanian dictator in late December of 1989, intended to show the popular support he claimed to enjoy. But the rally had to be abandoned after his speech was drowned out by jeers and booing. Five days later Ceausescu was executed by firing squad.