Anti-authoritarian Voices in Uprising against the Dictatorship
by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate
The former Soviet republic of Belarus exploded into angry protests last August in the wake of contested presidential elections that resulted in a totally implausible landslide victory for long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Police, riot squads and army troops unleashed harsh repression, using rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and water-hoses against demonstrators in the capital Minsk and other cities.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, was challenged in the Aug. 9 election by opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya—a surprise replacement for her husband Sergei, a popular blogger who was arrested after he attempted to launch a presidential campaign. She held large rallies in Minsk and other cities, riding a groundswell of popular discontent with Lukashenko. After the vote, Tikhanovskaya was expelled by the Belarusian KGB to Lithuania, as spontaneous protests broke out. From exile, Tikhanovskaya issued a call for continued protests to force Lukashenko from power.
Since then, protests have been held every weekend. Industrial strikes have spread across the country as sectors of the working class broke from the regime-controlled labor unions to organize independently. Over the past months, tens of thousands have been detained, and hundreds have been subject to torture.
Anarchist Black Cross Belarus has been specifically monitoring repression against anarchists and anti-fascists in the ongoing protest wave. One member of the group, known as “Sonya,” spoke with Fifth Estate via email.
What has been the role of anarchists in the current protest movement?
Anarchists have been a small but active minority. At the beginning (August 9-12), anarchists were not signifying themselves (e.g. by flags or slogans), as there were skirmishes with police and the army, the forces of Lukashenko’s “order” were extremely brutal, and it was important (in order to survive) to run fast and to look like you just went out to buy some milk in a local store and had no relation to protests.
Later, in September and October, there were anarchist flags and slogans visible at the bigger protests in Minsk, but even then a significant portion of anarchists was participating in the protests without marking themselves specifically as anarchists—again, in order to escape potential arrest.
At the same time, anarchists are very active in online agitation. Some anarchist channels on the messaging app Telegram rose to prominence, e.g. the one of Mikola Dziadok (see details below).
Direct action (e.g. destruction of cops’ property) became widespread last autumn, but it is hard to discern which part of it was performed by anarchists (certainly, some anarchists were involved in some such actions). Usually, no one claims responsibility over such type of actions.
What are your thoughts on Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and the opposition leadership?
These are politicians, like all other politicians. We do not think any of them is in principle better than, say, Macron or Biden. Anarchists believe that the change of political regime will bring a window of opportunity to repeal the most notorious anti-labor and anti-activist legislation, and to address certain environmental and social issues. We are not for Tsikhanouskaya, we are against Lukashenko.
What is the state of the struggle at this moment, and what are the odds Lukashenko will step down?
Right now protests have calmed down, especially in provincial cities and towns. There are several hundred political prisoners, and this number is constantly on the rise (trials are going on every working day). Many thousands of protesters (perhaps, several tens of thousands) have gone abroad. But many people await a new wave of protests in the spring, as the conflict was suppressed, but not resolved in any way. Authorities offered no trade-offs at all.
Lukashenko’s regime is facing numerous economic and political challenges, its position is shakier than at any time since the 1990s. It is unclear how and how soon the situation will resolve. Now it is at a stalemate.
How do you see your position in a post-Lukashenko order?
Due to anarchists’ involvement in the protests, anarchists will likely be seen by at least some part of political spectrum as legitimate participants in political life. This will make it easier to hold political campaigns and sustain anarchist media.
How many anarchist comrades have been arrested or “disappeared”? What do we know about their whereabouts, condition, and the charges they face?
All told, since the beginning of protests nine anarchists and five anti-fascists have been arrested in Belarus on criminal charges. One more Belarusian anti-fascist was arrested in Moscow and awaits extradition on protest-related charges. Some anarchists managed to escape abroad before they could be arrested.
Fortunately, no anarchists have disappeared so far. Some were kidnapped (arrested illegally), like Mikola Dziadok, who went underground in July, and was arrested on Nov. 11. Cops tortured him all night long in order to get access to his computer, Telegram and other channels of communication. Unfortunately, they succeeded. They only gave information about his detention to relatives and the lawyer after the tortures ended.
A prominent group of anarchists organized a series of attacks on symbols of the state violence (e.g. police stations). They were caught near the Ukrainian border while trying to leave the country.
Four anti-fascists face charges of fighting with police on Sept. 23, when Minsk was loudly and massively protesting against Lukashenko’s “inauguration.”
Several dozen anarchists and anti-fascists went through “short-term” detention (several weeks long). Some (like Ivan Krasovski) are survivors of police torture and had to spend time in hospital to treat injuries after their release.
What kind of solidarity do you need from activists in the United States?
You can make solidarity actions, e. g. in front of Belarusian embassies and consulates (or simply at the central square of your town). Solidarity action days happen periodically (follow our website for calls).
You can spread the word about the Belarusian situation.
Solidarity with Belarusian refugees (including anarchists and anti-fascists) is needed, although most refugees are in Europe.
Donations to ABC Belarus are always welcome, as we face mounting costs to support prisoners and their families.
One can also support those Belarusian anarchists who are not in jail by donating money to the same ABC (with a “streetfund” designation). Such money will be used to cover expenses of Belarusian anarchists who had to go underground (e.g. paying rent), to purchase equipment (e.g. megaphones or medical first aid kits), to print leaflets, etc.
Probably, the best support is inspiration. A popular insurrection in the States would be quite helpful in this sense!
This interview also appears in the Summer 2021 edition of Fifth Estate.
Photo: “Solidarity is our weapon”
Credit: ABC Belarus
ABC Belarus list of detained or charged anarchists
Pramen (Belarusian social-revolutionary anarchist group)
Open letter in support of Belarus anarchist revolutionaries
Pramen, Nov. 3, 2020
Mikola Dziadok: A Tortured Political Prisoner in Belarus
The Russian Reader, Nov. 19, 2020
Interview with anarchist in Minsk about the Belarus protests
Green Anti-Capitalist Front, Oct. 2, 2020
‘Nobody can block it’: how the Telegram app fuels global protest
The Guardian, Nov. 7, 2020
From our Daily Report:
Net silence as Belarus explodes into protest
CounterVortex, Aug. 12, 2020
THE DARK SIDE OF WIKILEAKS: REVISITED
Julian Assange, Ecuador, and the Belarus Connection
by Bill Weinberg, Al Jazeera
CounterVortex, January 2013
Reprinted by CounterVortex, May 10, 2021