14 August, 2020, 22:35, Aliaxandar Klaskovsky, Naviny.by
Today, several thousand employees of Minsk Tractor Works (one of the biggest government-owned plants in the country) and other enterprises with their posters, banners and demands freely reached the square in front of the Government House. But nobody came out to them. The authorities are afraid of strikes, however they do not even demonstrate the willingness to real dialogue (the few attempts of scared local officials to come out to people are not taken into account). They have only cleaned up the streets from the riot police (OMON) and started releasing exhausted prisoners, who were captured during the protests after the elections held on August 9, and by the method of a random police abduction.
There is a revolutionary atmosphere in Minsk (and not only in Minsk). Chains of women in white cloth with flowers, cars signaling them, young people with white-red-white flags (national flags), and other actions for which a few days ago people were grabbed and beaten with truncheons. Many put the V sign – Victory – with the fingers.
But euphoria is a deceptive, dangerous thing. In fact, the regime built up by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, although its legitimacy in the past elections was rather shaken, probably, still has a considerable margin of safety. And its architect recently admitted in the interview with Dmitry Gordon: “Well, if I am not a president – what would I do in the morning? I can’t even imagine that!”
This is to the question of whether or not Lukashenko will hurry to respond to the current popular demand for his resignation.
Again about “conscious” people and the criminals
At a meeting on August 14, Lukashenka pretended that nothing special was happening in the country in the last days and there were no demands for his resignation and new elections. However, he had to say: “First, I am still alive and not abroad, as some “conscious people” are spreading the word…“.
The word “conscious” demonstrated the traditional squeamish attitude towards the political opponents. Lukashenka also described the street protests of the last days in a caricature propaganda style: “As we said, the organizers of all this are people from abroad. In the front rows are people with a criminal past, moreover, a decent criminal past…“
This interpretation looks particularly unconvincing as yesterday 32 Russian citizens have been returned to Russia (as the author of these lines predicted). Before, these citizens identified by governmental propaganda as “Wagner’s militants” (from a private military company owned by Putin) were described as subversive elements sent to start riots and destabilize the country.
In general, the protests have already entered a qualitatively new phase, much more dangerous for the system. Teachers, doctors, scientists, IT specialists, artists, athletes, priests and even some members of the state media are opposing the bacchanalia of truncheons and violence against civilians. Are the chains of women with flowers also criminal elements?
It’s a risky business to bully the workers with a truncheon
And most importantly, classical proletarians from the enterprises owned by the government (MAZ, MTZ, Grodna Azot, Belaruskali, etc.) have entered the political arena. Lukashenka always talked about them with a tremble. Workers are rallying all over the country. Today, Minsk Tractor Works demands: the resignation of Lukashenka, fair elections with the participation of independent observers, the release of political prisoners, ending the persecution of alternative presidential candidates, free access to information.
The irony is in the fact that being for 26 years in power, Lukashenka paid them a lot of attention, during all these years he dedicated his time to the industry giants, giving them loans and subsidies and was against “robbing privatization”. As a Marxist, he clearly understood the power of this class and tried to please it.
However, the famous factories do not make a lot of money nowadays. But people did not go out for a penny, but for justice. Their demands are purely political. The proletariat woke up, resented and wanted a new government. It threatens to go on strike from next Monday, if the demands are not fulfilled.
And to the current government this is a challenge that has never been seen before. A phenomenal precedent was set even before the epoch of Lukashenka, at the sunset of the USSR, when in April 1991, a hundred thousand proletarians came to Lenin Square in Minsk. But then they were outraged by the spike in prices, now – by unfair elections and the massacre done by the government.
Then the leadership of the BSSR calmed those dissatisfied with the increase in wages. In a few weeks, the wave of protests was calmed down. Back then they did not dare to use force to suppress the protesters, moreover, there were no legions of OMON (riot police) then.
But even now it is a risky business to bully the workers with a truncheon. Although, Lukashenka today hinted about the negative economic consequences of these strikes.
We will see if it will influence the workers’ position. They now have a powerful lever in their hands. The ghost of a strike across the country is a horror for the authorities, flying on the wings of the night.
Tsikhanouskaya initiates a coordination council
Meanwhile, the progressive public is discussing the issue with whom the authorities should engage in a dialogue. Today, a strike committee of 23 people was formed at MTZ. However, overall, the workers’ movement looks fragmented so far, as well as its demands. In 1991, a republican strike committee was quickly formed, which negotiated with the government and even achieved daily airtime on television.
Today, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has reminded about herself from Lithuania, who, according to her supporters, won the last elections de facto. She has many supporters. At “Grodna Azot” today, after a question about who voted for Tsikhanouskaya, almost everyone raised their hands (3-4 thousand employees met with the management of the plant and the city). Employees of Navapolatsk Naftan today demanded to recognize her as “the current president, legitimately won the presidential elections in the Republic of Belarus 2020”.
Tsikhanouskaya is convinced that “the Belarusians will never want to experience again the former government and their power, the majority does not believe in his (Lukashenka’s.) victory“. Therefore, she is initiating the creation of a coordination council to ensure transfer of power. This council, said Tsikhanouskaya, will include representatives of civil society, respected and well-known Belarusians, professionals of their business. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya stated that she and her team are ready for a dialogue with the authorities.
It is yet an open question how much this idea with the coordinating council will be supported.
The traditional opposition does not fit into this new form of movement and change, for which it had been waiting for so many years. True, the leaders of the six structures today issued a declaration on the way out of the political crisis, containing sharp demands such as the resignation and arrest of high-ranking law enforcers, as well as members of the CEC headed by Lidzija Jarmoshyna. But the question is what kind of force and support is behind this ultimatum.
The government just changes its tactics.
By the way, the recalculation of the votes that is demanded by Tsikhanouskaya (it is also one of the demands of the factory workers), – this idea is not the best one, as per some analysts.
First of all, the elections were not fair. Secondly, there most probably have been mass voting sheets stuffing at the early voting dates. And thirdly, they could have been substituted after the election.
The main issue is that Lukashenka does not even hint on a possibility of any dialogue. Yes, an attempt to suppress the protest with rubber bullets and sadistic beatings in police vans and detention centers failed. He had to step back a little. However, it was only a change of tactics to dampen the protest wave and take control of the entire situation in the country.
If it didn’t work out “well”, there may be a new tightening of the measures up to declaring the state of emergency. In general, the system could finally become a police state or, as some political scientists say, a military regime.
The development of the Belarusian political scene to a decisive extent depends now on the mood and behavior of the labor collectives. When the working class went out to the streets, the government must have shivered.