From the September-October 2020 issue of News & Letters
by Gerry Emmett
President Alexander Lukashenko, “Europe’s last dictator,” has ruled Belarus for 26 years. His time now may be up, as hundreds of thousands of protesters have filled the streets of the capital, Minsk, in the weeks following the disputed election of August 4 to 8.
Opposition coalition candidate Svetlana Tikhonovskaya has formed a transitional council to manage the transfer of power. Tikhonovskaya became a candidate following the arrest of her husband.
Lukashenko has responded to this challenge to his rule with mass arrests, police beatings, and torture, which has only caused the peaceful protests to increase. This state violence has repulsed most of the population.
Each of Lukashenko’s last five “elections” have drawn increasing protests, but now he may have lost the working class and entered his endgame.
A LONG FROZEN MOMENT
As one worker from the MTZ Minsk Tractor Works, whose son was tortured, said: “I have had enough. They think I am livestock just because I work on an assembly line. But I am a man.”
Lukashenko is a product of the old USSR state-capitalist regime. His one positive gesture was to spare Belarus’ workers the drastic “shock doctrine” that devastated Russian workers in the 1990s. It left him with the base of support he depended upon, at the price of continuing the old repression.
Yet Lukashenko was roundly booed when he appeared before the workers of the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant. While the opposition has yet to form a solid alliance with the workers, the workers are not defending the regime.
HUMANISM IN THE BALANCE
Lukashenko’s gesture toward the working class didn’t amount to any positive vision for humanity. He was a supporter of Serb President Slobodan Milosevic’s 1990s genocide in Bosnia. He has been an ally of the genocidal Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. His throwback Stalinism has helped disorient a generation of “Leftists” who have become apologists for mass murder.
He has also attempted, recently, to play off the U.S. and Russian governments against each other as energy providers. This has weakened his position with the Putin regime.
As Lukashenko’s frozen moment thaws, it is important to remember that history held out other possibilities. As the humanist Belarusian author Ales Adamovich wrote near the end of the Cold War, “New thinking requires a radical change. It does not refer to cosmetic changes…It means basic alterations in everything we think and do. It involves assuming a feeling of personal and historical responsibility for everything on the planet…
“We must now reject those ideas and creations that are not for continuing the life process before they lead us to the verge of disaster…What is needed is the intuition generated by a great love of man for others. This is more essential today than anything else.”
As Belarus seeks its future, this remains true.