Former presidential candidate of Belarus Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently in exile, expects a second wave of protests by opponents of the current government in the country
Tikhanovskaya, in an interview with the Estonian TV and radio broadcasting portal ERR, said that protests against the results of the presidential elections and the actions of the security officials have not subsided in Belarus since August, but they have become local and small in number. According to her, mass demonstrations in Belarus will resume in the spring – at the present time, in her opinion, the protest actions are not so large-scale because of the cold.
“The fact that there were no mass demonstrations is natural, because people are tired and now it’s cold. But the important thing is that this has not changed in the heart and head. Now the popular movement will grow and by the spring will return to its previous volumes. However, everything depends on the Belarusians, ”Tikhanovskaya said.
Earlier we wrote that the oppositionist wants to return to Belarus. Obviously, if she is not arrested, she would be able to lead protests that really fizzled out, including due to the lack of a coordinating center. And the weather seems to have nothing to do with it …
– The political crisis in Belarus, aggravated after the presidential elections in 2020, already has signs of permanent, – I am convinced Evgeny Valyaev, political analyst of the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society Institutions “People’s Diplomacy”… – The parties to this crisis have no desire to come to an agreement – the Belarusian authorities and the opposition take opposite positions on the absolute majority of issues of the country’s future. With such a crisis, exacerbations are inevitable, which will be caused by specific informational reasons. By the “second wave” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya means the nearest news event, which will become the reason for new mass street protests. There will be plenty of these reasons this year, starting with arrests and trials of political activists, ending with the activity of the authorities in holding an All-Belarusian People’s Assembly and discussing changes to the constitution.
The wave of protests that swept the whole of Belarus after the elections showed a very high vitality – the protests were long-lasting, diverse in format, and involved a wide variety of social groups. The cold is not the main reason for the decline in protest activity – they naturally dragged on for a long time, so people needed a pause, which just fell on the New Year holidays.
Even if we recall the Ukrainian Maidan, on the coldest days the main professional opposition group, the so-called “protest nucleus”, protested there. The largest number of people gathered in the center of Kiev for specific dates around the main stage of the Maidan. On one of those days, when there were many people at the rally, the last decisive words about the overthrow of Yanukovych were uttered. Although then, at the end of December 2013, many said that the Maidan was delayed and it had no prospects. During the New Year holidays, he really did not show high activity, even the evening rallies at the main stage gathered few people. The Euromaidan events began at the end of November 2013 and ended at the end of February 2014 – three months, during which the main events took place on specific days, when all forms of pressure on the authorities intensified – both street protest activity and pressure from abroad , and information support in the media and the Internet.
During the Belarusian protests, the authorities made all possible mistakes that only expanded the opposition’s electoral base – harshness towards political activists, the absence of even the slightest attempt to enter into dialogue, and the use of hate speech towards the protesters. Attempts by Lukashenka’s entourage to use more accurate political technologies to reduce the degree of hatred in society collapsed on the waywardness and intransigence of Lukashenka himself. His speeches at the hastily driven rallies were not aimed at reconciliation and dialogue, but, on the contrary, became the reasons for new microwaves of protests.
“SP”: – But Belarusian protests have no leaders – they are all either abroad, or sitting …
– As events in Russia show, a more irritating factor for the authorities is the presence of the opposition leader in the country, and not abroad. In this case, the politician has a more significant role, consolidating people, and the subjectivity of such a politician increases many times over. Tikhanovskaya abroad and at home in Belarus – these are two completely different scenarios. People would like to see the leader of the opposition, and this is the role that Tikhanovskaya is playing now, while other leaders are under arrest, next to them, and not receive, even every day, her video messages from Europe with the wishes to hold on and fight. It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which Tikhanovskaya will return home without problems for her safety and freedom.
“SP”: – Will the US policy towards Belarus change?
– The coming to power of Joe Biden will affect the change in Washington’s policy towards Minsk. Trump’s isolationism presupposed ignoring the internal political situation not only in Russia, but also in Belarus. The composition of Biden’s new cabinet – Harris, Sullivan, Nuland, Burns, Blinken and others – shows that Washington will again actively play on the world political stage. If Trump, for example, fought with China exclusively in the trade sphere, then under Biden, the themes of Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Uyghurs and other weak points, to which Beijing reacts very unequally, will again intensify. In the case of Belarus, two scenarios are possible. One by one, Lukashenka will again become an absolute outcast, but in this case the country will be completely at the mercy of Russia. The new presidential administration will want to pursue a more accurate policy towards Minsk – not only sanctions, but also providing an opportunity to overcome the crisis. This is where the second scenario arises, in which Lukashenka will be allowed to re-establish contacts with the West after steps towards at least visible liberalization of democratic processes in the country. For Lukashenko, who has always appreciated the opportunity to build at least a visible multi-vector foreign policy, this will be a tempting option.
– The first wave “is considered to be the protests of the summer and autumn of last year, which more or less faded by the beginning of winter,” explains Belarusian political scientist Vsevolod Shimov… – I think that not only the weather or the harsh actions of the authorities, but also emotional burnout and the absence of a further strategy of struggle, are to blame for their fading.
“SP”: – The protests, according to Tikhanovskaya, have become local and few in number. Mass demonstrations in Belarus will resume in the spring – at present, the protests are not so large-scale due to the cold. Really? The Ukrainian “Maidan” was not embarrassed by the cold …
– The opposition hopes for the resumption of protests in the spring with the onset of warmth. In addition, in spring there are two dates to which the traditional annual opposition rallies are timed – the so-called Freedom Day on March 25 and the Chernobyl Way on April 26. These promotions can truly re-gather an impressive crowd. However, I am not sure that the opposition will be able to resume regular rallies of many thousands, as it was in late summer – early autumn, because there is no clear answer to the question: what’s next, what is the result? The effect of novelty from these actions has passed – both for the protesters themselves and for the authorities.
“SP”: – The fact that there were no mass demonstrations is natural, because people are tired. But this is closer to the truth?
– People are tired, bad weather, there is no further strategy of struggle – these are the main factors for the attenuation of the protest, and so far the opposition has not proposed anything new. Nor can he offer it, since the main leaders are now abroad and cannot influence the situation in Belarus. Even if Tikhanovskaya decides to play in the “Belarusian Navalny”, I’m not sure that this will revive the protest. When Roman Bondarenko died in November, many called him a “sacred victim” and expected the protests to flare up again after that. However, this did not happen.
“SP”: – According to her, it is important that in the heart and head it has not changed. But in fact, has the attitude of Belarusians towards Lukashenka and his active opponents changed over these months?
– At the end of the summer, many, especially the capital’s middle class, were really seized by euphoria akin to the one that was on the Ukrainian Maidan or in the late USSR during the perestroika era. Actually, this euphoria was the main driver of the protest. Today, of course, there is no such thing anymore, but there is disappointment and an understanding that one must continue living in the existing circumstances. The negative accumulated in society regarding the current government has not gone anywhere, but has passed into a passive state. At present, I do not see any forces capable of activating and leading this discontent.
“SP”: – How will Biden’s coming to power affect the situation in Belarus?
– The policy of the Biden administration is precisely the factor that may well overturn the Belarusian chessboard and disrupt the current fragile calm. Biden’s policy towards Belarus will be a derivative of his Russian policy. The appointments in his administration (the return of the same Nuland) indicate that the Kremlin again wants to be appointed to the role of the main “bad guy”. This means that the immediate geopolitical encirclement of Russia will be destabilized, and Belarus is the first candidate for this role. Biden intends to revive the traditional American “policy of values”, and the Belarusian regime in this sense is a very convenient ideological target. By the way, Trump, acting in the spirit of political realism and pragmatism, has succeeded a lot in pulling Belarus into the sphere of American influence, while not changing or “democratizing” the ruling regime. But it looks like his foreign policy approaches will be nullified. For Tikhanovskaya and other political émigrés from the opposition, the new American policy towards official Minsk is perhaps the only real chance to turn the tide in their favor.