Saturday, May 9, 2020

Lukashenka’s Parade and Putin’s Cancellation Highlights Fundamental Change in Russian Values, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – Many have been struck by Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s decision to go ahead with the Victory Day parade despite the coronavirus even though Vladimir Putin has postponed the Moscow one because of the pandemic and even speculated that Lukashenka is trying to embarrass his Russian counterpart.

            There may be something in that, of course, Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov says; but the real reason is deeper: Lukashenka is a survival of the past, whose contempt for human life is typical of his Soviet predecessors and whose society is not yet in a position to demand that he behave differently (

            Putin while he might like to behave in the same way faces a different situation because Russian society not only has changed but is stronger, Portnikov says. He “can permit himself much but not a defiant neglect of the lives of Russians.”  The response of the population to that, especially in the current circumstances, could be politically fatal.

            By his refusal to take steps to protect the Belarusian people from the pandemic and his decision to go ahead with the parade, Lukashenka has shown himself to be “the direct heir of the Soviet elites, the very same who stopped German tanks with the bodies of Soviet soldiers or held May Day parades after Chernobyl,” the commentator continues.

            “In the Soviet Union, the value of human life was reduced to nothing; and of course, no Central Committee general secretary would ever cancel a parade or demonstration because of some invisible coronavirus even if he had known that as a result, whole cities would perish,” Portnikov says.

            “Celebratory meetings, parades, and demonstrations, all that ritual which copied church rites, gave meaning to the existence of communist meaninglessness.” And that is because however absurd they appeared to outsiders, the chief meaning of these events was “marching before the leader” and reaffirming his power.

            According to Portnikov, “in this sense, Lukashenka really gets the prize of honor in the form of a parade and receives a patent for the further killing of Belarusians. But of course, more interesting is the question: why is he holding a parade while Putin is not?”

            However paradoxical it may soon, the reason lies “not in the dictators themselves” but rather in the contrasting experiences of the two countries in the 1990s, the cursed 1990s that Russia passed through but that Belarus thanks to the Sovietism of Lukashenka did not, Portnikov says.

            The experiences of that decade in Russia “set new ‘red lines’ concerning the value of human life in the understanding of the leadership and began the process, now being broken by the behavior of Putin, to cure society from Stalinism.” Russians came to understand that a May Day parade at the time of Chernobyl was “a crime not some heroic act.”

            As a result, Russians reacted differently than they had earlier, horrified by the human losses with the sinking of the Kursk or the tragedies at Budennovsk, Dubrovka and Beslan. And the Kremlin had to hide the truth about the losses from Putin’s wars in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere.

            Consequently, Lukashenka and not yet Putin is “today the best student of the cannibal [Stalin] who greeted the participants of the first Victory Parade and never reflected about the price of their victories.” 

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