Staunton, September 3 – Oksana Shelest, a senior scholar at the Minsk Center for European Transformation, has been tracking the evolution of opinion among protesters in Minsk and other Belarusian cities. She says that Belarusians in the streets are ever more hopeful that Lukashenka’s ruling elite is about to split apart.
The Belarusian ThinkTanks.by portal publishes the conclusions of her last week’s observation, explicitly noting that Shelest makes no claims her sample – she spoke with 70 -- is representative even of the protesters (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/09/03/golos-ulitsy-usilivayutsya-nadezhdy-protestuyuschih-na-raskol-vo-vlastnyh-elitah.html).
But because Shelest has been constantly among the protesters, her observations are valuable especially concerning shifts in opinion that may not have been noted by those with less direct contact. Among her most important findings are the following;
· The authorities’ deployment of more force hasn’t intimidated but rather energized the opposition.
· The protests continue to be organized along social lines. Doctors march together, scholars separately and so on.
· Demonstrators have interposed themselves to prevent the siloviki from detaining people.
· Some of the demonstrations have acquired the characteristics of a carnival with street musicians, people in masks and so on. But the messages such people are delivering have become ever more aggressive and serious.
· People in the streets “continue to feel themselves part of the majority” regardless of what regime media say.
· They remain committed to regime change and think that the crisis will continue for a long time, “from a month to a year.”
· Demonstrators are divided on whether negotiations are possible or desirable. Some think the regime won’t ever negotiate, and others believe it would be a mistake to try to talk with its representatives.
· Almost all believe the Belarusian crisis is for Belarusians and no one else to resolve.
· Many express regret with what they see as Russia’s decision not to support the Belarusian people but rather back Lukashenka.
· Slogans are becoming ever more radical even if conversations among protesters remain much as they were.