Saturday, October 3, 2020

Protesters in Khabarovsk and Belarus May Not Have Won, But Kremlin has Lost in Both, Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 2 – Neither in Khabarovsk nor in Belarusian cities have demonstrators achieved their goals, the return of Furgal and the ouster of Lukashenka, but by forcing the powers that be to rely increasingly on repression, they have achieved something equally important: they have inflicted “a strategic defeat” on the Kremlin, Liliya Shevtsova says.

            Because neither group of demonstrators has won out as some hoped, all too many, especially in Russia, are dismissing both them and peaceful protest more generally as an effective strategy, the Russian analyst says. That is short-sighted and a mistake, she argues (

            Khabarovsk and Belarus “are not like social explosions in Latin America, the Maidan [in Ukraine], or the east European revolutions,” Shevtsova continues. They both are taking place in countries “which have significant and in Russia enormous potential.” As such, protests however massive “are not able to lead to the transformation of power.”

            But despite that, they are “unprecedented” because they are undermining “the vitality of the ruling systems and forming the social and cultural milieu of a future social rising.” Even if Khabarovsk residents stop going into the streets, there  will remain real hostility toward Moscow and a radical minority will have been formed ready to take it one when it can.

            Given “the absence of the possibility for the legal channeling of attitudes through elections and political movements, a future Russian protest will return to the streets,” even in Khabarovsk residents go home now. Thus, “the protest in Khabarovsk kray did not win, but the powers lost because they lost a region.”

            “From now on,” Shevtsova says, “Khabarovsk is a warning” for the Kremlin about what is possible or even inevitable.

            The situation in Belarus is even clearer, she argues. “Lukashenka has retained power but what is that in a country which hates you?” In saving the Belarusian leader to prevent a precedent being established, the Kremlin has ensured that anti-Russian attitudes will grow among Belarusians, ending any chance for a union state.

            “Lukashenka has lost everything: reputation, his role in national history, influence on his country, personal security and a guarantee of the loyalty of the elite.” The Belarusians by their steadfastness have achieved all that, and it must be remembered that “not every people is capable of doing so.”

            According to Shevtsova, “the maturation and politicization of civil society in Belarus is proceeding more rapidly than the formation of a political opposition.” But that is better than when the reverse is true, and everyone must remember how much the Belarusian people have achieved.

            They have reduced the role of their “agro-fuehrer to that of a hostage of his  own siloviki and the Kremlin, they have shown that they have become a civic nation with a sense of their own dignity and readiness to collective self-defense, and they have transformed Belarus from a blank space on the map into an international factor, forcing Europe to pay attention.”

            The latter is especially important, Shevtsova suggests. Now that Europe has declared Lukashenka to be an illegitimate president, it is focusing on his exit and thus on what it will need to do once he is gone. Belarus will not return to what it was and it will not become part of the union state. It will be closer to Europe.

            Thus, it is far too early for “a requiem” on the protests in Khabarovsk or in Belarus. In both places, the people showed examples of real courage, and consequently, it is not for those who haven’t shown similar courage to criticize them for not achieving more. They have achieved far more than those who have not gone into the streets.

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