Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Putin’s Pressure on Belarus Puts Opposition There Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – Many in the Belarusian opposition today find themselves in a terrible position. On the one hand, they are unalterably opposed to the authoritarian and anything but genuinely national Alyaksandr Lukashenka. But on the other, they do not want to do anything to weaken their country and expose it to an even greater risk of an Anschluss by Russia.

            That is something Lukashenka, of course, is able to exploit: Few Belarusians now are prepared to take to the streets to protest if that could be used by Vladimir Putin to occupy and suppress their independence. But that very attitude says something some often forget: Even the Belarusian opposition is deeply patriotic and opposed to weakening their country.

            There is much to criticize in the Belarusian opposition: its inability to overcome personal rivalries, its utopianism, and its lack of consistency. But that patriotism is at the root of its opposition to Lukashenka just as it is at the root of its even greater opposition to Putin and absorption by Russia.
            Writing on the Belarus Partisan portal, opposition figure Ruslan Ignatovich makes this clear. He says bluntly: “I hate the Belarusian powers that be. But if someone in these wild times will call us into the street and put pressure on them, my feet will not carry me there. Because I would view such actions as aiding Putin” (

            “And I hate Putin’s Russia much more” than the Belarusian dictatorship, Ignatovich continues.  That makes the challenge for the Belarusian opposition both more difficult and more urgent, more difficult because of this choice and more urgent because building up a genuinely European Belarus is the only way to defend the nation and the state.

            According to the opposition commentator, “it is possible that our country is living through the most dramatic period of its history” given that many are now openly discussing the possibility that Belarus could lose its independence. What they should be talking about is why this is possible – and what should be done now.

            For the last two decades, “those who rule Belarus have been doing everything necessary for this to come to pass. They’ve allowed Russia to dominate television and they’ve put in the school programs a course on “Russian literature, not world literature but precisely Russian. Our children read Pushkin along with Shakespeare but more than Kolos or Korotkevich.”
            Belarusian officials “do not know their native language. There are now “fewer Belarusian language schools and kindergartens in Belarus than in Poland. “And I am writing this text in Russia,” Ignatovich says, “because the majority of citizens of my country in a banal fashion ignore Belarusian articles.”

            The powers that be are not the only ones to blame for this situation, he continues. “A significant part of the opposition also has helped kill our independence.”  The leaders cannot agree among themselves on how to celebrate even key holidays so they can’t expect ordinary Belarusians to know what to do. And protest activity instead of growing has fallen.

            This all works to Moscow’s advantage, and it is certain that just as Moscow has penetrated even those Ukrainian forces now fighting against Russian occupation, so too it has penetrated Belarusian opposition groups and controls the behavior of some of them in ways that work against what the groups say they are about.

            “Where are our opposition figures today when over Belarus hangs a real threat? Why aren’t they calling for meetings against Putin?” And why aren’t the Belarusian powers that be calling them into the streets to support Belarusian independence? If that happened, “millions would come out.

            But as Ignatovich himself confesses, he is uncertain what to do now given that Moscow would likely exploit a rise in opposition activity and that as a patriot, he hates Putin and Russia more than he hates Lukashenka and his regime. It truly appears to have become a time of no good choices in Belarus. 

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