Reflections not only on how to improve the situation of imprisoned anarchists in so-called Belarus, but also on how to contribute to the fall of the local dictatorship.
Recently, anarchists who already have extensive experience in Lukashenko’s regime repressions have been imprisoned. Dmitry Dubovsky, Igor Olinevich, Sergei Romanov, Dmitry Rezanovich, Mikola Dziadok, Akihiro Gaevsky-Hanada and others. The reason for their prosecution is obvious: they resisted the dictatorship. The regime in Belarus is no different from other dictatorships. It does not accept active resistance to its own evil, even if it is only the activity of individuals or small groups. The ruling class realizes that after so many years of oppression, any resistance has great potential to become richer until it overwhelms the regime and it falls.
Repression by the structures defending the regime is growing as resistance becomes massive. There are already thousands of people on the streets of Belarusian cities seeking to overthrow the dictator. Most of them have no other goal than to establish Western-style parliamentary democracy in the country. From an anarchist perspective, this can be seen as an inconsistent attitude that does not address the fundamental nature of the problem.
Nevertheless, two positive conclusions can be drawn from this.
The very pressure on the regime and the possible achievement of its collapse can mean an improvement in the situation of imprisoned anarchists and other prisoners. There may be a reduction in punishment, improved prison conditions, or even release.
Any rebellion against oppression, however reformist it may be at first, has the potential to later cling to revolutionary goals. The active participation of revolutionary minorities can contribute to this by pushing for activities beyond the limits of the bourgeois-democratic framework.
What is happening in so-called Belarus is not a social revolution as some anarchists think. Let us not have any illusions, so that we do not have to deal with the pain of disillusionment later. Let’s not seek in events what is not there. But let’s also not take the missing revolutionary content as a pretext to passively sit aside. It is necessary to be without illusions, but at the same time to intervene in the situation in anarchist ways, trying to reverse the course of events in favor of anarchist goals.
Some anarchists in Belarus have had their sentences reduced as a result of pressure from the international community, human rights organizations, diplomacy and even members of the European Parliament. Some people now relate their hopes to these realms. Although early release is a huge relief for comrades and their loved ones, even here it is necessary to beware of illusions. If the Lukashenko regime proceeds to loosen repressive measures under pressure from diplomacy or ruling elites from other countries, this is not a sign of goodwill. It is not selfless help. It is usually a strategic choice to make the regime more legitimate in the eyes of foreign critics and thus ease international pressure. The release of several prisoners gives the impression that the regime reflects on its mistakes and does not want to continue them. However, it is a cover-up maneuver. The regime does not change at the core. It goes on the same tracks, only with the support of official human rights defenders, who unknowingly help from abroad to co-create a better picture of the regime than it really is.
Any improvement in the situation of imprisoned comrades is very positive news. But let us not allow this to become an excuse to abandon the anarchist perspective and the uncompromising negation of the authoritarian structures of all states. Members of the European Parliament and government diplomats cannot be celebrated uncritically. Although they sometimes advocate the release of anarchists from prison, we are not associated with a partnership. We must not look at them as hope, because their goals mean blocking and obstructing our goals.
Igor Olinevich, one of the imprisoned anarchists, expressed skepticism about the help of governments and their institutions in his prison diary, “I’m going to Magadan” in 2011 when he wrote: “Belarus plays the role of a primary, most environmentally polluted country economically through oil gas, the production of plastics, food supplements, fertilizers, paper, cement, etc. In general, Europe can adopt resolutions and carry out decorative maneuvers on democracy at will, but in fact, it does not mind such a state of affairs at all. ‘It is also possible to trade with cannibals’ – that is the essence of European politics.”
This is not just an expression of distrust in official politics. It is also an indication of where the revolutionary forces should go. European Union governments and businessmen are primarily interested in smooth international trade. If Lukashenko’s regime does not prevent them from doing so, they have no reason to push for his removal. As Igor Olinevich remarked well, “We have nowhere to expect help from. No one will save us except ourselves.”
If we know that the stability of the Belarusian regime depends on trade with neighboring countries, it follows that the blocking of these trades significantly contributes to destabilization. Years ago, Igor outlined which economic sectors are key in the country. Each of us has the ability to find out more about individual economic actors and their position in the region in which we live. And anyone, even with a minimum of resources, can make problems or stop their operation. The Belarusian regime is not an isolated phenomenon closed between national borders. Its economic and political interests spread throughout the world. Tracking and intervening makes more sense than relying on the maneuvers of the powers.
Lukáš Borl, december 2020