Continuation of street actions requires logistics, planning, and thoughtful information support. The authorities, in turn, do everything possible to prevent organizing the protests.
In 2011, the Institute of Political Studies “Political Sphere”analyzed mass actions in Belarus during the period from the collapse of the USSR to the previous "liberalization" right before the 2010 elections. The results of the study were published in the book "Baptizing the Nation. Mass protests of 1988-2009».
Andrei Kazakevich, director of the “Political Sphere”, PhD in Political Science, shared the peculiarities of the current wave of the Belarusian street actions in his interview with the "EuroBelarus" Information Service.
- Can this wave of protests be considered unique?
- In my opinion, these protests are definitely unique in many aspects. But we can still trace certain analogies in the contemporary Belarusian history. The protests of 2017 to some extent resemble the public outrage of the late 80's and early 90's. Back then protests were ignited by the non-payment of wages, low standards of living, rising prices and other social problems.
- How can you compare the participation scale of the protests over the recent years?
- If compared with previous years, these protests can be called mass ones. Take, for example, 2014 - the year before the crisis: the number of rallies with more than 100 people participating over the whole year is four. This year we see many more mass protests in just two months. If we compare the participation scales of 2017 and the 90s or the middle the 00s, then it is probably hard to call the actions ‘mass’. I would rather rate them as ‘medium’.
-What about the geography of the protests?
- The geography of the protests is unique as the previous rallies most often had political nature and largely depended on the power of political structures in a particular city or region. Here the logic is different, we witness a social protest; the presence of opposition structures, obviously, influences the situation, but in general everything is tied to the local problems of a city or town.
- What about the social composition of the protesters?
- So far we have no analysis of this particular matter, but it is obvious that the majority of participants are not connected with the public sector. The protesters included the entrepreneurship, the so-called "parasites", joined by the workers and students. I must note that the striking difference from the previous protests is that after all these people are not political. The participation of apolitical people is certainly the phenomenon of 2017.
Another peculiarity is the calendar of protests. The traditional time for rallies in Belarus has always been spring, autumn to some extent. However this year's protests began in February, thus breaking the tradition.
- How does the government react? Are there any peculiar actions to curb the protests or is it using the traditional methods? (The interview was given before the wave of night arrests of former activists of the “White Legion” - EuroBelarus).
- Let's recall the last years of the USSR. A period of harsh detentions, accompanied by a loud information campaign and psychological pressure on people. The protests of 2017 took place in a completely different environment: it was obvious that the authorities tried to remain patient to a certain point - there were attempts at negotiations, officials went out to establish direct contact with the crowd - here, again, we can trace the analogy with the protests of the late 80's and early 90's. Nevertheless the information background was different, it was clear that the authorities worked with both state and independent media, providing the information designed to show how protests can endanger the independence of the country - the idea that Russia could intervene in the Belarusian affairs using the wave of protests in its own interests appeared. The argumentation of the authorities has become much more complex and aimed at all segments of the Belarusian society. And, of course, we saw a completely different foreign policy reaction. If we recall previous years, in most cases, the authorities unequivocally said that our internal affairs are none of the West’s business. This year official Minsk took up a more diplomatic attitude: after beating up and detaining the anarchists, the authorities presented this to the West as a compulsory measure against radicals destabilizing the situation and so on.
- Have the methods of organizing the rallies changed?
- The rallies were spontaneous and unexpected for almost everyone. Of course, other groups interested in spreading the protest wave are getting involved - the aforementioned anarchists, for instance, but they do not have any significant influence on the protests.
- What will happen after March 25?
- It seems to me the protests will die down, at least until the autumn. After that everything will depend on the economic situation. This wave of rallies has at least drawn some attention to these problems. The authorities generally proved to be ready for the protests and started to work to take the situation under control. The actions of the state aim at preventing further development of the situation. And for the protests to continue, organizational structures are needed as well as logistics, planning and information support. The opposition is still split, moreover, I think, the authorities will strengthen the atmosphere of distrust among the opposition. The state's information campaign will continue to demobilize street actions. Logically the protests will fade.