Belarus: Rage at rigged election sparks mass demonstrations

Rally held in Helsinki, on the evening of 11 August, in solidarity with Belarus mass protests. Hundreds of young Belarusian workers and many from Helsinki's Russian community attended. A CWI supporter spoke at the event and read out the demands of the electricity plant workers taking industrial action in Belarus against state repression.

Mass demonstrations are rocking Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994, proclaimed victory in an election which has featured mass protests against his regime in every city and town. These protests have reached unprecedented heights, with even layers of the state security apparatus privately joining the “slipper revolution.”

This “slipper revolution” takes its name from a children’s poem about a cockroach being crushed by a slipper–the “cockroach” in this case being an epithet for Lukashenko bestowed by video blogger and banned opposition presidential candidate Sergei Tikhanovsky.

People from across Belarusian society have recoiled in disgust at the lavish lifestyle of Belarus’s wealthy, which Lukashenko masks with Stalinist imagery in a mockery of the country’s revolutionary working-class traditions.

Ostensibly, the weeks immediately preceding the election have been a “free” time for political discussion-although few in Belarus believe the elections are fair. State security officers are reported to have watched protests in plain clothes. In a bizarre episode, President Lukashenko accused Vladimir Putin of Russia–his closest ally internationally–of sending Russian mercenaries to influence the vote.

Liberal opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya claims victory, while the government has refused to release the election results and only states that Lukashenko got 80% of the vote. Tikhanovskaya is claiming not just the presidency, which she may have won, but the leadership of the mass movement against Lukashenko, which she has not earned. She was nominated after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a video blogger whose channel combines stories of ordinary Belarusians and of entrepreneurs who “will help to build a country for life,” was blocked from standing because of his opposition to Lukashenko.

Alla Orlovskaya, a mathematician and Belarusian expatriate in Germany, spoke to She ridiculed opposition candidates’ claims of legitimacy: “Tikhanovskaya was very weak as a participant and as a candidate. Lukashenko allowed her to participate. Viktar Babaryka [one of the barred candidates who is currently detained and facing tax, currency and bribery charges] was president of a bank. An ordinary person on the street is not the president of a bank.”

“Yesterday I saw horrible videos from Minsk. None of the candidates were in Minsk yesterday. Tsepkalo was in Warsaw. Tsepkalo’s wife was in Moscow. Tikhanovskaya was in Vilnius. None of them were with the people in the streets.”

Tear gas, water cannons, and flashbang grenades

With the election over, state repression of the wave of mass protests against the results has returned.

Photos from Minsk show tear gas, water cannons, and flashbang grenades deployed against protestors, while masses of people build a makeshift barricade from skips. Protests in Minsk counted tens of thousands of participants before the election and have since swollen to even greater numbers. reporters tried to contact another activist in Belarus but we have been unable to get hold of him. Reports say Lukashenko has cut off the internet in Belarus. In the last message we received, the activist agreed to an interview but warned: “It is OK, but it is possible that I will be in jail in the evening.”

Western leaders have begun to call for sanctions against Belarus. Such a move would only benefit pro-EU and pro-Russian layers of the Belarusian bourgeoisie. In Belarus, where a doctor might make as little as $200 a month and the economy gets worse every year, workers would suffer while the rich would still be wealthy. What then can end the Lukashenko regime and replace it with something better–a socialist one, with the economy planned democratically to fill people’s basic needs?

Ninety years ago, in the book, History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky wrote about the need for the anger of the masses to be put to work through an organization–a mass party of the working class. “Without a guiding organization, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam in a piston box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.”

The official face of the Belarusian opposition is not on the side of the working class–it will replace one rich clique with another if it takes power. The Belarusian left has the urgent task of providing revolutionary leadership to the masses–and this task requires fighting not just the Belarusian state but the Russian, EU and other international interests who seek to claim the power of Belarus’s industry for their own.

To spread and consolidate itself, the mass movement needs to establish democratically-run mass committees of revolutionary action, in workplaces, colleges and communities, linked up on a local, regional and national level. These can act as a powerful revolutionary force against the Lukashenko dictatorship, drawing together workers and youth, and it can break the power of the state forces by making a class appeal to the rank and file police and army. With a socialist programme, mass committees of action can become the real power in society — overseeing elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly (revolutionary parliament) – that sweeps away the old regime and takes into public democratic ownership the major parts of the economy and infrastructure. A socialist change in ‘small Belarus’ would have a huge effect on the working class of Russia and the region, enthusing them to also struggle to remove their dictatorial oligarch-dominated regimes.

A first step on this path is the building of a general strike. Starting on 11 August, several industrial plants announced strike action. The OAO “Metz IM V. I. Kozlova” electrical plant’s workers have circulated a letter with the following demands:

  1. Immediately end the violence against unarmed civilians who have the right to express their political positions peacefully!
  2. Stop provocations used to justify the actions of security forces.
  3. Release people detained during peaceful demonstrations.
  4. Turn on the Internet to eliminate the possibility of speculation and rumours.

Other plants joining the strike include the AZOT chemicals plant in Grodno, the Minsk MTZ tractor factory, the Belarusian Metallurgical Plant iron & steelworks in Jhlobin, the Belshina-Belarusian Tire Factory, Minsktrans Trolley-bus Depot #4 in Minsk, the Jhabinka sugar beet plant and Minsk margarine plant.

The fight between workers and the state has already turned bloody. Orlovskaya reports a peaceful confrontation between the state security forces, ATO, and protestors became violent due to the actions of provocateurs. As uniformed members of the police and even the KGB participated in online protests, the question that has to be asked is–where are they now, and who are they siding with? In the absence of revolutionary leadership, only mayhem can follow, which both Lukashenko and his rivals will try to exploit for themselves.

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August 2020