Pavel Barkouski:
Are You Serious, Mr. Professor?  Belarus’ Philosophers Respond to Žižek

First published in Belarusian on Koinè.
Translated from Belarusian by Aliaksei Kazharski

For a short period of time, Belarus has become a top media event to the world. The event is less depressive than the coronavirus stories and more inspiring for supporters of democracy who have been lately given many reasons to be pessimistic by the rise of right-wing populism. This is why Belarus is subject of many discussions and statements. Even the famous spokesman of left-wing intellectuals Slavoj Žižek felt that he had to share his view on the events. Surprisingly, his take did not live up to his reputation. He demonstrated poor knowledge of the subject and a tendency to use a set of conceptual cliches.

First, there is his statement about “catch-up protests” that are trying to align the country with Western liberal values. This criticism would be in place in 2006 or 2010, that is when that part of Belarus which was in opposition was, indeed, trying to “open a window on Europe” and used the respective rhetoric. However, the agenda is entirely different now. People are tired of the regime of never-ending rule of one person, of the regime of lies, fear, and violence. This is no longer the opposition; they consider themselves the people. And they do not aspire to go Westward or Eastward, which has been stressed by the new national leader Sviatlana Cichanouskaya. Just for the record, Belarus has the highest rate of Euroscepticism in the region. Support for European integration usually does not go above 25% of the population. Mr. Professor, do you think that workers of Belarusian factories and other enterprises are going on strike so that more capitalism can come here? Do you think they are poisoned by some liberal propaganda? That the students, athletes, artists, IT specialists and civil servants are protesting just because they want to become part of the liberal world? Are you serious?  This is a civil revolution, this is a will “to be called human”, to conquer their constitutional rights, the right to elect their leaders, the right not to be victims of violence and torture and the right to be able to independently develop their own country.

Secondly, Professor Žižek is writing about the miracle of Belarus’ economy, about its stability and absence of corruption which secured broad popular support for Lukashenka, at least in the past. Are you serious, Mr. Žižek? Do you seriously think that the skill of reexporting cheap Russian oil can be called an economic strategy and trading the country’s sovereignty – a sign of business savvy? Are you calling successful an economy that, for the past ten years, has only grown by 11% GDP, and has all this time struggled – in vain – to reach the 500 US dollars benchmark for the average salary?  An economy that demonstrates better development indexes only if compared to Ukraine, which has lost parts of its territories and population and is in a state of undeclared war with Russia? You are wrong to think that Belarus is some kind of a socialist relic which stimulates your nostalgia for the USSR – that lost Atlantis of left-wing intellectuals. Belarus is a form of state capitalism, with a very harsh labor contract system, a monooligarchic capital, and some rudiments of a welfare state – only partially free healthcare and education. No corruption? Here, the truth is that the country has managed to lower its corruption ranking from the 119th place in 2012-2014 to the 66th in 2019 – thanks to its cooperation with international institutions, but this is in the 26th year of Lukashenka’s rule.

You are saying that democracy has lost its ideals and does not know which way forward, and that capitalism is not as predictable as it used to be as it enters a new phase. Quite right. Like yourself, I also like using the term post-political in my attempts to analyze imitational strategies and distortions of the political on the global level. But the truth is that the government of Belarus is trying to go on living inside their own simulacrum, a simulacrum which is now completely detached from reality. And they are trying to use force to convince Belarus’ citizens that the regime’s own morbid authoritarian fantasies are our collective phantasm. But the protests in Belarus are not in support of the left or the right, they are in support of a new truth. Not the post-truth but its antipode. They are protests for the right to leave the Matrix. Please, do not try to squeeze this into cliches like “a new Kyiv”.  This is neither about “catchup protests” nor about other stereotypes such as an alternative between “liberal” and “real” protests. This is a search for our own way towards our future.

The unpleasant truth is that, presently, neither the leftist nor the rightist intellectuals have a precise strategy for the future, and they have difficulties offering something to either the proletariat or the precariat. Leftist intellectuals are giving up the idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat and are coming to realize that it is difficult to find an alternative to democracy as a form of social existence. One can only agree with Chantal Mouffe that democracy does not necessarily have to be liberal, but it must be a democracy.  People are waking up to bring their civil rights back; they are building horizontal ties and new, network models of solidarity. In its essence, this is actually more of an anarchist protest.

Finally, Professor Žižek praises Belarusians for being equally indifferent to the coronavirus threat. In his opinion, the best socialist healthcare can respond well to such threats without a lockdown. Are you serious? The truth is, in Belarus, the rudimentary post-Soviet healthcare system was indeed able to cope in terms of the required numbers of medical staff and clinics but showed a full collapse when it came to supplies – with gauze masks being used instead of respirators and intensive care units disposing of no more than two-three mechanical ventilation machines. The point is that low coronavirus death figures in Belarus are not a miracle, but the product of an order from the Ministry of Truth to do fewer tests and to register the cause of death as being something else. This becomes clear when one looks at the death figures officially provided by the UN.  Do you really wish for a healthcare system which is unable to fulfill its basic responsibilities without mass solidarity of the citizens who took that responsibility onto themselves by providing their hospitals with supplies and by practicing voluntary self-isolation?  Are you truly in favor of a healthcare system that creates a rosy illusion by simply forging the data? You do not see protestors wearing face masks and think that they forgot about the coronavirus. But when we are raped and beaten in prisons, when people disappear being detained by strangers in balaclavas – would you seriously argue that we should stay at home and worry about the pandemic? This is about not seeing the world through your comfortable thinking templates. Belarus is not Ukraine, not Libya, not Egypt, and not Georgia. As to the globalized world, indeed, it is time for it to think: whither now?

 

 

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