Blog / Chronicle from Belarus
Chronicle from Belarus: An Introduction
Presidential elections have long been merely pro forma in post-Soviet Belarus, where Alexander Lukashenko has been ruling as a dictator for more than a quarter-century. In May 2020 he imprisoned Sergei Tikhanovskii - an oppositionist YouTube blogger - immediately following Tikhanovskii’s announcement that he intended to run against Lukashenko in the presidential elections. In July Tikhanovskii’s wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaia - an English teacher and the mother of their two young children - announced that she would run in Sergei’s place.
Selection of Interviews
The long-form interview - a kind of narrative conversation - has long played a special role in the literature and history of East and Central Europe. What follows are a selection of interviews, including some conducted by IWM specifically for the Chronicle, which provide a dialogical perspective on events as they unfold.
Women in White: Gendered Dimensions of the Belarusian Protests
On 13 August 2020, following three days of terror, when it seemed that all might have been lost, tens of thousands of women, dressed in white and carrying flowers, came out onto the streets. They have come out continually since then, rejecting violence and demanding accountability. A fearless seventy-three-year-old woman, the diminutive, white-haired Nina Baginskaya, has become the emblematic figure of a feminist revolution of a new kind.
Selection of Reports
Sławomir Sierakowski, from Warsaw, and Nataliya Gumenyuk, from Kyiv, were among the very few foreign journalists present in Belarus in August 2020. We include their reporting from the ground as well as documentation by other observers and journalists, including IWM Visiting Fellow Volha Biziukova, who wrote about her experience as an election observer at the Belarusian embassy in Vienna.
Understanding Belarus: Suggested Background Reading
Texts chosen to give a brief overview and introduction to the evolving situation in Belarus.
Selection of Videos
A curated archive of videos that document the ongoing crisis in Belarus.
Arts and Protests
Visual artists have played a large role as both participants in and as documenters of the protest movement. Yana Chernova’s “Belarusian Venus” - an oil painting depicting a female nude bruised from beatings - has become the iconic image of a dictator’s brutality.
Poetry & Music
Maria Kalesnikova, who remains in Belarusian prison, is herself is a flautist and conductor. Poets and musicians from Belarus have responded to the revolutionary events with their own compositions; poets and musicians from abroad have responded with performances in solidarity with their Belarusian colleagues.
A curated archive of open letters that have been published during the Belarusian crisis.
Witness and Participant Testimonies
Since the beginning of protests, Belarusian activists have managed to organize a very effective society and have create a range of tools and services which help people to organize themselves in communities, write governmental complaints, be aware of their own rights and more.
Siloviki: Violence, Unmasking, and Lukashenko’s Security Forces
Belarus's “Siloviki” or “men of force” - a term referring to members of the security services - have enabled Lukashenko to remain in power. They have responded to the protests by detaining, beating and torturing nonviolent protestors.
Selection of Essays and Opinions
Novelists, philosophers, columnists, publicists and political analysts - both in Belarus and abroad - have expressed their own emotions and offered their own analyses of the Belarussian situation. Included here are essays by Olga Tokarchuk, Volodymyr Rafeenko, Vitaliy Portinkov, Katja Petrowskaja, Olga Shparaga, Masha Gessen and many others.
Speeches by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya
Tikhanovskaya speeches that have appeared in different Media:
On the Nature of Political Antagonism in Belarusian Society
Antagonism is an irreconcilable conflict between two parties caused by a radical contradiction in their positions (interests, principles, beliefs). The political field of Belarus was structured antagonistically already during the pre-election campaign, namely when Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, supported by Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo, announced her one-item program: to hold the new fair elections. Against the background of the arrests of activists and two key candidates for participation in the elections (Sergei Tikhanovsky and Viktor Babaryko) as well as the refusal to register Valery Tsepkalo the brevity of Tikhanovskaya's program made clear that her crucial discrepancy with the then legitimate president consists in a completely opposite understanding of relation between law and power. Whereas Tikhanovskaya insisted on the principle of the rule of law Lukashenko hold to the a-la Schmittian principle of sovereign power according to which a sovereign (monarch) has the right to make extraordinary decisions not based on the law if he consider it necessary in the interests of the state's security.
The Heuristics and Poiesis of the Belarusian Revolution
Heuristics are utilized in the discovery of new things. The classical concept of poiesis is the creative making of something new. The former has to do with perceiving reality; the latter is concerned with transforming it. Experts from a variety of fields agree that the Belarusian Revolution is a historically unique phenomenon, fundamentally new in multiple ways.
Toward a Genealogy of the “Society of the Shocked”
The basic foundation of social cooperation in any society is what is known in Russian as zdravyi smysl [literally: sound sense, or good judgement]. In English this concept is referred to as “common sense.”
A calm silhouette against the background of the color of purity and peace. A person is peaceful, and yet the body is exhausted and severely beaten. Here, any anatomical or light-and-shadow analysis seems meaningless and impossible because this is not what catches the eye in such circumstances. In spite of it all, this person holds steady.
Aliaksander Bystryk has been imprisoned again, now for the third time.
Unprotected – Неабароненая
Philosopher Olga Shparaga detained in Belarus
Vitalij Portnikow: Wir werden niemals Brüder sein.
Putin is a Student of Lukashenka’s: A Conversation Between Sławomir Sierakowski and Adam Michnik
Translated by David Kurkovskiy
August 21, 2020
Original interview in Polish, published by Krytyka Polityczna on August 12, 2020.
Whoever governs Belarus is fated to build relations with the Kremlin. And as long as the Kremlin remains as strong as it is, it is the Kremlin that will set the terms. At the same time, the situation will look different once something in Russia changes – says Adam Michnik in a conversation with Sławomir Sierakowski.
“Es geht jetzt um die demokratische Zukunft von Belarus”. Interview mit der Philosophin Olga Shparaga
19. August 2020
Olga Shparaga engagiert sich seit Jahren in herausragender Weise für die belarussische Zivilgesellschaft und die Reform von Bildung und Universitäten. Studiert hat sie u.a. in Bochum. Ihre Philosophie, beeinflusst von Phänomenologie und Post-Strukturalismus, verfolgt klar emanzipatorische Agenden.
In den Tagen des Protests ist sie an vielen Fronten aktiv. Trotzdem nahm sie ausführlich Stellung zu unseren Fragen, die wir am 15.8. per Email an sie übermittelt haben. Schon am nächsten Tag (So., 16.8.) antwortete sie:
“Ich habe begonnen zu schreiben! (…) Bald sammeln wir uns wieder in der Stadt! Heute ALLE!”
In ihrem Interview berichtet sie auch darüber, wie gerade die Proteste dieses Sonntags ihr Land wahrscheinlich für immer verändern werden.
Wie erlebst Du die gegenwärtige Situation: Überwiegt die Sorge und die Angst vor den gewaltsamen Verhaftungen der Polizei oder die Freude, dass in „der letzten Diktatur Europas“, wie man Belarus charakterisiert hat, etwas in Bewegung gekommen ist?
Jewgenij Kaljukow: Tichanowskaja kündigte den Beginn der Schaffung eines Rates zur Machtübergabe an
Sławomir Sierakowski: They Fired At Us With Polish Ammunition
August 11, 2020, Minsk
Monday evening’s peaceful protest in Minsk was scheduled for 7 pm on Victory Square, around the Minsk Hero City Obelisk. But police blocked off the square and the streets leading to it, so demonstrators could not gather there. In accordance with the opposition’s contingency plan, people instead gathered to protest around the city’s main metro stations.
Around 10-11pm, police moved to suppress the protests around several of these metro stations. I witnessed clashes in the two places which, according to rumors circulating in the city, saw the greatest use of police violence, although I cannot verify this.
A barricade was constructed near the Riga shopping center, where about 5,000 demonstrators gathered. Initially there was no police presence. The protest was entirely peaceful; cars and buses stood in a long traffic jam, expressing solidarity with the protestors, there were many white-red-white and white flags, and people called out “Zhyve Belarus.” There was no aggression and no hooliganism.
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.
Pavel Barkouski: Ist das Ihr Ernst, Herr Professor?
Erstveröffentlichung auf Koinè, 9. September 2020.
Übersetzung aus dem Belarussischen: Martin Malek
Für kurze Zeit wurde Belarus zu einem Top-Medienereignis für die ganze Welt. Es ist weniger deprimierend als die Nachrichten über das Coronavirus und inspirierender für Anhänger der Demokratie, die wegen dem florierenden Rechtspopulismus viel Grund für Pessimismus hatten. Aber jetzt ist es [Belarus, Anm. d. Übers.] ein Thema für viele Aussagen und Diskussionen. Sogar der bekannte Sprecher linker Intellektueller, Slavoj Žižek, musste seine Sicht der Ereignisse in Belarus formulieren. Das fiel aber, gemessen an seinem Ruf, überraschenderweise schwach aus. Davon zeugen schlechte Kenntnisse des Gegenstandes der Diskussion und die Verwendung bestimmter konzeptioneller Stereotypen.
Almira Ousmanova: Belarus 2020: Time for #evalution
Viktor Martinovich „Dieser Gewalt kann man nur Liebe und Schwäche entgegensetzen.“
Nataliya Gumenyuk: Why weak points of Belarus state may play in favour of the protests
Steven Seegel: Why Follow Belarus?
Tatiana Aleshka: For all those who are interested in events in Belarus, and for all those who are asking what is happening here.
Volha Biziukova “I was an Election Observer”
August 18, 2020
On the 29th of July, I entered an elegant 19th-century mansion in Hütteldorf, the neighborhood in Vienna where the Belarusian embassy is located. For the next two weeks, its ornate main hall would become voting station #75. I handed in my application to become an election observer, but the election commission members, all embassy employees, did not know how to proceed; they looked lost. It seemed that I was the first independent election observer they had encountered.
The Head of the Central Election Commission of Belarus: “Tikhanovskaya’s address was recorded in my cabinet”
Lidiya Ermoshina, the Head of the Central Election Commission of Belarus [TsIK], confirmed that presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s address, in which she reads, from a piece of paper, a call to stop the street protests, was recorded in her cabinet in the presence of two high ranking law enforcement officers.
Angela Espinosa Ruiz: An Ode to the Victims of the OMON* and Violence in General
Andrey Vozyanov: Can’t find the words to explain how dreadful is the ongoing in Belarus
Several hundreds of relatives gather near IVS temporary holding facility in Minsk and try, without success, to know where should they bring parcels for their children.
Ingo Petz: Ein gewaltfreier Protest getragen vom Zorn der Frauen, Mütter und Großmütter
In Belarus halten unvermindert die Proteste gegen die manipulierten Wahlen vom 9. August an. Seit dem 11.8. begleitet das IWM die aktuellen Entwicklungen mit dem „Chronicle from Belarus“. Heute, am 14.8., erfolgte überraschenderweise die Freilassung hunderter Inhaftierter, die von Folterungen berichten. Eine erste Einschätzung dieses Manövers liefert Ingo Petz, der als Journalist seit mehr als zwei Jahrzehnten mit dem Land vertraut ist. Im Jahr 2017 arbeitete Petz am IWM an seinem Buchprojekt „Belarus—My Life and Travels in an Unknown Country in Europe.“
Eine ganz wichtige Rolle für die Entwicklungen in Belarus könnte die EU spielen, die sich aber – wie schon im Fall der Ukraine – abwartend verhält. Gerade aus Deutschland, das gegenwärtig die EU-Ratspräsidentschaft innehat, wäre eine deutliche Stellungnahme nötig. Neben den Berichten und Interviews auf Englisch sowie den Links zu polnischen und ukrainischen Quellen sollen in diesem Blog deshalb verstärkt auch deutschsprachige Artikel/Interviews publiziert werden.
Sławomir Sierakowski: Report on the Events of August 9, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus
The Belarusian opposition has adopted three principles of protest: first, it is to be absolutely peaceful; second, it is to be long-lasting—that is, it will continue until it succeeds; and finally, it is intended to be self-limiting in a political sense. Supporters of opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya have three specific goals: free elections, ending repression, and restoring the previous, democratic constitution. This approach, this explicit self-limitation, makes the process very clear to the public, very motivating, and evidently effective in the sense that people are going out into the streets of cities large and small in unprecedented numbers. In Minsk we have seen crowds of 60,000-70,000; in smaller towns, protests have numbered up to 20,000.
Natalia Gumenyuk: On the Barricades, Under Fire from Stun Grenades, and With No Internet. A Special Report from Minsk on the Elections in Belarus
Aliaksandr Bystryk: “Lukashenka is the abusive husband who beats his wife when she wants to leave. . .”
Aliaksandr Bystryk is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Central European University. He comes from a small town in western Belarus, and is currently living in Minsk. I sent him the following questions on Tuesday 11 August, after the election results were announced and just before presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was forced to leave the country. Aliaksandr sent me back his answers on Wednesday afternoon, 12 August. On Thursday morning, 13 August, he sent me this update: