Liberals and leftists blindly supporting the Belarus protests in the name of ‘freedom’ are ignoring something important – the living standards of the people. What if the ‘revolution’ leads to mass emigration and economic hardship?
Watching the protests against Lukashenko unroll in Belarus, I was immediately brought back to the anti-Putin rallies in Russia back in the early 2010s, in which I personally participated.
It was all very similar: Contested elections, fed-up people, flowers, police violence, displays of solidarity. The landscape was different, of course – a Minsk summer amid a global pandemic versus the bitter Moscow winter cold.
But my reflection on the processes has also deepened since then, which makes it impossible for me to fully engage with current events without thinking about the neoliberal and Western influences on them.
In the last decade, it became apparent that there is almost no way to oppose inequality and authoritarianism in the post-Soviet space without this struggle being co-opted into an anti-communist, or anti-leftist, position – even though the ‘authoritarians’ are quite vehemently anti-communist themselves.
The anti-socialist sentiments in society are so strong that the two polar opposites to communism – capitalism and nationalism – come sweeping in and claim the protestors.
In Russia during the protests, I saw people so enthusiastic to jump on the bandwagon of liberation that they would eagerly side with foreign governments just to oppose Putin.
In reaction to this, nationalist fervor began fermenting from within. Then, revisionist schizophrenia arrived: “We’d be a better country under Hitler than Stalin,” and that sort of rubbish.
Pretty much the same spread as back in 1991, as I understand, and the exact same promises that later brought Putin to power in Russia – although, of course, not many in the post-Soviet space understand it.
At the same time, the bourgeoisie was also waiting for those unhappy with their material conditions but vehemently opposed to anything resembling communism, offering surveillance solutions, capitalist nationalism, free markets, and eternal neoliberalism.
When the Maidan coup happened in Ukraine, there was no need to persuade people that supporting it meant being on the right side of history. If it’s against Putin, it must be inherently good, was the spirit.
Few critical views of the Maidan and Ukrainian nationalism were developed, especially outside of the right-wing agenda.
The general trend is still to dismiss any attempts to examine this further, and leftists – not just liberals, but socialists and anarchists, too – overwhelmingly align with Ukraine on Maidan, Crimea and Donbass.
The idea of further ‘balkanization’ of the post-soviet space is prevalent, and it has become a sort of marker of good liberalism to care about the Ukrainian national project, even when denouncing a comparable agenda within Russia.
Currently, I see overwhelming kneejerk support for the protests in Belarus without any nuance or reflection on the problematic parts of it, and I see obvious support for Belarusian nationalism.
The ‘right side’ of history is, once again, defined precisely. Very few people, unfortunately, are ready to discuss the negatives of the protests. Very few are brave enough to oppose the majority’s opinions. Those aligned with Lukashenko support the violent cops, whether they’re coming from the left of the right.
But there are also Marxist skeptics who want Lukashenko gone, but don’t want a Maidan-style revolt. They are, however, all silenced by the red-and-white flag-wielding majority: Those who denounce parallels with the Maidan but remain staunchly supportive of Ukrainian nationalism in general.
Every criticism they face, like a discussion of this flag’s nationalist origins, or Poland and Lithuania’s nationalist and perpetual influence on the protests, is discounted as Russian propaganda.
What if I don’t want to see Belarus torn apart by privatization and in the pits of poverty, as its citizens roam Europe looking for low-paid jobs as labor migrants? Which is what has happened in Ukraine.Anyone who asks for nuance is met with a resounding dismissal: “Are you against the working people?”
No, but what if I’m against the working class being appropriated as useful idiots for the causes of nationalism and a color revolution?
But does anyone care about the working class more than they care about the promise of freedoms? About equality more than liberty?
Aversion to serious talk from those who support the protests is often indicative of an unwillingness to investigate their bias about the Soviet Union and the underlining idea of class solidarity, a very crucial thing right now.
Lukashenko is equated with the Soviet Union and communism. The red-and-white flag is used despite the Nazi association (as it was used during the occupation period) because the current red-and-green one is considered tainted by its Soviet origins.
It has become fashionable to consider yourself a leftist in the post-Soviet space, online especially. Still, the overwhelming majority of those doing it are reluctant to go deeper than just the label and shift from their liberal positions.
Dialectics are too much work, reading Marx and Lenin is old-fashioned, and the rhetoric of freedom is more appealing than historical materialism. Unfortunately, that also means that attempts to re-examine Soviet history and culture from a lens free of the Western influence are overwhelmingly met with rejection.
But one can’t help but notice that the liberal media run by local oligarchs or foreign governments are not held up to the same level of scrutiny, even by those saying they oppose Western imperialism.
This, in turn, makes it even harder to support the workers. The online and media fields are very much blurred by the liberal / Western / nationalist bias, and we can’t see the workers’ perspective through the red and white noise.
It becomes essential to remain vigilant and not let the same biased groups co-opt the workers’ agency in Belarus.
The violence on the ground in Belarus is real. The autocracy is real. There can be no doubts about that. But the neoliberal and nationalist tendencies seem to be as much of a threat to worker solidarity as the regime’s wrongdoings.
I am incredibly invested in observing the events unfolding in Belarus because I have seen all of it before, in Russia personally and in Ukraine from a distance. And I hate to see the worst repeat yet again, with the same stalwarts of neoliberalism at the helm, denouncing communism, virtue-signaling to nationalism.
As I watch this, already lonely in the shadow of the right-wingers dominating the debate, I want nothing more in life than for more people in the post-Soviet space to stop being afraid of socialism and start being afraid of capitalism, nationalism, and fascism.
Katya Kazbek is a Russian writer and translator based in NYC. She is the editor-in-chief of Supamodu.com. Follow her on Twitter @kazbek
Republished by The 21st Century
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 21cir.