Staunton, February 27 – When an ancien regime begins to pull back in the face of popular demands, that represents a defeat for the former and a victory for the latter -- even if those in power calculate they can regroup and make a comeback. That is because such successes for the protesters are something they won’t forget even if there is a new crackdown.
Today, Belarusian protesters won an important if admittedly “a small victory” of that kind, one out of which larger ones will come: Those despoiling Belarus’ holiest site, the Kuropaty mass graves, say they won’t work and are pulling out their construction equipment from the site (svaboda.org/a/28334191.html and https://charter97.org/ru/news/2017/2/27/242159/).
Their pullback occurred on the eighth day of demonstrations against new construction there, demonstrations that have been overshadowed by mass protests the last two weekends in the major cities of Belarus. But there is a compelling reason to believe that the Kuropaty protests may threaten the Lukashenka dictatorship even more than protests against the vagrants tax.
And it is this: Kuropaty, the site of the mass murder of Belarusians in Stalin’s time, since its discovery in 1988, has stimulated the rise of Belarusian nationalism, a collective sense that the Belarusian people have been the victims of Soviet Russian imperialism and must take responsibility for their own nation into their own hands.
Lukashenka tried to hijack that feeling, but as BelarusPartisan points out, there are ten important reasons why Kuropaty which is sacred to the memory of Belarusians must be defended in their first instance against the current regime. And those reasons are helping to recast the protests against the vagrants tax into a national movement against the Minsk dictator.
Among those reasons are the following: Kuropaty is “the place of a Soviet genocide,” it is “the main argument for de-communization,” it is “the beginning of the Belarusian state,” it is “the watershed between hypocrisy and truth,” it is “a place of reconciliation for Belarusians,” and it has secured their “international reputation” (belaruspartisan.org/politic/372214/).
Meanwhile, there have been three other signs in the last 24 hours that the Belarusian protests are growing into a revolution. First, the mass meetings in Belarusian cities are increasingly making political demands and not just calling for the repeal of the vagrants tax (svaboda.org/a/28333248.html and charter97.org/ru/news/2017/2/26/242125/).
The meeting in Baranovichei yesterday, for example, called for reducing the pension age, replacing transportation taxes, and transforming the country into a parliamentary republic, a step that would in effect leave Lukashenka a figurehead if he were able to remain in office at all. As one participant put it, Belarusians are no longer prepared to tolerate the existing system.
Second, as happens in almost all revolutionary situations, there emerge out of the crowds new leaders who may have greater influence than any of the dissidents or opposition politicians from the pre-revolutionary period. One such individual is a 38-year-old kindergarten worker named Svetlana Botvich (vkurier.by/87798 and charter97.org/ru/news/2017/2/27/242155/).
Not herself subject to the vagrants tax and never a participant in earlier demonstrations, Botvich has emerged as what the local media call “the Joan of Arc” of these protest because of her outspokenness and anger. In the last few days, she has said that she sees injustice all around as a result of Lukashenka’s policies and “I do not intend to keep quiet.”
And third, rural residents in Belarus are beginning to withhold payment to the government for communal services. That is a measure of their anger, and it will deprive Lukashenka of yet more income (vitvesti.by/ekologiia/menshe-poloviny-vladeltcev-chastnykh-domov-v-selskoi-mestnosti-zakliuchili-dogovory-na-vyvoz-musora.html and charter97.org/ru/news/2017/2/27/242149/).