Loud cries “Zhive Belarus” (“Long live Belarus”) died away, white-red-white flags do not decorate the streets of Minsk anymore and black uniforms of militiamen do not remind of the deep rupture in society and the invisible war for human souls and minds between good and evil. And still, if we accept the opinion that Belarusian opposition is the embodiment of good, the good is losing. The celebration of the Independence Day, the Day of Freedom is finished, but an unpleasant feeling of depression and loss still lingers. The feeling that leaders of opposition play some kind of strange games among themselves and they do not even try to learn from the mistakes they make year after year. The art of making the same mistakes and lose, in my opinion, seems to change into an unpleasant tradition that no one wants to change.
Tactics, strategy and logic in the activities performed by Belarusian opposition, or their lack
Every political activity, especially such as the organization of street demonstrations and marches or protests, requires a detailed and long-range planning, because otherwise the “street” can turn against its organizers. That means that people who came out into the street and saw or felt that there is no specific plan, would be disappointed and would stop to participate in similar activities in the future.
Unsuccessful organization of political activities of opposition influences the moods of people more than the political propaganda of authorities, because a common member can see for himself the weakness and helplessness of the opposition. And in this case it would be better not to organize any events than to organize them incorrectly and unprofessionally. The only thing the opposition can achieve by preparing an unsuccessful event is to lose its own members and deepen its internal conflicts when looking for those responsible for the failure.
The leading personalities of Belarusian opposition often participated in numerous seminars either in Belarus or abroad. Certainly they were taught that such political events as elections, meetings, demonstrations have to follow understandable goals, they need a strategy and methodology for their realization. In other words they have to follow the logical sequence of steps.
When analyzing the events of March 25, we are going to analyze the logic of the steps and goals which the organizers set out and we will attempt to answer the question of the measure in which they were fulfilled. First, we would like to mention the meaning of strategy. Strategy (from Greek στρατηγία – generalship; the main maneuvering of troops in the battle) in politics is the most general mechanism of advance, which defines the means for achieving complex goals. We can consider gaining authorities, influencing political elites, achieving political, economic concessions etc. political goals. The strategy and tactics of preparations of street activities is similar to small scale battle actions. There are two armies, commanders, sets of goals and methodologies for their achieving standing against each other. When analyzing the goals and strategies of authorities during political activities it is more than obvious. The main goal is localizing the demonstration and breaking it up. To achieve this goal authorities structures use very simple and effective strategy:
1. preventive isolation of the most active representatives of opposition (taking into custody)
2. hindering all quantitative concentration of protesting people in Minsk (isolation of regions)
3. splitting of the participants of gatherings into a number of groups, and their dispersion in different directions and gradual scattering. Small groups without a unified and coordinated guidance are not able to resist.
In all those years of the opposition’s existence the leaders of opposition were not able to generate their own strategy for countering the authorities and they still hope that “the authorities will come to their senses and will allow organizing of demonstrations there, where opposition demands it”. A simple question arises: why should the authorities do it. Do the leaders of opposition think that Lukashenko will one day wake up and think: “Shouldn’t I give my authorities to A. Milinkievich or to Mr. Kozulin… or should I rather offer it to G. Bush?”
It seems to me that this was the line of thoughts of the organizers of the march on March 25. According to accessible data, the opposition leaders prepared an action plan published on the website of Chart 97. This plan to a certain extend resembles a children game “Guess, in which hand I hold the candy” when the authors meditate on whether the authorities will allow them to organize the gathering in the place where the opposition plans to organize it, or not. Coming from the previous events we can say that the authorities do exactly what opposition believes it would not do. But we do not know why the opposition leaders believe that Lukashenko would not do exactly that, even independent analysts are convinced that such actions are not profitable for him. Lukashenko does everything that allows him to prolong his authorities and he does not do what he according to the thoughts of opposition analysts should be doing.
The whole logic of opposition elite and its understanding of political reality are reflected in the plan that the leaders prepared. But due to the appearance of the mentioned plan it is not needed to guess whether there was a plan at all. Only two points are available:
a) The authorities will “think it over” and it will not hinder the gathering in October Square and realization of festive events;
b) October Square will be closed. The authorities will insist that the demonstrationists leave to the approved place close to the Academy of Sciences. Nice, festive march in the center of the city will be in accord with goals of the organization committee.(1)
It is suitable to draw the attention especially to the fact that, coming from the plans of the opposition, the whole march was left to the will of authorities, but not to the will of those gathered. No one at all has asked what should be done in case that the “power” starts driving the demonstrationists away, beat them, take them to custody, split convoys and hinder the passage – which in the end happened. It is hard to understand why was there an organization committee when the decision making was left to the authorities or another Committee (national security – author’s comment)? What was the reason for generating any kind of plan, if the opposition itself was not ready to stick to it and act according to the plan? Such approach of the opposition leaders in advance sentenced this event to a failure. Further more such plan only illustrates the fact that when there is really a dialogue between the “power” and opposition, it has the features of a dialogue between the “strong” and the “weak”. In this case opposition is the weaker partner and the “power” will hardly respect the opinion of the weaker side. Opposition in this case resembles a young troublemaker who is about to do a mischief, but before he asks adults how they are going to punish him.
Let us return to our analysis of probable or real goals set by the opposition, when it decided to lead people to streets. A priori it is clear to every intelligent person that the motive was not only the intention of organizers to get people into streets, but the awareness of goal for which they summoned people to participate in the demonstration – because there is nothing more silly that to risk the lives of people only for the sole reason of waving flags and shouting “Zive Belarus”. The organizers have to set specific goals and attempt their achieving. It is clear that in such unfavorable conditions in which Belarusian opposition exists it is difficult to execute goals of a global kind as for example gaining power or achieving political demands. But there are also local strategic goals that could in perspective empower the opposition, increase its authority in society and force power authorities to count with it. Among such goals that the opposition has surely set, because otherwise its activities would be rather senseless, could be:
1. Popularization of the political movement For Freedom;
2. Popularization of democratic leader A. Milinkievich;
3. Mobilization of protesting part of citizens around one leader;
4. Celebration of the Day of Freedom in Kalinovkij Square (Kastus Kalinovskij – the leader of the uprising against tsar in years 1863 – 1864), nowadays called October Square;
5. Demonstration of real political power and readiness to firmly defend their positions.
(Opposition activities whose goal is an attempt to prove the existence of opposition are not analyzed in this article.)
Concurrently with the defining of probable intentions a few questions arise. Did the organizers really set such goals and if yes, was the appropriate strategy of their execution applied? Does the opposition in reality want to lead a political game or it will rather only dream about Lukashenko’s repentance? Are there real leaders in the democratic community?
During the media campaign the leaders of opposition encouraged people to participate in the celebration of the Day of Freedom on Kalinovskij Square. With this goal in mind there were two places of gathering appointed – in the area of shopping center GUM and the building of circus – which resulted in two groups of people. It could have meant that a decision was accepted that there would be at least an attempt to get into the square, which was blocked from all sides by militia. In the same time Milinkievich made it obvious that he did not want to get into a conflict with militia and that the event would have a peaceful character. There were two different decisions accepted in the beginning (in accord with “Three plans of opposition”), which shows that the organizers of the event did not design the logic of the event. That leads us to the following facts:
1. If the goal was only the celebration of the Day of Freedom, why did the organizers appeal to people to gather in Kalinovskij Square and further more relied on the good will of authorities, and why did they ask people to gather in different places? Why did they not chose a march in one convoy from the circus building to the place appointed by authorities without risking peoples’ lives?
2. In case the opposition does not want authorities to dictate their conditions and it is ready to defend its choice until the end, it is needed to reach for radical measures and break through police cordons or at least barricade themselves in the won positions and not allow militia to push people out of streets. If leaders justify their passivity by their unwillingness to “endanger” people, there is no sense to call people to go into streets, because all those who were recorded or held (taken into custody) will have problems after the demonstration is finished.
3. If the goal of the opposition was to create a “picture” for western partners and show the whole world how harsh and bad the regime is, there was no sense in writing letters to Lukashenko. On the contrary, they should have appealed to the West to isolate the country and regime, even though it does not bring political effect. Furthermore the West already knows that dictatorship rules in Belarus, but the western democracy cannot do more than it already does – the only thing left is to start bombarding Minsk. On the other hand a total isolation of Minsk would suit Russia and its superpower ambitions.
4. If the goal of the organizers was to accept a petition and inform the general public about its contents, they should have gathered around the Academy of Sciences and after accepting the petition sent a delegation to the representatives of power and consequently ask its fulfillment. If it is not happening, there is no sense to accept any kind of appeal as long as there is no will and power to enforce them, because then it turns into empty words. In the end it will not invoke anything else, but smiles.
5. If the goal of the event was to give publicity to the political movement of Milinkievich and show him as a leader of Belarus, it was inevitable for him to point the situation even if it cost him his freedom. Thanks to such a manly gesture no one could impugn his personality and people would see a real leader and hero, which would unite citizens around Belarusian Danko (the hero who led people from dark into light in a short story Old Izegrily by M. Gorkij). Unfortunately Milinkievich showed his indecisiveness and stepped aside which led to the disappointment of all those who were near.
Self-sacrifice and repentance: We know from history that certain ideas and spiritual values could gain supporters and earn general acceptance only because of the self-sacrifice and readiness of those who were proclaiming them and were willing to fight for them till the end. If a man is convinced that he is standing on the side of the good and his ideas represent the truth, he will be prepared to fight for his ideas even for the price of high losses, including his own life. During great historical events the political, moral, or religious truth gains higher value than life. Is there no awareness of historical moment in Belarus or the ideas are not right and thus worth nothing? If a man is not ready to risk his own life, freedom and wealth to defend the ideas he is spreading, such man is not convinced that these ideas are really true and important for all citizens. And if a man is ready to make a compromise or willing to abandon his principles to avoid losses, his ideas have no real value. The fight for truth looks for no compromises. Only through self-sacrifice can a man prove that he is really standing on the side of the good and justice; that he carries the highest values within. Only an example of oneself can inspire others to believe in what one says, only that gives the power and dominion over those who attempt to repress and destroy the truth with terror. The belief in one’s own dominion is stronger than fear and self-sacrifice gives life to ideas.
In the conditions in which our country lives, in the conditions of fear and terror only readiness to self-sacrifice can stir people to activity. And here the personality of a leader plays a very important role – a leader is a man representing ideas, a leader who is not afraid to sacrifice himself to achieve a change of the situation. And Belarus is the right place for actions and a man who is not ready to sacrifice himself cannot be a leader. The readiness to make self-sacrifice is the first step towards victory; fear for himself paralyzes not only him, but also his followers. Unfortunately, A. Milinkievich lacks inner courage and readiness to self-sacrifice for the ideas he is spreading saying “God and truth are with us”. He is a man of compromise, not a man of ideas, not a man of repentance.
The words about repentance may sound in today’s global world, where global information technologies and money decide everything, a bit silly. If it the case there is no point in calling people into streets to risk their lives and wealth for some abstract ideas of freedom and truth, for which not even the leader is ready to repent. Is it not better to wait until money and technology change the situation? But as the Belarusian reality confirms, money and technology have enslaved people and they can easily live with it. And so resolution and repentance are necessary in order to break through the situation. The leader has to make the first step in a battle; people will carry him further in their arms.
About Moses, Milinkievich and opposition
There are people characterized by certain personality and political features, which allow them to manipulate masses, in every society. Such people are generally referred to as “leaders”. When we speak about the leaders of Belarusian opposition, we can refer to them as “guides” who do not lead their supporters to achieving specific ideals, but simply guide them around without a goal or a mission that was clearly explained to them.
The events of March 25 as well as other events from the past decennia resemble the exodus of Jews from Egypt and their wandering in the desert – maybe with the only difference that Moses led Jews through the desert in order to destroy the spirit of slavery in them, but “guides” of the opposition guide their nation through the streets of Minsk in order to destroy their fight spirit and hope of victory. And they wait until the last opposition supporter builds a cross over all that happening in the democratic society.
It is needless to say that in every more important activity, especially in such as a political demonstration, three things have to be clear: Who is leading? Where is he leading people? Why is he leading? Even though the majority of democratic citizens more or less know where they are supposed to go and why, it is still not clear who is supposed to lead people.
A charismatic leader not a guide is necessary in order to reach a change in Belarus. When analyzing the political activities of A. Milinkievich we can say that he does not have the features of a charismatic leader and national leader, but he belongs into the category of “intermedia” leaders. An intermedia leader does not become a leader because of his personality, charisma, inner will that draws people to him, but because of the support of foreign political community and systematic media policy in the country and abroad where the media create the personality of the leader. Only because of that a man becomes a leader and gains an important position in the political environment of his country. Political life and activities of this leader do not depend on the support of citizens, but on how strong are his positions abroad and on the readiness of media to provide information support. It is clear that the activity of a leader in Belarus would be difficult and dangerous without the international support, but without the faith of Belarusian citizens in the leader such activity is pointless. And in reality only a nation can defend its leader. Very different would be the case if the Belarusian leader planned to get foreign diplomats and ambassadors to the square and not Belarusians. In that case, of course, work in the international arena would be a priority.
Questionable results of another “victory”
Approximately at 12 a.m. on March 25 militia started to push people out from the Prospect of Independence. Isolated local attempts to stop the pressure of militia were repressed, because they were of spontaneous character and were the result of the gathered people’s initiative, not of some prepared plan. Puzzlement of Milinkievich, his indecisiveness led to the fact that people were taken away to different directions by unknown people. It is not clear whether it were local leaders or provocateurs. The crowd itself resembled Napoleon’s army chaotically retreating from Moscow. At last the crowd resembled a conduct of prisoners marching through Minsk under strict supervision of guards who severely punish every step to the right or left. It was almost instantly clear that neither Milinkievich (alleged leader) nor organization committee (some organizers did not even get to the Prospect, because they were late), but militia was controlling and directing people there where it needed them. Anger, despair and determination to make radical steps were visible among the participants, but all of them expected a clear appeal, which never came. The crown, or better to say the rest of it, continued further not knowing where and not knowing why. From time to time the group of “march coordinators” went one way while the majority of the crowd went somewhere else. Tired, disappointed people simply walked away or militia quickly dispersed them and drove them into the subway. Nobody was able to organize a coordinated march. Finally approximately 500 people from more than few thousand reached the Academy of Sciences.
Heartbreaking cries that militia is responsible for the chaotic course of the demonstration, because it violated some kind of agreements (representatives of the organization committee mention an alleged agreement with general Padabed) are simply ridiculous. To talk about agreements with militia is almost like talking about making an agreement between prisoners in Auschwitz and the commanders of the concentration camp – that commanders would not murder thousands of prisoners a day, but hundreds.
Even if commanders of militia violated agreements with opposition, what does it mean? Does it mean that next time leaders of Belarusian opposition will attempt to break through to Kalinovskij Square or that they will attack the administrative office of the President? If militia ignores agreements and opposition does not demand their fulfillment, it will only reconfirm the opposition’s helplessness and inconsistence.
Doubtless there is a whole set of approaches to evaluating political strategies as well as the results of political activities. Equally, various interpretations of the term victory have a right to exist as well. Some of the opposition representatives are convinced that a positive result and victory are measured with the number of militiamen and people taken into custody during specific events, but not with achieving set political goals. It is to certain extend Soviet approach to reality: “We won because we were beaten and dispersed and we lost a part of our supporters and not the other way around.” Does it not sound strange? And if this is victory, everything we talked about so far can be thrown into garbage.
The fact that the “power” led thousands of prepared members of “specnaz” into the streets means that it is afraid – as some of the opposition members claim. I always thought that retreat and run were the manifestations of fear, not attack and dispersion of demonstrationists. On the contrary, the multitude of specnaz members shows that the power does not want to lead a dialogue with opposition and that it is ready to act radically and harshly in case it was necessary and it is also counting with all possibilities of situation development. On top of it, the participation of power structures in such radical actions strengthens their fighting experience and ability to apply their theoretical knowledge in practice. On the other hand, demonstrationists looked like live simulators for elaborating strategies. There was no internal communication between the leaders and fundamental mass of protesting people. They became easy targets for “Lukashenko’s eagles” once they were devoided of coordination and will.
Even more questionable are the statements of the representatives of the opposition elites who said that until 100 thousand people come into streets, the situation will never change. It is interesting that a great number of people without good coordination and preparation will stay only a large crowd aimlessly wandering the streets. And the history also confirms that many times a small but well organized group was able to face the majority and even if it did not win, at least it showed great spiritual strength which created conditions for uniting the whole nation.
The events from March 25 confirm that the leaders of opposition either lack real political goals or do not have the inner strength and readiness to achieve them. It seems that the policy of political parties and movement has restricted itself to an endless process of choosing a common leader and the participation in street activities is minimalized to activities of the “come, pass and scream and then peacefully go home” kind. That is far away from the Roman rule “veni, vidi, vici”.
The only positive element in all mentioned events is that people and especially young people come and are still ready to come into the streets and fight for their ideals. Even though they are prepared to suffer the blows from the regime’s representatives, but it is questionable whether they are prepared to suffer the indecisiveness and unreadiness of the opposition leaders. The rule of the politics is not only gaining new members and supporters of a movement, but being able to strengthen the spirits of already existing supporters. Especially these people have more energy and less fear, but also more demands on the leaders. In the conditions of terror it is very difficult to win and achieve a change of the situation, but at least during organizing street demonstrations it is important to do anything to preserve in people the feeling that they did not lose. Because this inner feeling assures them that they won.
The absence of a real leader and a center for accepting decisions that would be ready to take all responsibility can hardly ensure the realization of actual changes in Belarus. The only thing left for the opposition is to wait for the consequences of the large economic crisis or for another political miracle.