Belarusians Reflect on Third Anniversary of 2020 Anti-Regime Protests

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 132

(Source: Svaboda)

Three years ago, massive protests triggered by the rigged presidential elections of August 9, 2020, took place in Belarus. This year, the anniversary has inspired a number of musings on the part of Belarusian political commentators.

Thus, the sociologist Gennady Korshunov, former director of the Sociology Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, now in exile, believes that the 2020 “uprising” was no catastrophe. Much like the 1794, 1831 and 1863–1864 uprisings, this one was an apogee in the development of a national civic movement in Belarus (Svaboda, August 9). Yet, there are two problems with this observation. First, this viewpoint is only possible within the confines of just one of two overarching historical narratives in Belarus—namely, the “Westernizing” narrative (Russia.Post, January 13). Whereas the 2020 events indisputably belong to genuine Belarusian history, a close connection between it and three earlier uprisings is not recognized by many Belarusian nor by most Polish and Russian historians.

Second, the Westernizing narrative has never been particularly popular outside Belarus’s creative class. As a rough proxy for its (un)popularity, a national phone survey conducted by the Warsaw-based Belarusian Analytical Workroom in June 2023 revealed that 87 percent of Belarusians believe they and Russians are brotherly peoples. That opinion is shared by 85 percent of urbanites and 96 percent of rural villagers. The corresponding percentages regarding Poles were 53 percent overall and 55 and 44 percent, respectively, for the urban and rural populations (Svaboda, August 8). Not quite an opportune setting for the proponents of the “European choice.

“These days, a lot of pompous rhetoric emanates from democratic speakers in conjunction with the third anniversary of mass protests in Belarus,” writes Alexander Klaskovsky, one of the oldest opposition-minded pundits, also now in exile. He continues, “Those events are often called revolution. Apparently, it is more accurate to call them a peaceful rebellion. It was mostly spontaneous. And unlike in Russia back in 1917 where the Bolshevik party with a clear ideology and program operated as well as a charismatic leader in the face of Vladimir Lenin … in Belarus three years ago, there was neither such a party nor a leader. … Svetlana Tikhanovskaya would have twisted her finger near her temple had she been told in April 2020 that she would become the face of the political alternative [to the Alyaksandr Lukashenka regime]. The outcome of the 2020 events mercilessly dispelled many illusions.”

Klaskovsky also suggests that “many of those who want change at the helm of power are now frustrated. A considerable part of passionate opponents of the regime … has been squeezed out of the country. … The headquarters of political emigration found itself in a conceptual crisis. The recent Warsaw conference New Belarus 2023 [where Tikhanovskaya’s provisional cabinet reported on its activities] did not offer any miraculous strategy of toppling the regime.” The opposition commentators concludes, “Now is that gloomy phase of the reaction when you cannot jump over your belt. But it is important to at least refrain from indulging in empty and false rhetoric. … Do not make a fetish of sanctions or of the forceful regime change scenario” (, August 8).

Valer Karbalevich, yet another exiled Belarusian veteran, invokes the controversial views of Oleg Latyszonak, a Belarusian historian from Poland; Yauheni Preiherman, head of the Minsk Dialogue still working in Minsk; and Zenon Pozniak, founder of Belarus’s revival movement, in exile since 1996. Whereas Latyszonak believes that the 1863 uprising was a catastrophe for Belarus, Preiherman shares the same judgment in regard to 2020. In Preiherman’s view, the Lukashenka political regime was drifting toward reconciliation between mutually opposed, east- and west-leaning groups of Belarusians when the 2020 rebellion arrested that trend. For his part, Pozniak believes the 2020 protests were altogether provoked by Russia with the aim of absorbing Belarus. In Karbalevich’s view, all these perspectives are disqualified by Russia’s war against Ukraine and Minsk’s role in that war. In other words, Belarus’s present-day situation was preordained. Even if there had been no 2020 uprising, it would still be isolated from the West due to this war (Svaboda, August 8).

Kirill Averyanov, a Russian historian who used to live in Minsk and even bore the double-barreled surname “Averyanov-Minsky,” believes that the 2020 Belarusian rebels ought to be appreciated because their activity effectively generated a reaction that led to the strengthening of the union between Belarus and Russia, as the union did not look as certain before 2020 as it does now (Regnum, August 10). Of course, Averyanov is now based in Moscow and writes for the “national-patriotic” press agency Regnum known for its imperial views. It then appears that Averyanov’s and Pozniak’s viewpoints on the events of 2020 effectively coincide, which is peculiar considering that they belong to distant opposites—those of a Russian-world acolyte and of an archetypal anti-Russian Belarusian nationalist, respectively.

As usual, the opinion of Pavel Matsukevich, former Belarusian charge d’affaires to Switzerland and now an analyst of the Center for New Ideas, an émigré think tank, stands alone. Matsukevich believes that the so-called European choice for Belarus, the programmatic slogan of the 2020 protests, is no longer expedient. This is not only because it is unrealistic under current circumstances and Belarus’s southern neighbor is paying an exorbitant price for it, but also because the European Union is no longer an attractive project of multinational integration. Instead, it is becoming increasingly endangered by growing inner conflicts, such as the brewing conflict between Poland and Germany. Additionally, the looming US-China confrontation risks engulfing and downgrading the conflict between East and West for geographical Europe. At the same time, proceeding to develop further integration with Russia leads to “a guaranteed end of Belarus’s state sovereignty” at some point. To Matsukevich, the only expedient path for Belarus is distancing itself from all conflicts and alliances as much as possible (, August 11).

Whether pursuing such a path is realistic at the moment is, of course, debatable. Nevertheless, the vision itself may be worth articulating, as well as the fact that it is an effective reminder of the policy pursued by the late Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei.