If the amount of space that the world media devotes to events in Belarus can be a measure of the readiness to actually help for the political awakening of this country, I have the impression that the West has got tired of Belarus. Maciej Wierzyński’s column.
Still in the summer there were plenty of photos from the streets of Mińsk. Gdańsk and August 1980 came to mind. A gateway decorated with flowers. Young Wałęsa is speaking sitting on a high fence. Poland was fashionable and this fashion did have its ebb and flow, but roughly it survived the next decade before the impressive finale arrived in the fall of 1989. Only then did the nonetheless photogenic demolition of the Berlin Wall take away the capricious attention of the world.
Unfortunately, Belarus is not the Poland of 1980. It is also not the Poland of 1989. Belarus is not Poland at all and searching for, or even suggesting similarities between what is happening in Belarus today and what was happening in Poland in the 1980s is a false trail. Generally speaking, we were lucky and Belarusians are not. They are unlucky with history and geography. Let’s start with the story. Belarus has been part of Russia for too long. Previously, she was part of Poland. After Poland collapsed, Belarus became part of Russia, and in fact remains to this day. Belarus has never been an independent state. Fortunately, the Polish uprising came at a historic moment, when the power that made Poland its satellite was nearing the end of its power. It was ruled by sick old men who, one by one, died like flies. Today’s Russia is ruled by an energetic autocrat in his prime who does not intend to come to terms with the independence of Belarus.
Poland at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s was said to be the most cheerful barrack of the socialist camp. The point was that life in Poland, compared to the rest of the Soviet bloc, was more colorful, contacts with the world more vivid than, for example, in Bulgaria, women dressed better than in Russia, and people less scared than in the GDR.
Today, thanks to the progress in communication and the ease of traveling, Belarus is at least as cheerful a barrack as Poland was in 1980, and I think even much happier. This is clearly seen in the photos of Belarusian demonstrations. Nice girls, handsome young people, well dressed. And they are being stalked by the police equipped with crowd control tools copied straight from America. For a bored Western opinion, this is an exciting discovery. Here, among the forests and swamps, somewhere in the eastern part of Europe, live humanoid creatures similar to us. But how long can one get excited about such a discovery when the competition for picturesque and touching photos is so strong. Shipwrecked in the azure expanses of the Mediterranean Sea, ruins in Syria … The time devoted to Belarus is passing quickly.
That is why I feel sorry for the Belarusians. If there are some naive among them who think they can easily repeat the path traveled by the old demoludes and, what is more, avoid their mistakes, then I think they will be disappointed. Andrzej Poczobut, a correspondent for “Gazeta Wyborcza”, said recently on TVN24 that the Belarusian revolt against Lukashenka lacks a geopolitical dimension. According to Poczobut, supporters of the pro-Western orientation do not constitute the majority of the protesters. Most would like political ties with Russia. On the other hand, Zapadniks and Russophiles are united by the rebellion against Lukashenka’s dictatorship. Both are fed up with it, but this reluctance does not apply to Russia. Conversely, the leaders of the Belarusian opposition care about the well-being of the Russians, they do not want to irritate Putin, and this is not just a tactic. They seem to sincerely believe what they say.
In Poland, one of the important political calls of the Solidarity carnival was “Do not tease the bear”. The famous Message to the working people of Eastern Europe caused a panic with its insolence. Such crazy ideas of the Belarusian opposition do not come to mind. Swiatłana Cichanouska says with conviction: “We want to be both with Europe and with Russia.” And here we come to geography. In Eastern Europe, i.e. where Belarus is located, such a place has to be won or licensed by Russia. Such a license was obtained by the Finns, but before that they fought for it with weapons in their hands. Of course, Cichanouska’s declaration that Belarus does not want to be between Europe and Russia, but next to it, and therefore it does not intend to apply for EU or NATO membership, may reassure Putin for a short time. If, however, he or some of his successors come to the conclusion that the Union is too weak to stop Belarus from joining Russia, he will do so at the first opportunity.
I am afraid that the pictures from Belarusian demonstrations will disappear from the world’s media sooner. They will lose the fight for world attention to the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic. For now, you can still read texts appealing for help for Belarus. In the editorial of “The Economist” you can read that Belarus has awakened. Editorial title: “Let’s not let Putin swallow Belarus”. However, there is no recipe for how to do it, and you have to hurry to talk him out of it. Before Belarus is in fashion.
Main photo source: TVN24