After one full year of not living at home, changing places every few weeks to avoid detention and surveillance, not using my phone and wearing a mask all the time outside the safe place, a short arrest and a criminal case started against me, having literally all of my comrades either in jail or on the run, I found myself in Europe applying for a refugee status. I have been politically active in Belarus since 2005 and identify as an anarchist, but I never thought I would have to leave the country for good.
The post-election protest in Belarus seems to be over, but the memories are still alive in the hearts of the people. People who lost their loved ones, who had them jailed, beaten and forced to die of COVID-19 after short arrests. People who are sitting in jail for everything from a comment in a Telegram-channel to conspiracy to make the coup d’etat. Thousands of those who were forced to leave the country in fear of their health and lives. And millions of those who are left behind, anxiously expecting a search, an arrest, a threat to deprive them of parental rights or dismiss from work for their political stance.
However, the memories that are saved in the political perspective are often presented by the mainstream and most important players who have access to big money, political analysts and global tribunes. So just as Lukashenko is creating his narrative of Belarus that has been defended from the external intervention represented by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya & Co., the latter are creating a narrative of protest that is exclusively middle-class, pro-EU, peaceful, civilized and aiming at representative democracy. The shades are missing though, and one of them was anarchists.
Few but vivid
Anarchists in Belarus have a history of exclusion from the mainstream opposition narrative. Most „independent“ media in the country are liberal or conservative, so the only time when anarchists deserved attention was when they caught the public eye so much that they couldn’t be ignored. For example, during the 2017 protest against the tax on unemployment, when anarchists headed the demonstration in a regional town, the newspaper where writing about „people marching in the centre of the city“. The anarchist movement in the country is not numerous, but quite organised due to years of forced underground activity and a developed security culture. In the situation when the existing opposition parties are struggling to bring 20 people in the streets, anarchists can easily gather 50 for their block.
In August 2020 and before, Tsikhanouskaya and her team were afraid of openly calling to protest and visiting unauthorised or spontaneous marches. Later she and her team were evicted from the country or jailed, other parties were actively preparing to occupy positions in the new government, so anarchists entered the suddenly clear political scene at demonstrations as one of the few groups who had a clear political stance and acting as a collective body that was seen by the people as a point of interest and attraction. They were hungry for leaflets, speeches, and rhythms of resistance that anarchists had.
Anarchists could share their experience of long-term organising against the regime, enduring repression and taking security precautions during direct actions or marches, explained the necessity of combining different tactics of protest, the monopoly on violence that the state strived to keep, the tactics to protect yourself against tear gas, water cannons and bullets. But nobody was listening. Major Telegram-channels were only good at calling people to the street and inciting revenge against cops‘ property without explaining anything about security and avoiding discussions of peaceful vs. violent protests. Unable to reach their audience online, anarchists went to the streets and spread information, participated in local neighbourhood assemblies, created a small channel on self-organisation, gave legal advice and tactics of (not) talking to cops during detentions, printed thousands of leaflets and stickers for other protesters. Anarchists were also the group who started the discussion on who should be recognised political prisoners, as mainstream human rights organisations tend to exclude the people who ‚more violent‘ than others or didn’t happen to be public figures before the protests. The map or surveillance cameras and the prototype of a website with a collection of de-anonymised police who were instrumental in producing repression were also created by collectives from the political group.
The reach of anarchist media increased, anarchist blogger Mikola Dziadok was among the last public figures in Belarus who gave political analysis instead of just reporting from the streets and calling for new protests. However, people were rather enthusiastic about the image of an anarchist than actually understanding the idea behind the movement. But that was already quite an achievement for a group that in the whole world is condemned by the authorities and ordinary people.
The ultimate enemy of the state
While independent media only spared a few lines to anarchists, the only agencies who wrote extensively about them as the drivers of protests were the police and state media. Naturally, that was an exaggeration to some extent, but at the same time, the police and the propagandists were right – given the green light of campaigning in the streets instead of trying to escape arrests, the anarchists could potentially change the mindset of quite some people in terms of protest forms and political demands.
It’s not the first time anarchists became the protagonists of ‚documentaries‘ on national TV. They even deserved the creation of a police-run Telegram-channel that is de-anonymising specifically anarchists.
Anarchists worked hard to analyse all the previous repression and created a strong collective security culture that prevented the police from easily figuring out the movement. However, this culture lost its stronghold – don’t talk to cops and encrypt your devices – when cops used torture to extort passwords from anarchist Mikola Dziadok. People started doubting that they would be able to withstand physical pressure and keep the movement’s secrets. Nevertheless, until now there were no loud cases of anarchists ratting each other in court. Most trials are still pending, though, with 28 anarchists and antifascists reported arrested by the Anarchist Black Cross Belarus that provides financial support to their comrades for the last 11 years. It should be pointed out, that not a single political movement or group in Belarus counts so many prisoners at the moment. Some of them are not recognised political prisoners; the charges range from participation in a march to creating an international criminal organisation to terrorism.
Revolution or the emergence of the political subject?
This process gave Belarusian anarchists a chance to finally meet the ‚real‘ people and have a word with them, experience a lot of support, solidarity, and admiration. Hopefully, the movement will be welcome and protected from the repression of any new ‚democratic‘ regime.
After a lot of years of unsuccessful fighting, I was not expecting Lukashenko to go any time soon just because someone asked him kindly and presented flowers to his guards. For me, last year was not about the transformation of the political regime, but rather of the awareness and mindset of Belarusians. The absence of the politicians who could tell people what to do lead to engagement of people into numerous discussions on methods and the political future. The majority is still dreaming of the paradise of the representative democracy, but many people experienced their own agency in action and might go beyond it. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to try out a new reality any time soon.
The author is an anarchist and she prefers to publish in anonymity