Staunton, April 10 – The mass protests in Russia and those in Belarus increasingly resemble one another, the result, Russian journalist Semyon Novoprudsky says, is the unwillingness of the authorities to listen to the people on political issues or engage in any dialogue with them.
In an interview given to Yegor Slepakov of Belgazeta, Novoprudsky argues that this reflects certain shared characteristics of Vladimir Putin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Both see themselves as “fathers of their nations,” and both believe they cannot be challenged by the elite or the population (belgazeta.by/ru/1091/topic_week/34435/).
The two leaders differ in fact “only in their political origin.” Lukashenka has “more political experience,” while Putin “never thought of being a public politician and has no experience of unfiltered exchanges with people,” the journalist says. And their reliance on polls gets them in trouble.
No one really knows how many Russians actually “support the annexation of Crimea,” Novoprudsky says; nor does anyone know “whether people (above all the elite) in such closed political regimes as Russia and Belarus will publicly defend the powers that be in the case of turbulence [or] whether people are prepared to show sympathy if a protest arises.”
Putin will have to address the economic situation because Russians “will not live for long” in a state of military mobilization: “No military consciousness can be the basis of a firm power for decades.” But just how far Russia is from escaping that consciousness is difficult to tell given the gap between words and reality; in Belarus, it is clearer.
Novoprudsky explains that when the Soviet Union was falling apart, he lived in Uzbekistan. In that republic, there was no real movement for independence; but at the same time, there was no real support for the existing system. Something similar may be the case now in the Russian Federation.
It is a matter of “great regret” that “in Russia today, everything is connected with the political origin of Putin as someone from the special services,” the journalist says. As a result, “the genre of the special operation is the most popular form of political action in Russia” and few things can be excluded.
In Belarus, a smaller country but under a similar “information blockade,” it is “easier” to make specific individuals into heroes whereas in Russia, people “do not live in a heroic time and no one is becoming a hero.” As a result, “however strange it may seem, the opposition in Belarus is more personified and structured than in Russia.”
But there is one more way in which the oppositions in the two countries are alike. In Belarus, the protests have involved far more than just the traditional opposition figures in the capital; and in Russia, they represent what Prague-based analyst Aleksandr Morozov has called “the post-Crimean majority,” again a group far larger and more diverse than the protesters of 2011-2012.