Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Struggle over Identity

 | 
Nelly Bekus

Part III. Belarusian Post-Communism

Chapter 9. “Labels” of the Belarusian Regime

Texte intégral

  • 1 Stephen White and Elena Korosteleva, “Lukashenko and the Postcommunist Presidency,” in Postcommuni (...)
  • 2 Stanislav Shushkevich, Neokommunism v Belarusi (Smolensk: Skif, 2002).
  • 3 Shushkevich, Neokommunism v Belarusi, 113.
  • 4 Shushkevich, Neokommunism v Belarusi, 132.

1Attempts at categorizing the developments in post-communist Belarus are made continually. As a result there have appeared a number of labeling categories by means of which their authors try to find adequate criteria for the assessment of the political situation in Belarus. Elena Korosteleva writes that the Belarusian system with its de facto individual presidential rule and the circumstances where all the official political institutions in society are directly or indirectly dependent on the president can be characterized as “superpresidentialism.”1 S. Shushkevich diagnoses the Belarusian regime as neocommunist.2 According to Shushkevich, renunciation of private property, emphasis on social equality, denial of personal freedom, militant atheism, and repudiation of Western values are the basic principles of the Belarusian regime’s ideology that relate it to communism. They are still preserved in “Belarusian minds,” because they had not been opportunely unmasked following the break-up of the USSR. “In comparison with the classical totalitarian states, the totalitarianism in Belarus is rather restric ted,”3 as “the Belarusian authoritarian regime tolerates elements of civil society,”4 albeit with limitations that significantly diminish their efficacy.

  • 5 Steven Eke and Taras Kuzio, “Sultanism in Eastern Europe: The Socio-Political Roots of Authoritari (...)
  • 6 Ioffe, “Understanding Belarus: Economy and Political Landscape,” 99.

2Eke and Kuzio define the Belarusian regime as “sultanism.” It is characterized by utmost patrimonialism, lack of a borderline between the private and the personal spheres, insufficiency of articulated ideology, authoritarianism without outside rules, disapproval of political pluralism, and a violent overthrow of the regime as the only way to end it.5 The sultanism phenomenon, according to these authors, has a pronounced oriental accent. However, the Belarusian regime, as compared to similar regimes in the former Central Asian republics, is obviously more liberal and presupposes definite liberties (for instance, the right to leave the country for a Belarusian is not restricted by the state). As to the idea of a violent overthrow, Ioffe was right to note that it is highly unlikely “that Lukashenka may end his tenure as a president only if violently overthrown. In the absence of any indications that the 2001 presidential election was falsified to the point of changing the winner, any assumption is simply too far-fetched.”6 The same can be said about the 2006 presidential election. According to the results of opinion polls carried out by the IISEPS, during the 2006 presidential elections 63 percent of the voters voted for the current president (83 percent according to the data of the Central Election Committee). That is, the actual popularity of the Belarusian leader does not permit us to speak of him maintaining his authority by means of overt violence.

  • 7 Margery MacMahon, “Alexander Lukashenko, President, Republic of Belarus,” Journal of Communist Stu (...)
  • 8 MacMahon, “Alexander Lukashenko,” 129.
  • 9 Vl. Zviglyanich, “The Lost World: Belarus as a Model of Political Necromancy,” Prism 5, no. 10 (Ma (...)
  • 10 Zviglyanich, “The Lost World.”
  • 11 Zviglyanich, “The Lost World.”

3Some researchers conceptualize Lukashenka’s political regime by the play of words his own name—“lukashenkism.”7 The typical features of lukashenkism are “an authoritarian style of leadership, with a growing reliance on the police and special forces, censorship and tight control of the media;” “a discernible contempt and disregard for democratic institutions and procedures;” “an aversion to and avoidance of vital economic reform with an expressed preference for the state-led policies of the Soviet era;” “an active policy of reuniting Belarus with Russia.”8 Zviglyanich describes lukashenkism as “a symbiosis of communism, chauvinism and populism in the Latin American style.”9 He defines Lukashenka’s political paradigm as “a distinctive world of postcommunist autarchy and retrostrategy, where, though there is no official dominant communist ideology as there was in the Soviet Union, communist practices in politics, economics and management have nevertheless been preserved and modified in their entirety.”10 Contrary to Shushkevich, Zviglyanich does not see the communist ideology as inserted into the new political reality that is being built by Lukashenka and his supporters. One can speak of preserving not so much of ideology itself but of its practices, in particular the practice of relationships among the state, society, and individual. In other words, the ideology failed, but the social system constructed on its basis can survive. Zviglyanich defines the political outlook of Lukashenka as “retro-utopian:” “retro-utopia focuses attention on the purity and greatness of the past. In the retro-utopian world view, the past possesses an indisputable moral authority which cannot be questioned.”11 There is no break between the past and the present in the perspective of Belarusian ideology, some fragments of the present Belarusian political life are often artificially embedded into the perspective of social history, thus emphasizing the continual character of modern Belarusian policy and ideology. For example, there are pioneer organizations for children in schools, there is a state patriotic organization for youth. In 2005, the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Belarusian Komsomol (Youth Communist League) was actively commemorated throughout the country, though such a League does not exist in modern Belarus. It has been replaced by the BRSM (Beloruskii Res publikanskii Soiuz Molodiozhi; The Belarusian National Youth League), a supposed successor to Komsomol, its ideological “alter ego.”

  • 12 Zviglyanich, “The Lost World.”
  • 13 Zviglyanich, “The Lost World.”
  • 14 Uladzimir Rouda, “Natsional’naia ideia kak faktor stanovlenia grazhdanskogo obshchestva,” Analitik (...)

4Here lies one of the important distinctions of Lukashenka’s political ideology as compared to other post-soviet leaders. As Zviglyanich writes, “For all their differences, the theories of ‘transition’ from socialism to capitalism in Russia and Ukraine have (at least so far) one common feature— denunciation of the past as a totalitarian, administrative socialism to which there can be no return. For now, the better state of affairs is associated with the market economy and the ‘reforms’.”12 The Belarusian picture of the world displays quite a different moral status as well as the economic potential of the old system. “By stressing the moral greatness of the past and the possibility of finding prescriptions for salvation there, Lukashenka is […] showing that the possibilities of the Soviet economic system have not been completely exhausted.”13 Such an ideological tinge of the past determines a special strategy of the future, which is viewed not as a reform, transformation, or “transition” to a different social system, but as a renovation of the old one. Actually, there can be no reversion to the old system, and this is realized, among others, by the architects of the Belarusian retro-utopia. However, the topic of the positive nature of the past practices makes it possible to exploit the nostalgic notes of social consciousness of part of the population. Rouda describes the phenomenon of Lukashenka’s acquisition of power in 1994 as a victory of Belarusian “nostalgic populism” in Belarus instead of democratic populism, which was predominant in the majority of East European countries at the beginning of the 1990s.14

  • 15 Jan Zaprudnik, “Belarus: in Search of National Identity Between 1986 and 2000,” in Contemporary Be (...)
  • 16 Zianon Pazniak, “Nezalezhnasts’ geta iosts’ isnavan’ne natsyi,” BPF, http://www.pbpf.org.
  • 17 Uladzimir Rouda, “Zachem nuzhen Putinu ‘domashnii dictator’?” Belorusy i Rynok, May 3, 2006, http: (...)
  • 18 Leonid Radzihovski, “Vechnaia igra,” Vzgliad, January 25, 2006, http://vzglyad.ru/columns/2006/1/2 (...)

5Since his coming to power, oppositional politicians and researchers of Belarusian transformations considered the appearance of Lukashenka on the political scene as a direct consequence of Russian interests in him. Reflecting this stand Jan Zaprudnik writes: “Since national identity has been gaining ground in Belarus, the only way to maintain its dominion over the ‘western gate’ country is through suppression of its identity in the hands of an autocratic regime.”15 Lukashenka’s image as a Russian protégé enables to explain the anti-national measures that were taken during his rule—the return to two state languages, the replacement of the historical national symbols by neo-Soviet ones, and, finally, the design of integration with Russia. Remarkably, the idea that precisely Russia is the “author” of the Belarusian political anomaly in the shape of totalitarian regime on the border with the united Europe is quite popular not just in Western research, but also among Belarusian opposition politicians as well as among Russian. The degree assigned to Russia’s impact on the political climate of Belarus varies. Its range extends from a perception of Lukashenka as Russia’s protégé—“we are dealing with an inside occupation conducted by Russian secret services through Lukashenka’s regime,”16 to the image of Lukashenka as “Putin’s home-made dictator,”17 to a more moderate view of Russia’s support of the Belarusian regime as forced by the geopolitical conditions.18

  • 19 Yuri Drakokhrust and Dmitri Furman, “Belarus and Russia: the game of virtual integration,” in Inde (...)

6Although this approach to Russia–Lukashenka dealings is indeed popular among opposition in Belarus, the course of events in Belarus–Russia relationships points to Lukashenka as an “independent” player if not economically, but at least politically. This stand is implied by the very logic of an authoritarian regime, which is not possible without sovereignty and because of this, “the presidents will safeguard the independence of Belarus and Russia.”19

7One of the effects of Lukashenka’s rule has become social de-mobilization in the country, mass departure of Belarusians from the public sphere of real politics. Indeed, political life, having just become part of the range of Belarusian society’s interests, was profaned again as a result of Lukashenka’s regime. Be hind the façade of people democracy, old mo no poly power scenario, too familiar to those inhabiting the post-Soviet space, remains in place.

Notes

1 Stephen White and Elena Korosteleva, “Lukashenko and the Postcommunist Presidency,” in Postcommunist Belarus, ed. S. White, E. Korosteleva, and J. Löwenhardt (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), 64.

2 Stanislav Shushkevich, Neokommunism v Belarusi (Smolensk: Skif, 2002).

3 Shushkevich, Neokommunism v Belarusi, 113.

4 Shushkevich, Neokommunism v Belarusi, 132.

5 Steven Eke and Taras Kuzio, “Sultanism in Eastern Europe: The Socio-Political Roots of Authoritarian Populism in Belarus,” Europe-Asia Studies 52 no. 3 (2000): 536.

6 Ioffe, “Understanding Belarus: Economy and Political Landscape,” 99.

7 Margery MacMahon, “Alexander Lukashenko, President, Republic of Belarus,” Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 13, no. 4 (December 1997): 129–36.

8 MacMahon, “Alexander Lukashenko,” 129.

9 Vl. Zviglyanich, “The Lost World: Belarus as a Model of Political Necromancy,” Prism 5, no. 10 (May 1999), http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=6883&tx_ttnews[backPid]=221.

10 Zviglyanich, “The Lost World.”

11 Zviglyanich, “The Lost World.”

12 Zviglyanich, “The Lost World.”

13 Zviglyanich, “The Lost World.”

14 Uladzimir Rouda, “Natsional’naia ideia kak faktor stanovlenia grazhdanskogo obshchestva,” Analitika, Informatsionno-analiticheskii tsentr NGO (2004), http://iac.unibel.by/anl_na0040.htm.

15 Jan Zaprudnik, “Belarus: in Search of National Identity Between 1986 and 2000,” in Contemporary Belarus. Between Democracy and Dictatorship, edited by Elena A. Korosteleva, Colin W. Lawson, and Rosalind J. Marsh (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 123.

16 Zianon Pazniak, “Nezalezhnasts’ geta iosts’ isnavan’ne natsyi,” BPF, http://www.pbpf.org.

17 Uladzimir Rouda, “Zachem nuzhen Putinu ‘domashnii dictator’?” Belorusy i Rynok, May 3, 2006, http://www.br.minsk.by/index.php?article=27413.

18 Leonid Radzihovski, “Vechnaia igra,” Vzgliad, January 25, 2006, http://vzglyad.ru/columns/2006/1/25/19927.html.

19 Yuri Drakokhrust and Dmitri Furman, “Belarus and Russia: the game of virtual integration,” in Independent Belarus, ed. M. Balmaceda, J. Clem, L. Tarlow, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 254.

© Central European University Press, 2010

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540