Belarusian “Opposition” – Split and Degradation as a Result of the Last Two Years

NEW – August 21, 2022

Since the last presidential election on August 9, 2020, the situation inside and around Belarus has changed significantly. The country’s authorities, having resisted the months-long coup attempt, began a tough cleansing of the internal political space, simultaneously reorienting their foreign policy strategy, postponing their previous concept of “multi-vector”until better times.

The opponents of Aleksandr Lukashenko who did not end up behind bars and fled the country have completely degraded over the past period, demonstrating not only an inability to fight politically, but even to internal consolidation.

Problems for the opponents of the Belarusian authorities began almost immediately after it became clear that the 2020 coup d’état had failed. All subsequent attempts by the so-called opposition leaders who fled the country (among whom were ex-presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, former Minister of Culture Pavel Latushko, and the failed candidate for the presidency Valery Tsepkalo) to draw Belarusians into civil confrontation were unsuccessful. Promises “we are about to win”, the announcement of a certain plan for “victory”, the organisation of various opposition structures and initiatives of a clearly extremist nature, trips to the EU countries and the US did not lead to any results. Moreover, since the end of 2020, it has become clear every month that the Belarusian opposition continues to degrade, and its support among Belarusians is gradually falling. Along the way, the internal disassembly of the opposition leaders began to happen, and by today it has become absolutely obvious that their main task is populism to the delight of Western curators and the struggle for the remaining streams of funding.

To date, the main activity of the fugitive opposition, given the sharp drop in interest in the Belarusian issue in the West against the background of events around Ukraine, has descended to various flash mobs in EU and US cities, meetings with minor European politicians, the announcement of the next “victory plans” against Lukashenko, statements of solidarity with Kiev, as well as attempts to involve the authorities in the ordinary Belarusians are involved in extremist activities. Moreover, the Belarusian opposition has already completely lost its homogeneity, breaking up into several small groups led by former associates, who began an irreconcilable struggle for financial flows, which today converge on the so-called Tikhanovskaya office. It is no coincidence that recently, among the opposition, more and more negative words have begun to sound about the ex-presidential candidate of Belarus, whose actions almost everyone is dissatisfied with.

In particular, one of the main scandals of recent months has been the topic of funds operated by the “Tikhanovskaya office” and the chief adviser to the ex-candidate for the presidency of Belarus, Franak Viachorka. According to the European Endowment for Democracy, almost all members of Tikhanovskaya’s entourage have or had shell companies through which about €100 million have already been laundered. On the accounts of Viachorka himself, they found $1.8 million with a declared monthly salary of €1,500. In addition, the financial statements for 2021 of the “Woke Foundation”, which the non-profit organisation “Infopoint Network”, organised by adviser Tikhanovskaya, is a part of, were published. It turned out that the agency turns around €400,000 through its accounts per year.

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The current situation in the ranks of the Belarusian opposition was perfectly demonstrated by the “New Belarus” conference held in Vilnius on August 8-9, which can be considered the quintessence of problems in the camp of Lukashenko’s opponents and their complete isolation from reality with progressive inadequacy and internal extremism.

The main idea of ​​this event was to be an attempt to consolidate disparate groups and whitewash the “Tikhanovskaya office”. Therefore, almost all the now warring oppositionists were summoned to it. However, even before the conference, it became clear that many of the competitors were not ready for the proposed truce. In particular, Valery Tsepkalo accused Tikhanovskaya and her office of misappropriating €130 million allocated by the European Union to fight the “Lukashenko regime”. He also stated that he did not perceive the “majority leader” as the winner of the election. The representative of the old opposition Zianon Pazniak, who does not consider all current opposition politicians “neither patriots nor nationalists”, but only “enemies of Belarusianness” and “Kremlin agents” also brought confusion to the upcoming conference. And such statements on the eve of the event were enough to understand that nothing of what the organisers had hoped for would happen.

The organisers were 18 people from the Tikhanovskaya office, the National Anti-Crisis Management (NACM), the Coordinating Council of the Opposition, the Resistance movement, the BYPOL initiative recognised in Belarus as extremist, as well as fugitive politicians and activists, most of whom are now under criminal prosecution: Dzmitry Shchygelski, Aleksandr Dabravolski, Aleksandr Azarov, Valery Matskevich, Olga Kovalkova and others. It was stated that the conference was attended by “prominent representatives of the Belarusian society from different social groups and views”: “48 experts, 45 business representatives, 128 representatives of the public sector, 49 representatives of the media community (including bloggers), 25 former political prisoners or families of current political prisoners, 59 representatives of political structures.” In total, more than 320 people and 51 media representatives confirmed their participation in the conference. Thus, for the opposition party it was really a significant event. However, in reality, everything turned into an ordinary farce and idle talk, and in some cases, representatives of the opposition talked themselves into more than one criminal case.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and members of her “office” at the “New Belarus” conference in Vilnius

On the first day, there were attempts to discuss “strategic priorities of activity”, as well as “what should be the transition period”, “how to save the country from the economic crisis and how to reorganise the democratic forces”. Tikhanovskaya made excuses for a long time, called for consolidation, but not very successfully. Some of the oppositionists who came to the conference looked like real terrorists with their inadequate proposals. For example, former restaurateur Vadim Prokofiev, who likes to be photographed in the camouflage of the Ukrainian army far from the combat events, not only criticised the actions of the “Tikhanovskaya office”, the Polish media and the sluggishness of the Belarusian opposition on the issue of Ukraine, but actually called for an attack on Belarus. Everything looked extremely strange, since he proposed to do this with the help of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Belarusian mercenaries after “victory” in Donbass.

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“Ukraine has the full moral, legal, human right to attack Belarus…” he said and added: “We are not at war with Lukashenko, we are at war with the Russian Empire.”

Another extremist and organiser of BYPOL, Aleksandr Azarov, said that he sees no other options but to arrange a war in Belarus, since, in his opinion, the experience of the protests in 2020 showed that “walking the streets” will not give the desired result. He also mentioned the “victory” plan, according to which it is planned to appoint people who will seize power by force, go on strike and take to the streets. It is noteworthy in this case that these characters expressed their readiness to take up arms and go on the offensive against Minsk, but only after someone takes responsibility for this. In their opinion, together with Ukrainian troops, it will take only three days to “take Minsk”. Such “inferences” perfectly demonstrate the neglect of the situation and the intellectual level of the Belarusian opposition.

The second day of the conference was even more senseless and unfounded. The oppositionists talked about private business, “digital politics” and civil society. However, on that day many people left the conference, and later it had to be interrupted altogether due to the premises being allegedly mined, which actually put an end to the attempt of the Belarusian opposition to demonstrate its unity. In total, during the event, many standard words were said about the need to fight Lukashenko, support Ukraine, and so on, but no consolidation happened. For the most part, Tikhanovskaya’s competitors were skeptical about the event, and some even said that it was another embezzlement of money, at which there were more coffee breaks than speeches. Even the announcement at the end of the event about the creation of some kind of “joint transitional cabinet – a collective executive body” and the distribution of portfolios in it could not mitigate the negative impression of the conference, which became another proof of the political “impotence” of the Belarusian opposition and its progressive marginalisation.

At the same time, the Belarusian authorities have managed to achieve a lot over the past two years. Not only were even hints of protest activity suppressed in the country, but all opposition media were closed down, pro-Western non-governmental and non-profit organisations were liquidated, the most radical opponents of the government were sent to jail, legislation was tightened, the list of individuals and organisations involved in extremist and terrorist activities was expanded. and even changed. The protesters are still being tried in the country. In particular, the most high-profile cases that are known today are the trial of the terrorist group of Mikalay Autukhovich and the parallel trial of several conspirators who planned to seize power by force and eliminate the top leadership of the republic.

At the same time, serious ideological work with the population was launched in Belarus both at the level of the state media, and pro-government organisations and the education system. It is based on the responsibility of each Belarusian not only for their future, but also for the country. Additionally, emphasis is placed on the history of the Soviet period and the feat of the Belarusian people during the Great Patriotic War. It is no coincidence that the authorities of the republic began an investigation into the facts of the genocide of the war period, comparing the policies of the Nazis with the activities of the current opposition.

Forum of Patriotic Forces in Minsk on August 9

In addition, the Belarusian state intercepted from its opponents the thesis about the need to develop “civil society”, which is now represented in Belarus by organisations, politicians, public figures and activists who approve and support the policy of the authorities. This was confirmed by the holding on August 9 of the Patriotic Forces Forum under the leadership of the pro-presidential public association “Belaya Rus”, which brought together 14 “subjects of civil society” from all over the country. According to the official version, the main objective of this event was the need to “once again check the clock on the tasks that public associations face at the present stage and to discuss issues that are significant for civil society”. In particular, it was about the promotion of civil initiatives, as well as “more complete interaction between the state and civil society”. If we add to this the defection of some former oppositionists to the side of the authorities, for example, Roman Protasevich, who was arrested during the incident with the Ryanair plane last May, then we can say with full confidence that Aleksandr Lukashenko today firmly controls the situation in the country, and his opponents were practically excluded from the internal political life of the republic.

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In addition, the Belarusian authorities did not limit themselves only to the domestic agenda. Despite the limited possibilities, Minsk managed to deal several painful blows to its western neighbours, which in recent years have shown open hostility towards the republic. In particular, a visa-free regime was introduced for citizens of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, and recently Aleksandr Lukashenko instructed to resolve the issue of satisfying applications for granting Belarusian citizenship to foreigners who have settled down in the republic and work for its benefit by the end of the year.

“By the end of the year, they should – no residence permits – become citizens of our country if they write out an application,” he said, once again proving that no external irritants, primarily from the West, have no effect on him today.

Today we can say with confidence that the Belarusian authorities have completely outplayed their opponents in all areas. The fugitive oppositionists, busy sharing funding and portfolios in a non-existent “government in exile”, have completely lost touch with reality, while the official leadership in Minsk has successfully carried out work with the population over the past two years. Therefore, the future of Lukashenko’s opponents today looks more than sad – degradation and marginalisation with a final loss of confidence among those who supported them until recently. And, apparently, the completion of this process will happen very soon.

Natalya Grigorieva

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