Socialist Worker

Strikes and protests spread as Belarusian regime clings to power

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2718

Workers at the Grodno Azot factory last week

Workers at the Grodno Azot chemicals factory last week


The Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko was fighting for the survival of his regime on Monday.

Mass protests and, crucially, strikes have followed a rigged election in the east European country last week.

Around 300,000 people turned the capital Minsk into a sea of red and white, the colours of the ­opposition flag, on Sunday. Tens of thousands more joined protests across the country, including in areas that have previously supported Lukashenko.

From the following morning, Minsk was a throng of protesters and striking workers.

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The Prague Spring of 1968—50 years since the uprising that fought Stalinism
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Lukashenko prepared for a “meeting with the people” at the MZKT heavy goods vehicle company in Minsk. He told workers, “We held elections, and as long as you don’t kill me, there won’t be any other elections.”

As soon he finished, workers chanted, “Go away!”

His authority melted away as he spoke in scenes reminiscent of the downfall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

Media workers at the state’s STV and ONT news channels and BT radio station stopped work on Monday.

A huge rally took place outside the ONT building on Communist Street.

Around 130 workers at the Belenergosetprojekt scientific research company downed tools and went to the rally. They had put their demands to management earlier this week.

Meanwhile, workers marched from one company to another to support one another, including the Kozlov electro engineering plant, the MZKT, the MAZ car plant, the MTZ tractor works.

Outside the capital, there were reports of stoppages at the Belaruskali potash ore mines. And workers at the Navapolatsk refinery, one of the regime’s most important companies, rallied in the morning.

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Nicolae Ceausescu—death of brutal dictator was a Christmas gift
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Worked marched through the Belaz industrial vehicle company’s sections to get people behind the protests.   

A video from the BMZ steel works in Zlobin, south eastern Belarus, showed workers rallying outside the factory.

And workers at power stations in Minsk took action in solidarity and didn’t do any work at the Minsk Bearing Plant. 

Rigged 

Throughout last week workers at several companies took action in protest at police violence and the rigged election. Some workers stopped work, others protested during lunchbreaks or publicly put their demands to management.

In Minsk, railway workers, theatre workers at the Janka Kupala Theatre, and workers at the Belmedpreparaty pharmaceuticals company walked out last Thursday.

In western Belarus, doctors in Brest and Baranovici protested, saying, “We are for peace in our country.”

Workers’ strikes and protests increase pressure on regime in Belarus
Workers’ strikes and protests increase pressure on regime in Belarus
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And workers at Hephaestus gas appliance technicians company in the city gathered during their lunch break, chanting, “Leave.”

In Grodno, workers at the Conte textile firm struck.

Workers at Grodno Azot petrochemicals, one of the regime’s biggest companies, took to the streets to a heroes’ welcome from locals.

Last week a stoppage at the tractor plant show how the regime is losing credibility.

Around 70 engineers and technicians from several departments walked out and rallied last Tuesday. The regime’s Deputy Director for Ideological Affairs at the company came out at lunchtime and tried to frighten them back into work.

This failed because, reported Nexta Live, “No one believes ­ideologues anymore.”

Lukashenko has claimed victory over liberal challenger Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya, with 81 percent of the vote compared to her tally of just 11 percent.

Tikhanovskaya fled to Lithuania on Tuesday. She has released a new statement saying she could be an interim leader.

Various Western leaders are posing as supporters of the fight for freedom in Belarus, hypocritically denouncing police violence.

French president Emmanuel Macron urged the European Union to support the Belarus protesters. His police force violently tore into the Yellow Vest movement.

A genuine alternative to Lukashenko’s authoritarianism is not more free market capitalism.

It lies in the streets and with workers fighting for democracy, social justice and a society where they are in charge.


Lukashenko’s regime clashes with the West, but it is no friend of workers

Aleksander Lukashenko came to the presidency in the chaos that followed the collapse of Stalinist Russia and the Eastern Block in the 1990s.

While these countries claimed to be “socialist” they were in fact state capitalist societies where working class people had no control.

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Hungary 1956—rebirth of socialism from below
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The ruling class—the state bureaucracy—behaved in the same way as bosses do under free market capitalism.

Its aim was accumulating profit and to get ahead of international rivals, not meeting ordinary people’s needs.

Revolutions overthrew the Eastern Bloc regimes in 1989 and Stalinist Russia broke apart into 15 republics. They transitioned from state capitalism to a free market capitalism.

Communist politicians became “democratic” politicians and the managers of state owned firms became private sector managers. Lukashenko, for instance, was the manager of a farming business.

Ordinary people, who had taken to the streets demanding freedom and social justice, paid the price of free market policies.

The way this played out was slightly different in Belarus to other republics.

In Belarus, the Stalinist bureaucracy was particularly conservative and had resisted any reforms.

But a series of powerful workers’ protests in April 1991 shook the Communist Party to its foundation.

It included a wave of strikes across more than 80 state-owned companies in Minsk, some organised through independent trade unions.

Independence

A combination of splits at the top and protests pushed Belarus’ parliament into declaring independence in August 1991.

But after independence, figures from the old ruling bureaucracy retained a large degree of power.

Unlike in Russia and other Eastern Bloc states, Belarus’ rulers didn’t pursue large scale free market reforms, fearing that it could destabilise their rule.

In 1994, Lukashenko was elected president in the country’s first and last free presidential elections.

He has gambled on playing off rival imperialisms—the US, Russia and the European Union (EU). By staying within the Russian camp, his regime got huge subsidies to prop up the economy.

When the wall came tumbling down
When the wall came tumbling down
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More recently Lukashenko has courted investment from the West and China, both competitors of Russia, by backing some neoliberal policies.

One was a “decree against social parasites”—a tax on the unemployed—which sparked large protests and helped hollow out the regime’s legitimacy.

The tilt towards the West has been strongly resisted by Russian president Vladimir Putin. He forced Belarus into negotiations over a state union with Russia—which Lukashenko rejected.

The West and Russia’s rivalry over Belarus has nothing to do with democracy versus dictatorship.

It’s no surprise that Western leaders are posing as supporters of the fight for freedom —with the aim of weakening a competitor.

Hope lies on the streets, not with imperialism East or West.

The mass actions in the last week have recalled the wave of protests that swept several parts of the world in the early months of this year before Covid-19 hit.

 


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