Last week, the parliament of Belarus outlawed silent protests, which had sprung up in the country after the government devalued its currency in May. As Reuters reports:
Amendments to the law approved on Wednesday classify any “mass presence of people in a public place agreed beforehand … aimed at performing actions agreed beforehand or inaction … to express political views or protest,” as picketing which requires official approval.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is often described as Europe’s last dictator, said that the protests, which took place at least once a week this summer, were part of a plot to overthrow his government.
The timing of this move is interesting. With the silent and clapping protests apparently dying down in recent weeks, it’s hard not to see how this move will only backfire—reinvigorating the opposition.
By banning such actions (or inaction), the government reveals even more clearly how arbitrary its power is and the lack of basic freedoms in the country, which should play perfectly into the opposition’s hands. Moreover, in passing a law that will be so easy to flout and so difficult to enforce, the government may inadvertently have just exposed its own limitations, which will likely inspire many more to take action.
If pro-democracy activists can find a way to take advantage of this strategic blunder and overreach by the parliament, this new law could be used to great effect as they try to build their ranks.
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The underlying sentiment behind your words is that you care more about “democracy” or “people power” (empty concepts) than about real people living rich, fulfilling lives. It is highly irresponsible for outsiders to casually quantify the parameters of a life worth living. The opposition in Belarus is weak for a number of reasons, one reason being the exceedingly fair social distribution of wealth, the likes of which make “human rights” activists in the United States look like either jerks or morons (I actually know good people, educated people, hardworking people, in the States that haven’t worked regularly in two years or more). And so I can’t help but laugh when I read the self-righteous nonsense about how Belarus mismanages its economy, considering that the Euro is on life support (demanding slavery of Greece and others to keep it afloat); considering that the US is the largest international debtor, with the luxury of a global reserve currency and an aggressor state system that exports its economic problems with military force.
In a word, stop using this website as a forum to do the Pentagon and US State Department’s dirty work.
There are real people involved in these geopolitical games. If the teachings of Gandhi and King mean anything, it’s that the people in Belarus and everywhere will work out their own struggles…because they actually live with them…and because (the logic continues) they must actually live with the particular form of their resolution.
I’m a little confused Quong. So you’re in support of a law banning silent protests or clapping? Because that was what my post was about. I didn’t get into the economics at all, except for mentioning that the current protests were sparked by the devaluation of the country’s currency.
If you were actually familiar with our site you would never mistake me or our website for doing the US government’s bidding. I’ve long been involved in opposing my country’s disastrous foreign policy and the many wars that we wage around the world. I’ve also written at length about the importance of resisting the neoliberal economic model pushed by the US through the IMF and World Bank. So no need to lecture me there.
And finally, Gandhi and King weren’t isolationists who limited their concerns around peace and justice only to their own countries and borders, and nobody who really believes in nonviolence would either. It was in fact King who said that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
I already anticipated your criticisms.
The problem with applying Gandhi and MLKing’s words about “an inescapable network of mutuality” to the current situation is that it can be interpreted so flexibly that it could be used strategically to enhance one’s political agenda (in this case the political agenda of the self-same neoliberal forces you claim to crusade against).
The typical (and brilliant, I might add) strategy employed by the United States is to focus on indicators of “democracy” to wield aggressive political power–and why? Because US strategists actually believe in handing over “power to the people”? Obviously not. The reason is because the current form of “democracy” being exported and implemented globally is a political system that favors global corporate hegemony, capitalizing upon the leverage [these forces] maintain over the instruments of social control.
This is a political reality which naturally impacts Belarus, seeing as how Belarus is “connected” with the rest of the planet (“the inescapable network of mutuality”) and with the global designs of the neoliberal power brokers. The Lukashenko gov’t is NOT initiating draconian social legislation in an historical vacuum. This implication, fueled by omission, is irresponsible. Instead, the West is using every opportunity to amplify discord and tension within Belarusian society, taking advantage of that country’s current economic dilemma by passing “regime change” legislation in Europe and the US, financed (overtly) to the tune of $100 million.
As a “people power” pundit, is this not relevant to the conversation? Is it not relevant that the West spends $100 million annually on the opposition movement, and that the money has the express purpose of overturning that country’s government? Of course it is.
And so I ask you: show me where you’ve responsibly dealt with “that” reality? If you are really against the IMF/World Bank program, would it not be responsible to arm your readers with a more careful formulation of this side of the story?
This omission is common. You are not alone. This you share with other Western opinion-makers. Lots of “Europe’s Last Dictator” epithets (this is Condi Rice’s label, BTW). Lots of scenes of injustice from the student-led “dilemma action” stunts. Very little careful, considerate, nuanced political reality. In other words, just as the State Department prefers.
Perhaps you require an example of your shortcomings.
You write: “By banning such actions (or inaction), the government reveals even more clearly how arbitrary its power is and the lack of basic freedoms in the country, which should play perfectly into the opposition’s hands.”
My response is, subtle omissions of fact change the entire formulation of justice in this instance.
You claim the power of the Belarusian gov’t is “arbitrary.” And what is your reason? Answer: because they ban “silent protests.” Logical follow-up question might be: “and why do they ban ‘silent protests’? Because they wield their power arbitrarily?” Answer: yes. Q: “But how do they wield their power arbitrarily?” A: Because they ban “silent protests.” And so on.
A careful reader will notice your reliance upon the prejudices created by Western propaganda. If the reader is not familiar with the prejudices being created, I suggest googling the following words: “Belarus” and “crackdown” or “Europe’s Last Dictator.” Make sure to include stories from each of the last three months. The reader will find an emotional foundation being laid by empty-yet-emotive word choices. Oh, whoever writes these stories are having a good chuckle at the expense of Western ignorance, I’m sure. But for those handful of people that are really looking for answers, however, what can they expect? Does anyone write for them? Don’t take my word. Read the articles and find out. I’m sure everyone will find ‘something’ of value in these articles.
For me, however, the real heart of the matter (and what your response to me gets at) is whether Western readers can ever be the caretakers of justice in Belarus. Obviously King was right when he wrote about the “network of mutuality,” but we must be careful how we interpret these words, otherwise we may be launching a new Holy Crusade, no? All crusades had ‘humanitarian’ underpinnings. The Bush Doctrine even had ‘humanitarian’ underpinnings. We are not outside of history, or exempt from the foibles of our species. And so the real question must be what, if anything, can we learn from these moments in history, and how can we apply it to our behavior today.
I make the case that, removing oneself from the captivating logic of interventionist political doctrine for a moment, we actually come face to face with ourselves and our own limitations as human beings. We have many limitations that relate to our grasp of global justice, those which some might try to characterize as ‘shields of inaction’ or some such thing, but, in actuality, reflect a truth about ourselves. We oftentimes have bold “humanitarian” impulses to save the world, which means that we care, that we concern ourselves with the lives of others, etc. Obviously this is good. But if we’re not careful, if we’re not aware of the uses of these sentiments, they can serve a great harm indeed.
Once again you’ve kind of lost me Quong. You say that he’s not doing this in a vacuum, which sounds like you’re actually making an excuse for it. So are you? Do you really support this?
Being opposed to laws like this—which do show arbitrary power and a lack of basic freedoms—and being opposed to neoliberal economic policies are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I think challenging both is a consistent position. Just so you don’t have to search too hard, here are links to a few pieces I’ve written on this site (and for Yes! Magazine) that show my critique of neoliberalism:
And I agree with you on the lack of humanitarian motives by governments, including that of the US, no matter which party is in power. That is not how any government functions. Again, as I’ve written time and time again on this site and in my freelance work, the US goes to war and intervenes in other countries to protect its own economic and geopolitical interests, not because we care about the civilian population in whatever country we are targeting. This was at least one of the reasons why I wrote against the US/NATO war in Libya.
You are simply reading something into my writings and me that is not there. I don’t work for the government or any corporate interests. I’m an activist and a teacher who cares about creating a more peaceful and just world, and that means there shouldn’t be laws outlawing silent protests or clapping in Belarus or anywhere.
If you know, what are the regulations regarding protests in New York City. I understand, for example, but haven’t verified, that an assemblage of more than 25 people requires a permit, that there are NYC? NYPD? rules for they types of posters that can be carried, etc…And I don’t know whether putting protesters in enclosed pens has been authoritatively upheld or even challenged. These restrictions on First Amendment rights seem to have been severely constrained under Bloomberg.