19 November 2017, Sunday, 8:05

How to Consolidate the Nation

Mikalai Statkevich

This is the article of the leader of the Belarusian National Congress.

Mikalai Statkevich wrote this article the day before his arrest. Charter97.org publishes its original version.

Consolidation of the nation

1. The need for consolidation

The person who illegally retains power in Belarus leads us to an inevitable collapse. To preserve the country the Belarusians need to seize power from a criminal, untalented, and corrupted regime as soon as possible. It is impossible to do through elections or legally because elections have been replaced by farce with the predictable result. And all legal public structures fall under strict control of the ruler.

There is no other way but to return stolen power to the people using coercion. But our society is geopolitically and culturally divided. After overthrowing of the "ruler" it will take miserable efforts for external forces to provoke internal conflict between Belarusians with different vision of the future of the country. It may result in the loss of independence of our state.

This is a vicious circle - to preserve the country we need to change the power. But attem.pts to do it may destroy the country

There is one way out - to consolidate the nation around basic values respected by the majority in order not to let foreign provocateurs to make people go against each other.

Let's turn to history to better understand the problem of consolidation.

2. Attempts to consolidate in the first years of independence

Belarus gained independence as a result of the self-disintegration of the Soviet Union, and not thanks to the struggle of the generation. At the beginning of independence it was supported by less than a third of inhabitants of Belarus. One third opposed independence, and the rest were indifferent to the issue.

Patriotic forces tried to consolidate the nation under the idea of independence, the Belarusian language, national symbols and history. But these values were attractive only for a minority of Belarusians.

Elected in 1994 the first president of the country, in the hope of exchanging Belarus' independence for the throne in the Kremlin, actively propagandized the thesis about Belarusians as "truly Russians". He brought down all the power of the state propaganda machine on patriotic values. The unjustified, from the point of view of the majority, emigration in 1996 of the then leader of the patriotic forces dealt a moral blow.

But the national forces managed to consolidate the patriotic minority and mobilize it for the "street war for independence" of 1996-2000.

Despite efforts of the authorities, the example of the patriotic selfless struggle, as well as a fairly long life in an independent state, led to an increase in support for the country's independence. The regime took into account new realities (including the shift of power in the Kremlin) and in the beginning of the new millennium began to use independent rhetoric more actively. The threat to independence temporarily receded.

3. Work on consolidation in the "zeros"

For the sake of economic subsidies from Russia, the regime began to actively use the theme of the "Slavic community". At the same time, the authorities continued the persecution of the Belarusian language, historical symbols and attempts of historical and patriotic education of the society to prevent national consolidation and to please the Kremlin. In general, any attempt to consolidate, except around its leader, the regime perceived as the threat. It required an obedient population.

Because of weak national consolidation, the Belarusian patriotic forces tried to use the idea of European integration to unite the majority of the society around it. The European idea simultaneously embodied material well-being, national development and political freedoms. For various reasons up to half of Belarusians supported Eurointegration in the "zeros". But due to problem increase in the EU actively used by the state propaganda in hypertrophied form, and growth of economic dependence from Russia, the popularity of Eurointegration has drastically dropped.

Along with this, the number of independence supporters has outnumbered. Only 4-5% of the population supports the accession to Russia. The courage of the Belarusian-speaking activists persecuted by the regime has restored respect for the Belarusian language and caused an increase in interest among the educated youth. This interest has increased against the backdrop of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

4. Efforts to consolidate after the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine

The events in Ukraine and the support of the majority of Belarusians for the annexation of the Crimea made the use the "Slavic" idea dangerous for the regime. The threat of incorporation by Moscow made the authorities stop putting pressure on the Belarusian language and sometimes even turn to the national history. But the completely dependent on Russian assistance regime did not dare do more. Along with that, attempts of some part of national forces to consolidate the nation around the support of Ukraine were failing.

The increasing inefficiency of the economy and the reduction of Russian subsidies have led to a significant worsening of living conditions. The growth of social tension brought the attention of the public back to patriotic forces. Thanks to protest actions they were perceived as the only visible alternative to the regime.

Patriots managed to lead a mass social protest and gave them chances to consolidate the dissatisfied majority around social claims.

To break through the impasse the country has found itself in, to prevent bloody conflicts and to preserve the state's independence, the consolidation of the nation around basic values supported by the majority is required. Then expectations of external interference in response to legal actions of the unified people to return the power drastically decrease.

5. Basic values of consolidation

The key value is the independence of Belarus.

The second value supported by the majority is the succession of power. 80% of Belarusians consider it necessary to carry out reforms. There is a fear to be open-mouthed about poor work of the authorities. Therefore, "support for reforms" in veiled form shows the desire of respondents to make the one who does not want to carry out reforms withdraw from power. It can be asserted that 80% is the true anti-rating of power.

Consensus around the rejection of violence and blood as a means of resolving the contradictions in the society also exists. Peace is the third basic value of the Belarusians.

Return to democracy can become the fourth basic value. After all, only mechanisms of democracy can be effective peaceful means of resolving contradictions, seeking public compromises and ways to a decent life. Fairly elected parliament deputies will identify positions of significant groups of the society and find compromises to prevent conflicts between these groups. That is why the Belarusian National Congress made a call "Power to the people!" its slogan at public actions.

The desire for military neutrality enshrined in the Constitution of Belarus may become the fifth basic value.

The society will manage to find a compromise on problems that currently divide us through the lens of the basic values listed above. The most obvious are the geopolitical division and the language issue.

6. The problem of geopolitical choice

The majority of Belarusians see their country in alliance with Russia, a minority - with the EU. And the independence is a priority before external alliances for both groups. The advantage of the alliance with Russia over integration into the EU is caused not only by supremacy of Russian television in the information space of Belarus or cultural affinity. According to Russian estimates, about one million Belarusians work both legally or illegally in Russia. For these people and millions of their loved ones this opportunity is vitally important. Especially in conditions of a sharp drop in incomes in our country and an ever increasing gap Russia and Belarus.

The compromise would be a creation of such opportunities to make profit both in the West and in the East. Or greater opportunities in our country would be the best option. Although some elements of the treaty on creation of a "union state", for example, common government and army, even the name of the association that contradicts the Constitution of Belarus should be abolished.

There should be a guarantee that decisions on accession of Belarus to interstate unions are made only at national referendums under international control

7. Language problem

The ruling regime has been destroying the Belarusian language for 23 years. The introduction of the Russian language as the second state language is used for it. In practice it means its monopoly domination in all public bodies and institutions of higher education. As a result, the number of people who speak Russian form the vast majority. It poses a threat both to the nation preservation and the state's independence. After all, higher officials in Russia more often voice statements about "the absurdity of existence of two separate neighboring states with people speaking the same language."

A real implementation of the principle of two state languages could be the compromise both for Belarusian- and Russian-speaking population of the country. This means that when applying to state institutions or to employees in any state languages a citizen should receive a response in the language of the appeal. Therefore, presidential candidates and members of the Parliament, as well as officials working with citizens, must take exams for command of two state languages. It requires equal teaching in two languages in institutions of higher education, as well as creation of a network of language courses.

These are only possible options for a public compromise on the most obvious point of differences. But such a compromise can only be implemented through democratic mechanisms the society has yet to return.

8. Conclusions

It is impossible to get out of the impasse created by the power, to avoid an internal conflict and to ensure normal development without the consolidation. The unification of the society around basic values acceptable for the overwhelming majority of Belarusians - independence, succession of power, peaceful resolution of internal conflicts, democracy, aspiration for neutrality - can be the basis of consolidation.

Successful development of Belarus is impossible without adoption of following principles:

- Priority of interests of the Belarusian state over interests of all other states and their blocs;

- Priority of the national unity over geopolitical, linguistic or economic disagreements between different population groups;

- Peaceful means of resolving internal contradictions through democratic mechanisms.

The time needed for the society to understand these obvious truths will determine the fate of the country and each of us.