The civil society has shown strength.
The suspension of the construction of the battery plant is a phenomenon so unusual for Belarus that it requires separate reflection.
Moral victory of the opponents of the plant
By the decision of Chairman of the Brest regional executive committee Anatol Lis, the construction of the battery plant near Brest was suspended until the violations were eliminated. One-and-a-half-year protests of the residents of the regional center brought fruit. An interim, but important victory was obtained. A phenomenon unusual for Belarus. Therefore, conclusions should be drawn from this event.
1. In a bitter conflict between society and the authorities, the society won. For a tough authoritarian regime in which state institutions have given themselves sacred status, this looks very unusual and sensational. It turns out that power may be wrong.
2. The current victory of the Brest protesters in a local social conflict is the loudest in the newest Belarusian history. There were repeated cases when the inhabitants of the Minsk microdistricts, who protested against the consolidation of the development, won. But these were the problems of a narrow circle of inhabitants of several houses. I remember the temporary victory of the population of Svetlahorsk, dissatisfied with environmental pollution by the bleached pulp plant. But there the protests were not so massive and long.
You can recall the protests of the “non-parasites”, but there was a national problem. And what happened in Brest has no analogues. For a year and a half, the whole country was following the unequal, it seemed, from the start, a losing struggle of the local activists. And here is the intermediate result.
3. For a year and a half, the local authorities fought with the protesters in the only way they knew. Crushed all they could. They forbade people to gather on weekends in the central square of Brest, filled it with various activities, organized mass detentions of activists, initiated criminal cases against the instigators, tried, fined, obliged to apologize, organized provocations, and discredited. That is all, as usual.
And now the authorities have actually recognized that those against whom they organized repressions were right. This is a moral victory of the protesters and a moral defeat of the authorities. For example, Lukashenka, appointing a new interior minister Yury Karayeu, noted that in the actions of the police “everything must be fair and just.” (For some reason, he did not remember the rule of law, but this is another matter). So, the actions of the police and law-enforcement agencies against the people who protested were unfair. And it has now become apparent not only for the residents of the regional center.
The civil society has shown strength
4. All this time, all state institutions, ranging from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and ending with the leadership of the region and the city, told a lie, saying that the construction of a battery plant does not pose a threat to the environment. Now they actually recognized it.
5. An important role in the victory (at least for now) of local civil society was played by new technologies. Activists widely used the Internet, led video blogs, live broadcasts from protests, gave detailed information about the real consequences of the battery plant. This had a loud public effect, to which the authorities could not oppose anything. There were hundreds and thousands more supporters of protest actions than participants.
6. The civil society grows out of the specific needs of people. Abstract organizations of the third sector, which advocate all good things against all bad things, take root badly in Belarusian conditions. But an acute problem that affects many local people is pushing for a spontaneous uprising of social structures that are beginning to influence both mass consciousness and the solution of problems.
7. An important role in the decision was played by a professional independent examination. There were those who were competent to analyze information about the plant’s work, which was given by the company IPower and the Ministry of Natural Resources, showed all its flaws and inaccuracies.
8. Protests against this plant were met with hidden sympathy by a significant part of the local nomenclature. Not only because there were rich mansions not far from this object. Because everyone is interested in good ecology. Hence, an important conclusion: the civil society in solving the problem should look for the coincidence of interests with the environment from the nomenclature, business.
The destruction of the myth of the Belarusian order
9. If the authorities, by their unwise actions, affect the immediate interests of a broad social group, and this is not related to politics, they are able to show flexibility. So it was with the apology to the Roma. It happened now in Brest.
And the reverse case is Kurapaty. There is an acute political, ideological problem, so the authorities, if they are making concessions in something, are very reluctant.
10. The Battery Plant is another scandal associated with Chinese business. The construction contractor is the Chinese Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Corporation. The Chinese expansion into Belarus creates more and more problems for the country.
11. The situation around the Brest Battery Plant destroys the myth of the Belarusian order. After all, the question arises: how did the authorities give permission to build such a problem object? Where was the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection? Where were the other control structures, which are more than necessary in the country? Why they still did not respond to complaints of the residents of the city?
12. The authorities were in a difficult situation. The plant was built with the permission of the state bodies. However, it cannot comply with environmental requirements. Experts say that the plant is designed with gross violations, it must be completely rebuilt.
Valer Karbalevich, Radio Svaboda