The civil society - it's you and me.
Don't be surprised or hurry to object: everything that has been going on in recent days, all this mayhem of the security forces, all the haphazard attacks on public organizations and their rapid liquidation - this is a good thing, no matter how paradoxical it may sound.
Last week we have been hearing constantly growing numbers from everywhere: the state has shut down almost 40 non-governmental organizations... 50... 56... And then the perplexed comments of the heads of these organizations: well, we have not participated in protests, we have not been involved in politics, we have been dealing solely with charity, or have been supporting small businesses, or educational projects, or seminars, nothing more. Social networks are being torn to pieces by the information overload, telegram channels can't update lists of the liquidated organizations fast enough, and all of us can hardly catch our breath after another "the total mopping-up of the civil society in Belarus is on!".
Let us stop here. I, for example, reading the news, was surprised not so much by the scale of closing the public organizations, as by their number in principle. Fifty-six organizations have been closed - it turns out that we had so many? Registered, officially recognized, legal ones? With all the statutory documents according to the law? And after this we are still wondering why the collective West has been refusing to recognize the dictatorship in Belarus until recently? It is not dictatorship when human rights organizations and other NGOs are in full bloom in the country, it is almost democracy. Well, if the death penalty were canceled, no one would even be able to tell the difference from Europe.
I’ve read a comment made by the head of a recently closed NGO: "We have not been pouring gasoline into bottles, but helping people with disabilities to live a little more actively and cheerfully". We must assume that the other fifty NGOs were only busy with making Molotov cocktails. In fact, every remark by the leader of any closed association reads either directly or between the lines: "Why us?"
Asking "why?" in a dictatorial state is infantilistic. Hoping that you can save a legal face while complying with all 33 letters of the law alphabet is simplicity, which is worse than robbery. Thinking that a certificate of registration gives you the right to work in peace is naivety amounting to disability.
Partisan units will not register with the Gestapo. Partisans will not acquire certificates and licenses, will not agree with the Gestapo on the text of leaflets, and will not ask for a list of authorized places to post them. And those who are taken to the execution do not wonder and do not try to have it out: we were only teaching old ladies to read and write, we were chopping wood for them and bringing water, and there was no politics involved. Life under dictatorship is in general very similar to life under occupation. The same principles of survival, the same partisans and death-squads, only the names are different.
So everything that is happening is correct. The chasteners themselves, out of foolishness, are ripping off the rose-colored glasses of those who, in spite of the events of the past year, have tried to keep them. By shutting down everything and everyone, they are taking us to a pure, unadulterated confrontation. There are no more indistinct halftones between good and evil: here's the one and there's the other. Those who used to toss between the barricades with the words "Well, you can't divide everything into black and white, the world is much more complicated", join the ranks, because it can't be otherwise. Because the civil society is not a non-governmental organization registered in the Ministry of Justice. The civil society - it's you and me. It's those who have come out to marches, who have stood in chains of solidarity, who have helped prisoners and their families left at large. It is those who have helped the persecuted to flee. It's those who have hung flags in their windows. It's the Belarusians. And our civil society - it is not the mythical "third sector". It is the 97 percent.
What is happening today is only the reality that we have been living in for more than a quarter of a century, not just for the last year. And it lies only in our power to change this reality.
Iryna Khalip, specially for Charter97.org