Today the attention of the international community, including Europe, is focused on Lukashenko, his conflict with the Belarusian people, and his departure. This is quite justified, since the mass protests in Belarus are focused on one topic: «Lukashenko, go away!» Lukashenko has been ruling Belarus for 26 years. He is already completely archaic in his political thinking, his style of power is a laughingstock, and he has outlived his time. This is obvious not only in Belarus itself, but also to everyone in Europe.
But I would like to draw your attention to the deeper aspects of the topic «Europe and Belarus».
1. The price of Europe’s attitude to what is happening in Belarus is very high. The uprising in Belarus, on the one hand, symbolizes the end of the entire narrative of the «post-Soviet transition». Belarusian society is breaking the longest personal dictatorship in Eurasia. And at the same time, the Kremlin, for its part, has also completed a transition, however in the other direction. It has taken shape as a political system moving towards a «neo-Eurasian anti-liberal corporate state». Putin completed it with his amendments to the Constitution. And now the Kremlin – whatever rhetoric it may use – is manufacturing the rust of this isolationist and extremely cynical worldview for the whole of Eurasia and Belarus. The Kremlin is pushing Minsk towards integration as a union state. If it were not for the radiation emitted by Moscow, post—Soviet nations around it would have completed their post-Soviet transition after the USSR demise ten years ago by building their national democratic institutions.
Until 2014, one could look at the «integration» of Belarus with Russia simply as a form of neighboring cooperation between the two countries. But following the annexation of Crimea, of course, this is no longer the case. This is no longer a partnership. Belarusians will be «married to the mafia» if the Kremlin succeeds. They clearly do not want this.
2. December 2021 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Belovezha Accords, which dissolved the Soviet Union and sanctioned the emergence of independent states on its ruins. Boris Yeltsin perceived post-Soviet Belarus in the context of these agreements, i.e. in the context of his own political biography. And he built relations with Ukraine and Belarus as states whose sovereignty was created with his – Yeltsin’s – participation.
But in 2014, Putin finally severed this political continuity. He violated not only the Budapest Memorandum, which provided security guarantees for Ukraine, but began to act as if the Belovezha Accords were denounced. Five years after the annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin began demanding tougher and deeper integration from Minsk.
However, the fundamental fact is that, despite their cultural, linguistic, and historical proximity to Russia, Belarusians do not want integration. It is impossible. After all, Belarusians have never been drawn into a new imperial, neo-Eurasian philosophy. They have no reason to go further together with the Kremlin into a global conflict with the West.
Belarusians do not want to be either a political outpost of the West in this region, or an outpost of the Kremlin’s anti-Westernism. They want only to defend their right to national self-organization.
We will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Belovezha Accords in a situation where several countries of Eastern Europe are in exactly the same position as the countries of the Eastern Bloc were in at the time of the collapse of communism.
Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus have been «left», if not to say abandoned, in the zone between the European Union and Russia. In the last ten years, a distinction has been established between Central (EU member) Europe and «Eastern». But Ukrainian, Moldovan, and, as it turns out now, Belarusian societies have already come a long way. They are now in the same condition as Bulgaria, Romania, and some Balkan countries that have joined the European Union.
We all remember with what acuteness and pain Czeslaw Milosz, Vaclav Havel, and Tomas Venclova described the situation in their countries 30-40 years ago. In those days it was their people who were abandoned in «Eastern Europe». As Milosz wrote, it was not a question of geography and not only a question of the post-war division of the world. We remember Milan Kundera’s 1984 essay in which he asks why Central Europe was abandoned by the West. The pathos of this text, written after Hungary 1956 and Prague 1968 and even before the beginning of perestroika, cannot be forgotten. In this essay, Kundera recalls the words of the 19th century Czech enlightener Frantisek Palacky regarding «Europe of small lands». In «Eastern Europe», behind the «Iron Curtain», these great intellectuals – our contemporaries – did not expect «paternalism» from Europe. On the contrary, they feared that the «Iron Curtain», which arose only as a result of a compromise with Stalin, would turn into a «Roman wall» separating civilization from the barbarians.
Now we hear the same voices among Ukrainian and Belarusian intellectuals. They do not act with the pathos of «westernizing» their people. On the contrary – like Czeslaw Milosz or Milan Kundera – their voices are the voices of a new, reflective Europe.
The political slogan «Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok», when spoken from diplomatic podiums, is worth little. It is rhetoric. But the human experience of Czech, Polish, Lithuanian intellectuals of the 70s and 80s testifies to the same thing that Sergey Zhadan, Marianna Kiyanovskaya, Svetlana Alexievich, Dmitry Strotsev are talking about today. This is not a request for help. This is a question about the future of Europe itself.
I am convinced that these peoples do not need any «Westernization». They do not need to build any separate historical narrative to etch themselves into the West.
The common cultural and historical space of Belarus, the Baltic countries, and Poland is one of the most important foundations of the self-awareness of Belarusians as a nation. But it is not the historical heritage itself that establishes the modern «Europeanness» of these lands. Contemporary identity is created by the «national effort» of society and individual groups, and even sometimes individuals with social influence. And it is this effort that we see today in Belarus.
3. In Germany, you can often hear that the state of mind in Turkey or Poland is more important for Germans than affairs in Russia or even more so in Ukraine. We understand why they say so. But today this «why» is already outdated.
People in Eastern Europe expect that France and Germany, and with them other old democracies in Europe, will form a new semantic alliance that will give a future to all «small fatherlands» on the European continent.
We know that postcolonial philosophy is now sweeping away the remnants of the old hegemonies. We see that the previously influential theories of «democratic transition» seem too superficial to describe the new world that emerged 30 years after the disappearance of the two-superpower world.
When President Macron spoke of a «Europe of new generations», it is a much more accurate image than «Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok». And if we take a close look at the stage of the Belarusian protest today, we will see this «new generation of Europe»: 25-35 year-old theater producers, managers of IT companies, and writers have ended up in Lukashenko’s prisons. Young prosecutors and police officers are fleeing the country, as their understanding of the rule of law has come into conflict with their own future if the Lukashenko regime is extended.
We are shocked by how the enormous world of Belarusian solidarity was so quickly revealed and how quickly institutions of mutual assistance and self-organization and support funds appeared.
In my opinion, this generation of East Europeans is not just «waiting for help from Europe». On the contrary, it is raising the question of Europe itself and its identity. It is, in fact, a direct manifestation of the concept of «Europe of new generations».
Awareness of this valuable phenomenon – today’s Belarusian citizens as an important component of «new Europe» – should determine Europe’s attitude to what is happening in this country much more than geopolitical considerations, security issues, and similar matters.
A Russian version of this article will soon be available on Reform.by.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Беларусь и новая Европа