Belarusian Left speaks out
An interview with Pavel Katarzheuski from the Belarusian Left Party “Fair World”
Interview by Kate Hudson
Are the protests in Belarus a result of the election fraud or are there deeper roots?
Absurd and against the will of the citizens, the election results were “the last straw”, but were not the main reason. The main causes of the political crisis were: a gradual deterioration in the standard of living, a drop in real incomes of the population, the elimination of benefits and social guarantees, and the inability of citizens to influence the decisions made by the authorities.
It is not the first year that we have seen the dissatisfaction of the majority of citizens with the authoritarian-capitalist regime of Lukashenka. But the more the regime deepens the anti-social and neo-liberal reforms, the larger and more organized the protests become.
What social forces are involved? What role is played by trade unions and women’s organisations?
These protests have become the largest and longest-running since the 1990s thanks to the active participation of the working class. For the first time in a long time, the citizens of Belarus remembered the word “strike”. Independent trade unions, which previously resembled more political clubs for veterans of the protest movement, have become popular and are trying to mobilize workers. The problem is that for many years these organizations did not have any practical experience of labor struggle. The abrupt switch from demoralization into a stormy whirlpool of strikes and street protests, showed that many trade union organizations had been on the defensive for too long. Of course, this is not the fault of independent trade unions, it is the result of many years of work under conditions of authoritarianism. However, independent workers’ organizations must learn from these events; and be prepared to work in new conditions that differ from both the harsh silence of the 2000s and the political unrest of the 1990s.
I must say that women’s organizations do not have strong institutionalization in Belarus. The largest women’s union is a government-controlled organization. Numerous feminist initiatives are poorly visible in public space.
But the Belarusian protest certainly has a woman’s face. Now, in the wake of the protests, a new movement “women in white” has emerged. This is a spontaneous movement of women that emerged after the rallies against repression. After the brutal detentions on August 9-10 and the use of torture against the detainees, it was the women who took to the streets to protest against the police terror.
What role is your party playing?
Our party is actively promoting a socialist and democratic agenda at the protests. During the protests, at least five of our comrades were detained. We are campaigning for the return of the benefits that the dictatorial regime destroyed, for shorter working hours without cutting wages, and against a completely unfair slave contract system of employment. We criticize the programs of the so-called “democratic” candidates. But we agree that the authorities must immediately stop repression and release political prisoners. Our main demand remains the holding of new, democratic and free elections.
Is your party new or what is its history?
Our party was founded in 1991 as the successor of the CPSU in Belarus. In those days, the party was called the “Party of Communists of Belarus”. In the last democratically elected parliament (the Supreme Council), our faction “communists and agrarians” was the largest opposition faction against Lukashenka. In 1996, in his coup d’état under the guise of a referendum, Lukashenka destroyed the Supreme Soviet - and there were no more elections that were free of falsifications. In the same year, political strategists from the administration organized an artificial split in our party. A group left our party that supported Lukashenka and took the name “The Communist Party of Belarus”. In 2009 we changed our name and became the "Belarusian Party of the Left “Fair World”, because it was difficult for people to understand what was the difference between two parties with almost the same names. Then we became members of the "European Left Party". However, we have not abandoned our communist ideology.
How can your sister parties across Europe help reach your political goals?
There are many ways to help us. First of all, we ask you to tell the truth about what is happening in Belarus and explain to your supporters that the Lukashenka regime is neither socialist, nor even socially oriented. It is a standard dictatorship with anti-labor, anti-union, neo-liberal and traditionalist policies.
You can also distribute public statements in support of the Belarusian people and their struggle for democracy and social justice. And, of course, go to the Belarusian embassies in all countries with socialist symbols and slogans to show that the left remains on the side of the resisting people and everywhere opposes oppression and injustice.
You were recently arrested and imprisoned for some days. How did this come about and what was the experience like?
Apart from the fact that before being sent to prison, I had to lay face down on the ground for 12 or 14 hours with my hands tied in the courtyard of the police station and was beaten, then everything is in order.
Of course, it was hard enough in prison. On a camera focused on 8 beds, there were 24 of us, as we slept three people on one bed. We had to use several sets of dishes and eat in turn, and I want to note that the coronavirus epidemic is not over yet.
I was also lucky that we were taken to the prison in the city of Zhodino. In Minsk prisons, the police tortured people, raped the detainees, broke people’s legs and arms. And, unfortunately, this is not an exaggeration. Fortunately, I got off with bruises of the ribs and lower back.
Is there a chance to bring real change to Belarus?
There is always a chance. We can still win if the working class does not betray this revolution and is ready to go further and fight not only for human rights, but also for democratic socialism. Even if the dictatorship can stop the protests now, it will not be able to resolve the contradictions, which allowed the emergence of a mass people’s movement.
Pavel Katarzheuski is a member of the Central Committee of the Belarusian Left Party “Fair World” and a Master in Political Science. This article first appeared on the Left Unity Website. Reproduced with permission. Minor edits for language made.