Belarus and Ukraine: Different Paths Towards a United Goal of Democracy

Belarus and Ukraine: Different Paths Towards a United Goal of Democracy

A webinar on protest culture in two rising democracies, Ukraine and Belarus, was hosted by Kennan Institute on October 8th, 2020. The protest movements in Eastern Europe are now considered milestones of political change. In addition to the Georgian Rose Revolution and Ukrainian Maidan, Belarus has contributed its own metaphor stemming from protestors’ call to “be like water” and constantly change the place of protests throughout August and September 2020. The panel discussion consisted of the following experts: Mykhailo Minakov – Senior Advisor, Editor-in-Chief Focus Ukraine Blog; Andrei Kazakevich – Director, Institute of Political Studies “Palitychnaya Sphera” and Oxana Shevel – Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University. 

Link to the webinar: Protest Culture in Ukraine and Belarus  


During the webinar, the experts presented the following statements:

Andrei Kazakevich:

  • When speaking about recent political crisis in Belarus, we have to take into consideration that the consolidated authoritarian regime has been in place without any competition for more than 20 years; 
  • The most powerful political institution in Belarus is Lukashenka’s bureaucracy and his followers; 
  • There are no influential oppositional political parties, no strong, cohesive political society to influence political outcomes and no governmental institutions that can cause changes; 
  • MPs are extremely weak and various civil society organizations are affiliated with the government; 
  • Belarus has a very simple political system with very strong bureaucracy; 
  • This bureaucracy controls business and economic life – it controls cultural life at a great extent as well; 
  • If we compare Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan etc., – there is no any political competition and there are no any alternative strong political institutions that are not subordinated to the state; 
  • A very centralized power that oversees everything in the country;
  • According to official statistics about 1/2 of population is employed by private companies but not by state – probably this was one of important reasons why this protest took place now, but it was impossible 10 years ago since private sector wasn't so influential; 
  • This protest is not the same as color revolutions because it has a different logic, different reasons and different structure – this is a dissolution from the Soviet system
  • The main strategy of the movement is Long-term pressure on the authorities; 
  • Belarus doesn’t have figures that could be representing the movement – Tikhanovskaya and Kolesnikova are in jail now – there is no symbolic representation of the protest;  
  • It’s a call for unfair elections, not the movement for independence or sovereignty; 
  • Goal wise – it’s similar to colorful revolutions; strategy wise – it’s more of a Solidarity and Perestroika movement; 
  • The possibilities for the authorities to transfer their money abroad were reduced considerably due to domestic pressure, as well as, international pressure from the EU and the United States; 
  • The implementation of any political reform is at great risk since there is a massive Russian presence in the region that greatly supports Lukashenka; 
  • It’s very difficult to see whether the established system will survive without considerable changes; 


Oxana Shevel:

  • Today’s protests in Belarus remind us of the early 2000s colorful revolutions around Eastern Europe; 
  • Unlike in Belarus, in Ukraine there have always been some opposition forces; 
  • In Belarus are the divisions among so-called “guys with guns” – essentially the security apparatus: the police, the Secret Service, the military – essentially the law enforcement that all the dictators depend on to ultimately remain in power and to crush protesters violently as needed; 
  • In Ukraine we saw supporters forcing the autocrats out of the country due to united and organized opposition, however it’s not the same case in Belarus; 
  • In Belarus – the protests are disorganized, and the movement is decentralized; 
  • Where the character of the movement intersects – is that people have an opportunity to exchange the views and organize together, despite the prevalence of the Russian media and constant negative comments by some influences “we don’t want the same situation as in Ukraine with Maidan to repeat”;
  • Russia has claimed that Maidan and protests in Belarus are organized by far-right conspiracy theorists
  • In Ukraine 2014, there have been a lot of divisions within a flow, different groups joined in different periods of time which led to divisions and unity at the same time; 


Mykhailo Minakov:

  • The character of the protest is connected to the “Perestroika” movement in the early Soviet period – when new societies: Belarusian society, Ukrainian, Georgian, Russian valued specifically elections – and this first experience of free and fair elections in 1989; 
  •  It was an ideal that the elections had to be really free and fair – this idea of the West, with free and fair elections and that we need to create West in our societies; 
  • Whenever we see the violation of electoral rules – there is always a moral ground for the protest, it is visible at local level and national level; 
  • The moral ground for the protests is interconnected between the two countries – they are united against unfair election results and lack of political representation; 
  • It brings together different social groups, in spite of very different interests, ideas and ideologies – it's been repeated in Georgia several times, also in today's Kyrgyzstan, although with different level of violence; 
  • Another very important commonality – the common roots that are connected with post-Soviet regime and contemporary media; 
  • The Orange Revolution in Ukraine was very much connected to the TV channel, the Revolution of Dignity was connected to Facebook and today's protests in Belarus are connected to the Telegram channels; 
  • The protest is very decentralized, there's no center, no structure and there's permanent peaceful pressure;
  • In Belarus – protesters are constantly in move, they move around Minsk, around towns and march across streets – during Maidan, we had a focal point where the force was concentrated – we had barricades, we created a fortress to secure the protest and to keep it on the ground permanently; 
  • The movement of protest in Belarus and a concentration of a protest in one place in Ukraine – are two major, significant cultural differences; 
  • Another possible reason for the outcomes of the protests is the popularity of opposition figure – that is able to unite crowds and organize opposition groups; 
  • It’s unusual that protesters do not react to the provocations and violence from government’s side – as soon as the provocations succeed in generating more violence among the protesters, the division of people is inevitable, which then will lead to partial effort to keep the movement peaceful;