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The whispering opposition

The Russian opposition is paralyzed by an ingrained, inherited, Freudian fear.


[democracy] Europe's most peaceful opposition, the Belarus, has exhibited an activity level of unprecedented heights. In Russia, at least no one expected thousands of people to take to the streets after Lukashenko was elected president for the third time on March 19. Even the democratic opposition in Russia was characterized by a top-down attitude: yes, the Belarusians will protest openly against Batka ("Father" in Russian. Nicknames in Lukashenko and others. Ed. Note), but not before for a couple of years, and only after us.

Then everything was turned on its head: the Russian opposition was wrong. They can now travel on a study trip to Minsk to learn from their Belarusian colleagues. Of course, the situation in Minsk is difficult: There have been arrests and bloodshed. What the arrest of the leaders will lead to and what kind of reprisals one will end up with is still unknown. Nevertheless, it is obvious that they succeeded. They managed what we are unable to do so far. Batka got really nervous. That was just why the demonstrations were so brutally disbanded and Batka's reinstatement ceremony postponed indefinitely.

In Russia, we are not capable of disturbing our Batka – Putin. In the Kremlin, the opposition is called marginal cowards and failed politicians. Not a single political rally in Moscow has had as many participants as in Minsk.

Here is an example. On March 25, thousands of Belarusians overcame the fear and boarded the Minsk prison in solidarity with the prisoners of conscience. Almost at the same time, on March 23, the Russian opposition called for a public rally for prisoner of conscience Mikhail Trepashkin. The former FSB officer (Putin was his immediate superior) spoke out against his own organization when he investigated the explosions in the apartment blocks in Moscow in 1999. He claimed that the FSB was involved and that the provocation was carried out at the request of the Kremlin to get a reason to start the Second Chechen War. Trepasjkin was fired first. Then a pistol and some cartridges were planted in his car, and he was imprisoned on the basis of a fabricated case. And there he sits, more than two years later. Even Amnesty International has given Trepashkin status as a prisoner of conscience and turned to Putin, but the Russian Democrats have plenty of time. The rally in Pushkin Square, in the middle of Moscow, demanding the immediate release of Trepashkin, brought together just under 20 people. Most were friends of his. In addition, a couple of journalists and his two lawyers came.

People did not allow themselves to be influenced at all, and most of them turned away in fear and increased the pace. And in fact, there was reason to be afraid: we were surrounded by police. A short distance away was a bus with special forces on standby, and every single protester had his face attached to a film by someone walking around in civilian clothes.

This is not political apathy. This is fear. It holds the consciousness and desire for action in an iron grip. As long as people spoke quietly with celebrities in the kitchen, almost everyone expressed envy and enthusiasm for both the Georgian, the Kyrgyz and not least the Ukrainian revolution. But it has become nothing more than a whisper. The fear is currently stronger than the desire to return to democracy.

The Belarusians are like us – they were born in the Soviet Union, where the KGB was the mainstay. The Belarusians were considered to be the most phlegmatic people of the Soviet Union. However, they are faster than the Russian opposition to free themselves from the fear of the System.

One last figure: the Moscow General Assembly in support of the actions of the Belarusian opposition gathered fifteen people. It was March 26, that is, a Sunday. The meeting lasted five minutes. As soon as the participants rolled out the posters against Lukashenko, everyone was apprehended by the special police, who had been called in advance. They were taken to a bus – and given a proper beating.

Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow. She wrote exclusively for New Time.

Translated by Jardar Østbø

The text was published in Ny Tid on April 7, 2006

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