‘Our authorities shouldn’t deceive themselves with their own propaganda because it is very danerous’
What the BLM, Navalny’s protests and an uprising in Belarus have in common and what all this can end with
The protests in the USA, Russia and Belarus have different ways of settlement but have a common origin too. What are the ways out of these conflicts? What if the protest in Russia wins and how to make the situation less radical? Who stirred up the BLM fire and was it Biden’s pre-election campaign? Why will the Belarusian crusade against Lukashenko choke in the end and lead to nothing? Explanation of the biggest and loudest recent protests in an interview with Docent of Moscow State University’s Faculty of Philosophy, political expert and philosopher Boris Mezhuyev.
“The events on 23 January would not have happened if the political situation abroad hadn’t changed”
Mr Mezhuyev, the popular unrest in 2020 didn’t end with the States and Belarus. Russia also pushed the “protest button” on 23 January and the probability that this won’t end with this protest only. Do these processes have anything in common?
They have one thing in common — all these processes are characterised by the formation of a new civilisation standard and a protest of certain forces against it. The protests in Belarus began against President Lukashenko himself, and some pro-Russian forces even participated in them (suffice it to remember that some politicians were arrested precisely because of links with Russia). But the protest in general turned into an opposition of pro-Western forces against the imperial hegemony of Russia. The protests in Europe and the USA last year acquired new meanings, but in general this is a protest against the same imperial hegemony, but now Brussels and Washington. Yes, Black Lives Matter was a movement of black and leftist activists first who were incited by the top of the US Democratic Party. But then we saw attempts of the riot of the American backwater against what can be called Atlanticism — the course in which America becomes a leader of some peaceful union with Europe. We clearly saw this on 6 January when protesters stormed the Capitol.
What about Russia?
We see the same thing now in Russia. Without doubt, the protests in our country have a lot of meanings — social, regional, national, environmental. But in the end, everything boils down to the opposition of some forces (firstly, those chaired by the liberal staff) against Putinism, that’s to say against the desire of ruling circles to set off Russia against the West. Whatever they used to say like “even representatives of communist groups participate in protests”, the fight against Putinism itself will be key. And no matter what Navalny and Zyuganov say further, precisely the fight against the course for the opposition between Russia and the West will be the centre of this process.
This is why if we go back to your question about what the protests have in common and turn to the events in the Capitol on 6 January and in Russian cities on 23 January, we will see one thing. It is some forces that don’t like the civilisation union of their country. In America, it was a riot of those who have truly American values, a white man’s values, not Transatlantic. While in Russia, Navalny says he is against robbery, but despite this, those who promote him and comment his actions see the end of the opposition between Russia and the West as the sense of the protest.
Without doubt, the protests in our country have a lot of meanings — social, regional, national, environmental. But in the end, everything boils down to the opposition of some forces (firstly, those chaired by the liberal staff) against Putinism, that’s to say against the desire of ruling circles to set off Russia against the West
Can you put an example of such comments?
Washington Post recently had David Ignatyev’s column in which he said he talked with the head of Navalny’s federal staff Leonid Volkov. And the first thing Volkov said was: “We want to make Russia a normal European country”. Here, of course, he means the fair court, free elections, alternation of power. But you understand yourself that not only socio-political transformations but also geopolitical certainty are behind it. In other words, Russia should stop being the centre of special power that resists Atlanticism’s attempts to create some things in the world.
But this isn’t news. What has happened right now and activated all these processes?
Trust me, the feeling of splash against the power in Belarus and especially in Russia would be smouldering if the clash of the Western and anti-Western civilisation didn’t develop the protest fire. Yes, there would be an explosion of protests in Khabarovsk, Shiyes, Yekaterinburg, Moscow...
But the events on 23 January would not have happened if the political situation abroad hadn’t changed. Look carefully: Navalny arrived on 17 January, while Baiden’s inauguration was on 20 January, and what is it? Is it a coincidence? It is very hard to believe. But of course, all this is linked.
Why is the conflict of civilisations the matter? It is a conflict of conflicts — it includes everything, including both Russia’s domestic problems and the USA’s domestic problems. Biden’s supporters accuse Trump’s supporters who became Putin’s supporters, while our authorities accuse Navalny’s supporters of obeying the USA. And all conflicts start to acquire such a character, and you can do nothing with it anymore.
“Russia is admitted to the European Union. So what, will it depend on it?”
Is there seen a common exit from all three situations without catastrophes, tragedies, economic declines?
The situations are very different, and an exit from them will be different. The Russian influence is huge in Belarus, it is bigger than the one that existed once in Ukraine. And the protests there will likely lead to nothing, in any case, short-term. I think one-party dictatorship can arise in the USA for a long time — the Democratic Party’s dictatorship. And it will be able to handle the revolt — the power of the American establishment is very significant anyway. Trump didn’t manage to have any part of security agencies on his side in 2020. He received a powerful blow from the elites, special services, the mass media, businesses and militaries. As a result, he was face-to-face with the establishment — he had only his voters and nothing more behind, this is why he lost.
But the toughest situation is precisely in Russia. From a perspective of the election, President Putin is still popular. But many market players don’t have the feeling of the country’s economic sovereignty. These people don’t feel that investing money in their country they provide it with comfort — they think that the comfort is created for other countries. And the absence of the feeling of real sovereignty frightens them — many are frightened about the prospect of expansion of international economic sanctions.
From a perspective of the election, President Putin is still popular. But many market players don’t have the feeling of the country’s economic sovereignty. These people don’t feel that investing money in their country they provide it with comfort — they think that the comfort is created for other countries
Moreover, we see a lot of people from the intellectual class who fear that an autochthonic regime would be installed in Russia that will rest only on its internal sources and power. And this will mean that they will lose the connection with the West and the possibility of opposing local bureaucracy. And it is a crucial factor for the intellectual class. And all this isn’t adaptation of national economy to others’ interests — Russia has a big number of international elites for whom the status is defined by contacts with the external world. For such elites, the autochthonicity of the regime will be simply a catastrophe.
I am sure that the deprivation of the opportunity of communication with Western conservatives and intellectuals will bring to the situation in which you will be just a function for the Russian management at different levels, and it is a tragic perspective.
But all this doesn’t seem to be the main problem.
The main Russian problem is that the subject of the protests doesn’t have a project named Russia. What is Russia of the Future besides fair judges and honest elections? How will it present itself towards Europe? Fine, Russia is admitted to the European Union. So what, will it depend on it? Ukraine at least had a goal — get association with the European Union, but what will we have?
We don’t see either the leaders of the protest or the West have any concepts regarding Russia. And the West’s uncertainty about if Russia is an organic part of the European world or some separate civilisation like China — and it is the conundrum, it is the source of problems.
And it means that the situation can be very tragic if protest forces win. If these people win somehow this year already (though I don’t really believe it), they will stay in power without the country’s development concept for 2-3 months.
“It is necessary that some figure that’s obviously an alternative to Navalny appear”
Does it mean that Russia’s power should offer a flexible exit from the situation? Do you think it exists?
There is a flexible way. Firstly, our authorities shouldn’t deceive themselves with their own propaganda because it is very dangerous. Yes, I understand that “the West is dying”, and this has been said 30 times in TV programmes, but let’s not feed ourselves with all these fables. The West may die but only God knows when this will happen.
Secondly, it is necessary to create any political competition in the country, moreover, the real one. It is necessary that some figure that’s obviously an alternative to Navalny appear in the election to the 2021 State Duma that could personify real public claims for power, at least, for governmental power. If there appeared such a figure (and were convincing, not created according to the patterns of the existing organisation), if it could lead some public requests, moreover, without crossing the boundary of some “conventions”, it would probably be possible to manage the protest activity. I have been talking about this since 2015. But I don’t yet see such a figure.
It is necessary to think and look for a person, maybe among new parties — they admitted deputies to regional parliaments in autumn, which means they can do something in search of the figure that’s needed now. If they find this person, it will be possible to avoid the protest’s transition to a catastrophe. I personally fear this protest because its leaders have a lot of external commitments, commitments in front of domestic sponsors. While I think it’s not hard to guess what tasks domestic sponsors have.
Is the Kremlin ready for it?
I don’t know what the top thinks. But according to sensible assumptions, they should understand that all people have a sense of self-preservation that the situation is complex, though only 100 and 200 people go to protest somewhere. The fact that fights with police began is also an important and alarming factor, that’s to say, the line when the protest seemed to be only peaceful was crossed. And in general we can’t say that aggression appeared in the protest, but somebody’s eye has already been hurt, somebody has had another injury, somebody has already been arrested for being accused of having attacked police officers, and the authorities should understand it.
Let’s remember the Maidan in Ukraine. In 2013, it seemed it would be as peaceful as it was in 2004 when nobody’s blood was spilt. But somebody who thought nothing awful would happen if force was applied gradually began to stir the situation. And when the first man was killed, I didn’t see any indignation among Russian Maidan supporters, like it isn’t awful if somebody was killed, a revolution includes blood. And now this is coming here — it is alarming, and aggression can go up.
Let’s remember the Maidan in Ukraine. In 2013, it seemed it would be as peaceful as it was in 2004 when nobody’s blood was spilt. But somebody who thought nothing awful would happen if force was applied gradually began to stir the situation
But the protest’s leaders say they don’t tolerate violence and urge to resist it.
I would also be glad to think so but I don’t think that supporters of the protest have such a task. Of course, some of them will provoke the situation because different people participate in it. I will remind you that during the Maidan, Vitaly Klichko shouted that one shouldn’t attack either security workers or buildings of power agencies in any case. But at the same time figures nobody knew at the moment already appeared who psyched up the crowd to assault the same Berkut.
It is anyway important not to consider the current events as if it was 2019 when nothing serious happened in Moscow streets and people simply went out to declare their position. Now the situation is stirred up with the help of the American administration. Yes, Biden is peace-loving now, but everything will be done by him to be noted for strict sanctions on aggressive actions.
“If the protest wins the elections, elections will become a part of the protest”
Don’t you think that everything will be settled by force of arms like in Belarus?
A hostile solution will give you nothing. In this situation, there must be a political decision, for instance, these elections should overshadow the protest process in terms of significance because if the protest wins the elections, elections will become a part of the protest. But election in any country should be vital, might it sound loud. And if, for instance, people feel the same change of the government will be the focus in these elections, they will see that they have a chance of influencing to change the social, economic policy. Yes, the authorities will find it tough to do it. But they will make a decision on the upcoming elections, protests will decrease or at least stop being radical.
Vladimir Putin said once that if one can’t stop a protest, one should chair it.
It is not simple to do — then Putin should become his own opposition: it is hard for him to do but it is necessary to a certain degree.
Let me go back to Belarus and the USA. Did force work in Belarus? The protests became local, people talk about it little, but everybody is expecting the All-Belarusian People’s Congress, which will be on 11-12 February. What will happen after 12 February?
It is hard to say. The regime can stabilise, and Lukashenko can provide himself with some support, but it is funny to expect the regime to transform, the opposition to join the political life. I don’t in general think that the current era will somehow favour democracy, and we can’t expect it to happen in such countries as Belarus that is influenced by Russia. Yes, Lukashenko may step down in some two years, but Russia itself is in such a situation that it won’t experiment with Belarus. While the West doesn’t have huge authority on Belarus to organise something similar to what it organised in Ukraine.
I don’t in general think that the current era will somehow favour democracy, and we can’t expect it to happen in such countries as Belarus that is influenced by Russia