13 October 2020
By Dmitry Bykov, writer, poet, and journalist:
Aleksandr Lukashenko has presented Belarusians with an intractable moral dilemma.
But moral dilemmas are generally intractable, and it’s worth stating that out loud, because there is no single morality. God has one sort, man another, and your boss a third.
So, the dictator goes to visit opposition figures in the remand centre, clearly demonstrating that they’re in there for no reason whatsoever and that he can keep them there for as long as he likes – it’s purely a matter of individual will. He goes through the motions of discussing constitutional reforms with them, but all he really does is make a fairly crude bargain: I’ll let two of you go (holding the rest hostage), and those two, representing the opposition, will call on Belarusians to end the street protests. Then I’ll release the rest, and we can start talking. I may (hardly likely!) agree to elections. Alternative candidates might even stand in them. And at some point in the future, in another year or so…
Those released, Yury Voskresenky and Dmitry Rabtsevich, have no choice – the main opposition figures are still in prison, being tortured. Shklyarov, for one, is seriously unwell. It’s like the government has made this conciliatory gesture, and you shouldn’t walk away from that. And it’s like the promise of constitutional reform is real, and you can’t really see any other way, since “constitutions aren’t written in the street”. But then, calling on your supporters again and again to come out onto those same streets means putting them right in harm’s way – on one Sunday alone, 600 people were arrested, and they had no intention of stopping there. You know, some optimists believe that a way out of the Belarusian crisis has emerged, and that Lukashenko has pulled it all off with a daring political move: showing up at the remand centre.
Now I want to say that this was no conciliatory gesture, but boundless cynicism and outright blackmail; there wasn’t much of a choice for Aleksandr Grigorevich to make, whether to spend four hours in the remand centre or much longer, considering the brutal methods being used by his underlings. The population has no weapons to use against him, except to take to the streets. As for us, there are three forms of protest to choose from: Belarusian, Kyrgyz, and Russian (by which I mean non-existent). I’ve no desire to move things on to a Kyrgyz scenario – as the anthropologist Roman Shamolin rightly said, it would mean defeat, and not just a moral one. But moving to a Russian scenario strikes me as being even worse, not least because the living – good or bad – have hope, whereas for the dead that is problematic.
Translated by Lindsay Munford