Andrei Yahorau: Intense politicization of pressurized groups may be an uneven response to the state

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

All political parties don’t have much weight themselves; it is more useful for them to get united, but their private interests are pulling them apart.

On May 15 Minsk will host the Belarusan National Congress.

A week before the start of the event the organizing committee still has not received an answer from Minsk city executive committee re the application for providing the venue. That forced the organizers to declare that the Belarusan National Congress will be held in any case: either indoors or outdoors.

The Congress should demonstrate the unity of the opposition on the eve of the parliamentary election campaign. However, there will be no single list of opposition candidates; “the center-right coalition” has refused to participate in the Congress. Why do we need Belarusan National Congress at all then?

The EuroBelarus Information Service asked Andrei Yahorau, the head of the Center for European Transformation and political scientist to comment on that.

— Once again the Belarusan opposition hasn’t agreed on the “single” list of candidates for the parliamentary elections, although almost all the structures are going to participate in the election campaign. What has stopped the opposition from forming a united front again?

— As usual, personal relationships, conflicts, and complaints about each other. There is no visible political logic in confrontation. All political parties don’t have much weight themselves; it is more useful for them to unite, but they are pulling apart by their private interests.

— However, on May 15 democratic forces are holding the Belarusan National Congress, which is to demonstrate unity. However, the “center-right” parties have refused to participate in the forum. What is the point of putting effort in the Belarusan National Congress?

— The Belarusan National Congress had no point from the beginning. No congresses are needed to talk and agree. It’s a purely symbolic act, a private initiative of some structures that are trying to legitimize their political stance as a communication platform on which they are supposed to agree. Neither the public nor the backroom negotiations bring any success, because the root of the problem is different: today none of the opposition parties is interested in coalition work.

— Why is it so?

— Due to the shifted logic of the political process: the parties are not competing for the voters and the electorate, the competition takes place in other fields — for the impact on the international structures, for a potential role in the distribution of resources, for the impact on the independent media. This fuss is very far from the real political confrontation in Belarus.

— Does the Belarusan society need a nationwide congress at all?

— Belarusan society needs an alternative to the existing system, to the authoritative power. It is clear that the authority cannot be solely won thanks to political activities; it accumulates in other spheres of life: writing books, supporting the Belarusan culture and projects important for the country — it is here that the source of social capital lies, which later can be converted into political capital. Svetlana Alexievich today has more weight than the whole political opposition put together.

— The opposition has de facto decided to participate in the parliamentary campaign. Is it worthwhile in the situation where the official Minsk refuses to introduce changes to the electoral law and where the human rights situation is worsening in the country? Can it be that the opposition spreads its power and resources on completely unnecessary steps?

— The logic of private interests dictates the desire to participate in the “elections” — it is only at the time of the election campaign that the opposition seems to exist. The logic of simulating political struggle and political activity by participating in the elections somehow explains the presence of the opposition in the media. Through participation in the “elections” opposition structures tend to get some weight, gain public attention. And they do get this attention: here we are now discussing nonsense that should not be discussed, because there is no political sense in it.

With a certain balance of power parliamentary elections could be working for the improvement of the image of the political opposition, for improving its credibility among the protest part of the electorate. But if the opposition fails to take action that the society expects from it, both participation and non-participation in the “elections” are equally meaningless.

It is quite another matter that now the state in Belarus starts to “pressurize” different social groups for unknown reasons: whether it is a “critical mass” that is organizing bicycle races, bikers, or unwanted musicians. For people who have some social capital, but are pressurized by the state, elections become a promising opportunity to give an asymmetric response to the absurd actions of the authorities.

Intense politicization of pressurized groups may be an uneven response to the inadequate actions of the state. That will most likely force the authorities to negotiate with the groups with which the state declared war, rather than provoking their further politicization or, God forbid, their consolidation and unification.