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The Belarusian Maidan in 2006

A New Social Movement Approach to the Tent Camp Protest in Minsk

by Vasily Naumov (Author)
Monographs 260 Pages

Summary

The book offers an analysis of the «Belarusian Maidan» protest movement that emerged in Minsk at the October Square as a result of the falsification of the presidential elections in March 2006. In particular, the author analyses the virtual dimension of the movement and its creativity by applying the New Social Movement approach elaborated by Melucci. He also presents an in-depth analysis through the use of Deleuzian concepts. The «Belarusian Maidan» is inscribed into the historical context of Belarusian social activism of 1990–2006, amid the increasing influence of new ICTs and the Internet.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • The Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part One: A Portrait of Social Activism in Contemporary Belarus
  • Chapter I. Before the Tent Camp in 2006
  • 1. The Communist Legacy: Mass Activism from Late Perestroika to the Fall of the USSR
  • i. Introductory Remarks: A Comparison with Poland in the Transition Period
  • ii. The Perestroika Crisis, Chernobyl and Actions of 1988–1990
  • iii. Street Politics and the Collapse of the USSR: Actions of 1991
  • 2. From the Rise to the Stagnation of Activism 1992–2005
  • i. The Democratic Opening and the Rise of Lukashenko to Power (1992–1995)
  • ii. “Hot Spring” and “Hot Autumn” of 1996: The Struggle against the Establishment of the Union State
  • iii. The Routinization of the Mass Protests (1997–2000)
  • iv. The Decline of Protest Potential (2001–2005)
  • Chapter II. The Tent Camp as Evidence of Social Activism
  • 1. The Background and Data of the Tent Camp
  • i. General Background and Data Sources
  • ii. Internet Development in Belarus by 2006
  • 2. The Emergence of the Tent Camp
  • i. The Four Days of the Tent Camp
  • ii. The Peculiar Traits of the Belarusian Tent Camp in 2006
  • Part Two: The Tent Camp as a Social and Political Laboratory for Deleuzian Concepts
  • Chapter I. Theoretical Tools for Analyzing Contemporary Social Movements
  • 1. Social Processes in Network Dimension: The Directions of Analysis
  • i. Research in the New Social Movement
  • ii. Network as a Social Metaphor: Towards New Sociality in the Context of Globalization Processes
  • iii. The Deleuzian Concept of the Virtual: Beyond the Nodes
  • 2. Radical Democracy vs. Deleuzian Concepts
  • i. Rhizomorphic Collective Identities of Contemporary Social Movements
  • ii. The Deployment of Radical Democracy on the Internet
  • Chapter II. Molarization and Molecular Processes of the Tent Camp
  • Introductory Remarks
  • 1. The Applicability of Western Theories to the Belarusian Case
  • 2. Symbolic Strategies Used by the Movement
  • 3. The Representation (Molarization) of the Tent Camp by the State Media: The Analysis of Sovetskaya Belorussiya’s Hegemonic Discourse
  • 4. Molarization Processes: Protest, Bureaucracy, Resolution
  • 5. Analyzing the Molecular Processes of the Tent Camp
  • i. Flash Mobs
  • ii. Slogans
  • iii. The Intensification of Political Problems
  • Summary: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Protest Organization via the Internet Revealed by the Tent Camp
  • Final Remarks
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix

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Acknowledgments

For the nine years since the Tent Camp protest in March 2006, I have been nurturing the ideas which eventually motivated me to write this book. During this time, I discussed my ideas with a vast number of people, and I owe my thanks to many of them. I take this opportunity to extend my sincere appreciation to all the people who were instrumental in making this book possible.

First of all, I was extremely lucky and humbled to be granted financial assistance for publishing this book by The Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences (IFiS PAN) and The Graduate School for Social Research (GSSR). I would like to express deep gratitude and sincere thanks to Director of IFiS PAN Prof. dr hab. Andrzej Rychard and Acting Director of GSSR Dr. John Fells for this decision.

I cannot find the words to express my deepest gratitude and respect to my mentor Prof. dr hab. Joanna Kurczewska, who gave me the opportunity to publish the book within the series “Polish Studies in Culture, Nations and Politics.” Her patience, intellectual insights, friendly attitude and confidence in my potential made it possible to successfully complete the text. Prof. Kurczewska’s perfectionism, enthusiasm and motivation were behind my desire to constantly improve my writing style and critical thinking ability. She was always precise and substantial in her comments as regards to structure and the theoretical and empirical parts of the book. During our interaction, which so far has lasted seven years, I learn extensively from her how to become a better person and academician.

I deeply appreciate the recommendations and kind advice of Prof. dr hab. Magdalena Środa and Prof. dr hab. Ryszard Radzik, which allowed me to notice weaknesses in the text and make improvements in due time. Professor Radzik’s profound criticism was especially important, as it made me rethink some of my writing habits and correct factual mistakes.

I will be always grateful to Prof. dr hab. Ryhor Miniankou, who helped me take the first steps in my academic career at the European Humanities University in Minsk and then in Vilnius. It was the closing of EHU and the student protests that ensued which motivated me to think about the importance of contentious politics. The discussions with Prof. Miniankou enabled me to formulate the essential concept of the MA thesis which eventually developed into my PhD thesis.

I would like to express my appreciation to Prof. dr hab. Li Bennich-Björkman, the Swedish Institute, and the Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Uppsala University for accepting me as a post-doctoral researcher, allowing me ← 11 | 12 → to conduct the crucial final stage of the work in the most comfortable conditions I could have desired.

I express special gratitude to Dr. Yasuko Shibata, editor of the series and my friend, whose critical comments and friendly assistance allowed me to get through the process of editing and proofreading without losing my mind. I will always admire her intelligence, understanding and spiritual strength.

I also would like to thank the GSSR office staff, especially Aleksandra Wójcicka, for being ready to come to the rescue in emergency situations.

I would like to thank my friends Natalia Helda, Alexey Ovchinnikov and Martin Shöen, whose kindness, support, and warm company were helpful in difficult times. Special thanks also goes to my childhood friends Ivan, Nikita, Sasha and Sergej, who braced me up whenever it was required and celebrated my accomplishments with me.

My heartfelt regard goes to my mother Nina and father Nikolay, who encouraged my thirst for knowledge and always helped me with their advice and deeds. Their infallible love and trust are the backbone of my academic career. I am also grateful to my sister Katya and her husband Volodya for their heart-warming kindness, understanding and support.

Finally, no words or deeds suffice to express my love and gratitude to my beloved better half, my wife Tanya and our little son Roman. Tanya has always been my source of inspiration and well-being, and she has patiently supported, cared and encouraged me in the most difficult periods of the writing. I am thankful to my son Roman for giving me extra incentive to complete the book and encouraging me to find the right balance between private life and academic career. They both have always been a breath of fresh air in my life, and without their support I would have never been able to become who I am and complete much of what I have done. I will always remember their sacrifice and patience, and because of this, I dedicate this book to them.

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Introduction

Recent history in Belarusian activism shows one odd trend: major social actors such as opposition parties and youth organizations seem to start “desiring their own oppression.” From the mid-1990s to the beginning of the 2000s, the number of mass protests in the Eastern European country dramatically declined. As Pikulik (2007b) explains, once the authoritarian regime was consolidated, social groups started to gain advantages from the authoritarian regime despite the fact that they had to sacrifice their freedom in the name of relative well-being.

The “Tent Camp” protest movement in 2006 revealed the concealed repressive character of the regime which had tried to show that it allegedly respected freedom of assembly. The regime’s tactics were meant to mislead European observers who were closely monitoring the situation after the elections. The Tent Camp movement in Minsk, often labeled as the “Belarusian Maidan,” emerged in October Square in March 2006 after the falsification of the presidential election results. Crucially, young people used the Internet to communicate about the aims and means of their collective action, while the police were applying various underhand strategies to minimize the scope of the protest and expel the participants from the square. In the end, the state, having failed to break the spirit of the protesters, used brutal force to disperse the camp.

Contemporary social theories seem to be ill-equipped to understand the specificity and creativity of social movements that actively use the Internet for communication, including the one in Belarus. New technologies have radically changed the way movements communicate about the aims and fields of collective action, not to mention the ways of organizing it. Importantly, these new movements do not aspire to be included into the decision-making process, but rather, they try to transform social norms and common everyday practices. Shedding light on the relations of discrimination and domination in society, they politicize the issues not given attention by the wider public.

Belarus represents a unique case in this respect, as it is the only country in Eastern Europe where an authoritarian regime enjoys support from the majority of its citizens. This book is an experiment in breaking away from the theories that only focus on such measurable materials as protesters’ political programs and demands, concealing the creative character of Belarusian social movements and collective actors. By referring to Gilles Deleuze’s conceptual pair of molar/molecular as interpreted by Ulises Mejias, the Mexican philosopher based in the U.S., ← 13 | 14 → as well as Canadian social theorist Nicholas Montgomery, I would like to analyze social movement as a complex process, or a system of vectors under strain.

The main aim of this book is to show how the “new generation of social movements” owning “rhizomorphic,” fluid, and decentralized structures and flexible ideologies derive from actively using ICT and the Internet as an organizational principle. I will illustrate this thesis by addressing the Belarusian Tent Camp movement in March 2006, in which heretofore apolitical youth used the Internet to organize collective action at October Square (Kastryčnickaja Square), while also referring to two Ukrainian revolutions (the “Orange Revolution” in 2004 and “Euromaidan” in 2014) that triggered the chain of events transforming the social and political environment of Eastern European countries including Belarus.

My personal interest derives from the observation of the protest movement at Kastryčnickaja Square of March 2006 in Minsk. The event, which began simply as a protest rally, spontaneously transformed itself into a social movement. The participants defined themselves as the citizens of the “new city,” or the founders of the “Belarusian Maidan,” pitching a tent camp and defending it by forming human ribbons around the tents. A similar technique of collective action was implemented by Yushchenko supporters at the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004. Over its four days, the defenders of the Tent Camp stayed at the square, fighting with the unfavorable weather conditions. The members of the protest aligned their actions with a symbolic sense and built communication ties with the “external world” by means of the Internet. By witnessing the emergence of the Tent Camp in Minsk, I became deeply interested in the collective action formation, its ability to maintain itself over time, the emotions that made people feel as though they knew each other their whole life, changing systems of values upside down. The movement proved to be influential to such an extent that during 2010 presidential elections, seven out of nine opposition candidates used street struggle and “Ploshcha” in particular as central elements of their campaign. When the presidential campaign ended in tragedy after authorities brutally disseminated the crowd and arrested presidential candidates, it was explained as symbolic “appropriation” by the political leaders, and participants proclaimed their “moral victory.”

In this book, I will try to conceptually comprehend the transformation of the participants of the Belarusian Maidan by means of the neo-Marxist notion of radical democracy, Alberto Melucci’s New Social Movement theory and post-structuralist concepts elaborated by Gilles Deleuze. Seeing as these “big” theories are best applied to large-scale social transformations in Western countries, I will “tune” or “translate” these concepts to suit the specificity of the Belarusian ← 14 | 15 → situation (i.e. the lack of established democratic institutions and its weak civil society) by deliberately narrowing the scope of the research to small-scale collective actions largely overlooked by “big theories”. This actually hinders me from explaining the significance of the movement for large-scale social and political processes, but this is the “intellectual price” one has to pay for translating Western concepts to the language of Belarusian reality. That is why I will refer to Montgomery’s interpretations of Deleuzian and Melucci’s concepts as they are capable of analyzing specific small-scale social movements (as seen in his analysis of the “guerilla garden” at the University of Victoria) that have long-lasting and important cultural and social effects.

The Tent Camp is named the “Belarusian Maidan” because the events in Ukraine and Belarus have a series of similar traits that have an enduring influence on social activism.

First of all, both protest actions focused on the “desacralization” of power, stressing that political leaders are nothing more than managers who were given the right to rule the country for a given period of time. Such an attitude was seen as a threat by traditionalist and conservative elites, who have been used to a totalized concept of sacral power. Here I would like to refer to another event that occurred on March 19th, just before the Tent Camp. As people were standing at Kastryčnickaja Square during the protest rally against the falsification of the presidential election results, a heavy snow shower started that did not stop for about 10 minutes. Afterwards, people started suggesting that this was an act by the KGB and that they had used special equipment to generate heavy snow. This sort of view of the authorities’ power – as if they were gods capable of plaguing disloyal people – was typical for Belarusian people. And the “desacralization” of power needed to make them realize that there were no gods in presidential administration nor in KGB headquarters: just simple people doing their sometimes wrongful job.

Secondly, the Orange Revolution in 2004, Euromaidan in 2014 and the Tent Camp in 2006 could be duly considered as New Social Movements. The backbone of the movements mentioned above consisted of students, politically active youth, intellectuals and metropolitans.

Third, the movements invented various cultural strategies in order to question the habitual common thinking and to make passers-by consider the legitimacy of power practices implemented by the authorities. They suggested deconstructing the concealed power mechanisms that dictated people follow certain norms, attitudes and ways of behavior. In other words, they tried to highlight problems ← 15 | 16 → with the various social identities constructed by means of state ideology and suggested their own practices of thinking regarding collective identities.

Details

Pages
260
ISBN (PDF)
9783653054736
ISBN (ePUB)
9783653972429
ISBN (MOBI)
9783653972412
ISBN (Hardcover)
9783631659908
Language
English
Publication date
2015 (December)
Published
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 260 pp., 3 graphs

Biographical notes

Vasily Naumov (Author)

Vasil Navumau completed his PhD at the Graduate School for Social Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences. His research interests focus on the influence of information technology on the repertoire and ideology of social movements and their contribution to a more transparent government.

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Title: The Belarusian Maidan in 2006