In Minsk, what the people here call the Great Patriotic War is never far away. Monuments, street names and museums honor memories of the terrible years from 1941 to 1945, when the Soviet Union was at war with the Nazis.
Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has used the party’s years of resistance against Nazi occupation and the Red Army’s final victory as the foundation for a Belarusian identity. new Soviet Union.
But in recent months something strange has happened, as Lukashenko faced angry and protracted opposition to continue his rule and launched a cruel crackdown. The story of the war that his regime did so much to promote still resonates with the population, but has a change: now, his government has become Germany. commune.
It was normal that people talked about the authorities as “fascists” and “occupiers,” who remained in power solely through the power of the military and the police.
With some photos taken from the crackdown in August, it’s not hard to see why: thousands of Belarusians have suffered beatings and ritual abuse from security agents dressed in black and in shirts. three holes; military vehicle on street patrol; and anyone who supports the opposition can be arrested for questioning at any time.
Yulia Chernyavskaya said: “We were put in countless films and books about fighting against the fascists, and then, when you look at the uniforms, the styles, the methods that the authorities use, it’s not difficult to understand. Why do these memories resonate, ”said Yulia Chernyavskaya. a Belarusian cultural anthropologist.
Under Lukashenko, war was at the heart of the teaching of school history and at the heart of hundreds of monuments and museums. The country’s independence day is commemorated on the day Minsk was liberated from the Nazis in 1944, not on the day Belarus actually gained independence from the Soviet Union.
“We will expand this space to raise new patriots who can protect not only themselves, their families and their children but also their country,” Lukashenko said in a visit earlier this year to Stalin Line, a museum complex outside Minsk where you can see bunkers from a Soviet-built defense line in the 1930s, riding on tanks and Take tours from a tour guide in the Red Army uniform.
In 2014, Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin reopened Minsk’s main World War II museum, updated for the 21st century. Putin also used war victory as the foundation for an identity. New Russia. Belarus, unlike most of the Soviet Union, spent much of the war under the occupation, and here, the memories and homage of the local partisan movement, fought against the occupants. Nazis and local collaborators, very strong.
An example of demonstrators based on this legacy during the fight against Lukashenko is Vozhyk, a one-page A4 brochure containing anti-regime caricatures and satirical articles. Vozhyk was a wartime party flyer that was originally known as “Crushing the fascist worms”; Now, it is released digitally on an encrypted Telegram channel and comes with the following message to distributors: “Parties! Download the PDF, print it out and stick it to the entrance to your apartment… We dominate and win together! “
One of the editors of VozhykShe, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she chose the name because of its wartime vibe: “The authorities are monsters and they fit the fascist definition. During the August riots, it was hard to believe how the people survived: they went out, came home, took a quick nap and then went out again. The partisan gene lives in all of us. ”
It is true that almost overnight, tens of thousands of Belarusians get their own white-red-and-white flags, which have actually been banned for the past two decades. Groups on the Telegram app have sprung up to hold protests in towns, streets or condominiums, with participants often using conspiracy methods to shield their identities from each other, so that if someone is caught by the authorities, they will not be able to let others go. In short: a modern partisan movement erupted in weeks.
Lukashenko’s supporters insist they cannot see any similarities. “Lukashenko has helped a lot of people, everyone here has a good life, and they are crying about the fascists. Fascist which? “Alexander Metla, operator of the Stalin Line complex,” said. Tens of thousands of school students and other tourists each year watch military rebuilds and relive the heroic version of the war effort at the complex, including Stalin’s bust and a painting Large photo of Lukashenko in his uniform at the entrance.
For their part, the authorities tried to prove that the protesters were Nazi descendants, pointing out that the white – red – white flag was used by Nazi collaborators ( but ignores its older history). During the weekly Sunday protests, the army defends the Second World War museum with barbed wire and a row of armed troops. Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said rallies using white, red and white flags at such “sacred sites” would be handled with determination by the military.
Such rhetoric worked well in Ukraine in 2014, when the Kremlin portrayed the Maidan revolution in Kyiv as a “fascist coup” and supported a separatist movement in the east of the country. , which emerged after the second world war of the Soviet Union. However, using the same book did not have the same effect in Belarus. Partly because far-right nationalists simply don’t exist in Belarus, and partly because of the sheer brutality of Lukashenko’s persecution and the courage of those who continue to stand against it. .
Chernyavskaya said: “We always laugh at the stereotypes of Belarusians as partisan as if it’s pointless, but it’s actually quite surprising that people suddenly have these tactics as if they were. know it from birth ”.