Research Findings: Protest and Civil Society Mobilization in Belarus

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“Prospects of Post-Authoritarian Transformation in Belarus: Tracing Civic and Political Initiatives for Democracy Promotion” by Vasil Navumau and Olga Matveieva

The EurasiaLab Fellows

Vasil Navumau, PhD in Sociology, is a visiting fellow at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies (Bochum) and civic activist. He is the author of a monog­raphy and several publi­ca­tions on protest movements in Belarus, and Russian disin­for­mation in Belarus. Olga Matveieva, PhD in Public Admin­is­tration, is an associate professor at the Institute for Public Admin­is­tration. Her research interests include e‑governance, contentious politics, gender issues, and global challenges to public admin­is­tration system. The researchers published several co-authored compar­ative articles on protest in Belarus (Revolution of Consis­tency) and Ukraine (Euromaidan), and gender-related conse­quences of COVID-19 pandemic for both countries.

Project Description and Methods

The project aimed to trace civic initia­tives that emerged during the mass mobil­i­sation after the falsi­fi­cation of the presi­dential elections in Belarus in 2020. It analysed civic initia­tives to connect them to the existing Eastern Partnership instru­ments and the EU mecha­nisms to expand the dialogue on a peaceful conflict resolution in Belarus.

In order to identify all relevant initia­tives, the fellows firstly monitored reports of key Belarusian media from August 2020. They secondly conducted inter­views with civil activists and EU repre­sen­ta­tives in order to analyse the capac­ities and impact of the groups of initia­tives mentioned. An in-depth analysis of the oppor­tu­nities and current potential of the Republic of Belarus subse­quently aimed at identi­fying strategies for further cooper­ation with the EU in the framework of the Eastern Partnership.

Project Results

The Belarusian protests in 2020–2021 led to an exploding emergence of civic initia­tives responding to the author­ities’ brutal practices and manip­u­lated elections. In order to oppose the author­ities, advance their agenda and promote human rights, civic activists used creative and innov­ative methods.

The research identified around 70 civic initia­tives which covered multiple areas, such as (among others) financial assis­tance of arrested protesters, medical help, assis­tance to strike committees or students, support to former ‘siloviki’ (riot police), support with re-education, black-listing of companies, tools for recounting of votes, psycho­logical support or support for independent media. The initia­tives were mostly focused on providing direct assis­tance to Belaru­sians who suffered from the brutal repres­sions, launched by the author­ities to dissem­inate the mass protests. People with different income levels were affected to econom­i­cally varying degrees by the protests and the coron­avirus pandemic. Several initia­tives paid special attention to specific target groups on the basis of gender, age or social, economic or political criteria. The fellows developed an infographic that shows the identified initia­tives and their thematical focus, while at the same time assessing their degree of innov­a­tiveness and their social and political relevance.

The research concludes that the movement, which has been called the ‘Belarusian Awakening,’ should not be seen as an isolated response to government repres­sions, but as a contin­u­ation of broader trends affecting Belarusian civil society since the second half of the 2010s.

Project Outcomes

You can learn more about Olga’s and Vasil’s project on the “Eurasia on the Move” podcast episode #1: Belarus.

Furthermore, the key findings are reflected in the academic article “Telegram Revolution: Technical and Conceptual Innova­tions of the 2020 Belarusian Protest” which has been submitted to the peer-reviewed journal Canadian Slavonic Papers.