The Interview was conducted by three activists from Leipzig and the one activist from Belarussia doing the “Belarus Info & Solitour” in April 2013. It was held in the style of an open discussion. I means Interviewers, A means Activist (Belarussian)
A: I would prefer not to speak about myself. I can tell you about the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) though.
I: What is your personal opinion about your situation in Belarus right now? I mean, not as the ABC but as you, as an anarchist, who is seeing whats happening in your city.
What IS happening, what is not happening and what is your personal opinion?
A: In general in Belarus, the political situation and the situation of society is quite depressing.
People are not politically active at all. It’s not only about political actions or in anarchist case trying to boycott the action, it’s about everything. … A nuclear power plant is being built. No one likes it, but no one …
I: But people are gathering, they meet and talk about it? In a Bar, for example, they would talk about it, would they?
A: Sometimes, but also in everyday life a lot of people simply … when you start to speak about something political, they simply go away or say: „Please don’t put even more stress on us.“ In the Soviet Union times, people spoke about politics in the kitchen. Now, they prefer not to speak about it even in the kitchen.
I: Why do you think that is? Are they scared of repression?
A: Partly. They are scared of repression, surely, but many people are also disappointed by what had happened in the 90’s. It turned out that all these people, who were in power were corrupted of course and the ones not in power, they were sometimes really strange and what they were proposing as an alternative was not an alternative.
I: You were talking about the Opposition?
A: The problem of the opposition is not so much the indifference to the program of Lukaschenka, that’s maybe one of the points. I understand that people do not participate in party-politics, but I’m really frustrated that people will not participate in everyday politics, in the life of their street, fight against environmental rollbacks, they do not fight against privatization of commons. It’s still ongoing, like with water and electricity, there are some public enterprises which are to be privatized. It will be bad for workers. Private companies will cut their wages and fire people and so on.
But workers are also quite early – the workers are a kind of okay, because they tried to organise …
I: But you say you are frustrated about it, do you think that there are options, to do something about the situation?
A: I think there are quite a lot of options, but obviously not so many people are using these options.
I: So what kind of options are there?
A: Like, freedom of speech, in a very abridged version, is still existent. So you can talk about whatever, over the internet or in the streets, to people, or make or attend some public events. Sometimes police will attend these public events, will take passport data from people or secret service will call, authorities will call the organizers…
I: And will they record what you are doing?
A: Most often they will do everything they can to cancel the event. But still it’s possible to make some useful events, it’s possible to make some kind of independent media, or campaign. It’s possible to campaign for these or that cause, it’s possible still to go to court trying to get, not justice actually, but public attention for your case. And even some small legalistic stuff is working. Also what is working is street protest. In some cases, when it’s not organised by, what i’d call „traditional opposition“, but by some local communities, authorities are afraid to just dissolve it (the protest) in a moment. Also people can demand from local organizations, then local organizations have to deal somehow with it and normally it really changes that situation.
There are some changes, but they are not enough for me. There are different social movements but they are not so numerous.
I: So you speak about social movements, are there other social movements in Belarus, not Anarchist possibly?
A: I perceive quite positively the environmentalists, they are an environmental group, they are not militant, they are quite peaceful but they are very strict on defending what they see is right, what they think is right. Now we have for example a strong campaign to defend our peetlands. The peetlands are still half alive, like half of them are still there to this time and there are now plans to drill oil in the peetlands. Environmentalists are opposed to this and I wish them success.
They intend to dry these peetlands to…
I: To harvest the resources, right? German: Sie legen das Gebiet trocken um den Torf abzubauen und zerstören damit das Naturschutzgebiet (peetlands). So people are active against that kind of thing, I would like to ask: Are they organized, like in a group so they can publish things, so that people from different areas of Belarus can support that campaign?
A: Yeah, unfortunately, many petitions in Belarus are online. These are official online petitions which are really sent, with enough signatures these are sent to the authorities. And you will get some reaction from authorities at least. And also like we have workers industrialization in Belarus, we haven’t had that before, there are different ministries which have conflicting interests. Even conflicts for those who govern and sometimes it’s possible to rollback some older decisions. The ministry of energy wants to … but the ministry of environment, which is heavily sponsored by the European Union, with international and United Nations, they try to, at least officially, have a nice face. They try to hide their face and they are a governmental project that can help us and sometimes can stop the other. But for other social movements it’s … well, now we have a „right to the street“ movement. Some are groups of locals who fight for their local parks, for this or that, quite often they are able to defend the green ground right next to their homes or a playground for children.
I: Are there also leftwing places or squats or something?
A: Unfortunately, no. The most leftwing open place in Minsk is an office of green party. There is also an office of a left party but it is not so open.
I: Communist, huh?
A: Post-communist, yeah. They are also anti-Lukaschenka and present themselves as democratic but they are, Post-Bresnevists, not Bresnevists anymore
I: Do you believe that more people are getting organized or that the movements are growing?
A: Sighs We have to do it by ourselves. Not only stand by while others organize. There are some alternative ways that some alternatives can go. Youth Clubs or something like this, but they are not numerous in Minsk and they are quite strictly … or gallerys, private art gallerys, there are some examples of non-governmental organizations as well which are quite friendly and it’s possible to organize events in their premisses. But there are also these cultural places which are really open and kind of accessible people, distance themselves from many things political. It’s possible to have a guest, a festival with some Bands, right or left political, but if political bands are playing … it’s possible maybe to organize an official benefit concert without saying your gathering money in these places but not something really political.
I: But to ask again: You say that it’s not possible because the government or the officials would cause trouble?
I: Maybe we can talk a little bit more about the Anarchist Black Cross? Can you tell us why you (ABC) were founded, or something like that, a little bit about your group, do you suffer from a lot of repression ?
A: Okay, I have to make an official statement: I’m a speaker with a mandate from ABC Belarus but I am not part of ABC Belarus. And because I am doing this on legislation, ABC Belarus is, as a group, strictly underground. What I can say about ABC is, it is closed, like you can not just apply to be a member of ABC.
I: But, I don’t know, we will have the presentation later and a lot of questions will be answered than I think, but it’s a really difficult question. A week ago there was a group of people here from „Partisan Minsk“ which stated that they are clearly Anti-Fascist, maybe you can tell us something about the Anti-Fascist Situation in Belarus. Maybe about Minsk?
A: There are some cities and towns with clearly Anti-Fascist Movements, there is one town with about 7.500 inhabitants, that is almost 100% Anti-Fascist
I: Exclamation: Really? Good to hear that.
A: and since the middle of the 90’s, late 90’s, I heard some stories like on the way from Minsk to Briersk either Dynamo Minsk or Dynamo Briersk Hooligans arriving in a regional train and the train stayed there for some minutes there were some rumours that locals had gathered to beat up the Hooligans in the train.
I: That is happening in Belarus? This is amazing
A: It was some years ago. And the Belarussian Antifa-capitol is Grodna. They also have some local Fan support for one the local Teams…
I: It’s mainly related to football, as I see?
A: Now it’s related to football in many aspects, but there are also many Anti-Fascists, not Street Anti-Fa, but like, Anti-Fascist people who are not really into football. But anyway, everyone knows something about football, and anyway people have to organize and I have to recognize when I see stickers in a subway or in the streets, I have to realize whether these people are just football Hooligans or Nazis. The Nazi-scene is quite strongly connected to the football Hooligan scene. Antifa scene also, but also more distanced. So in Grodna, Grodna as a Antifa-Capital, it’s (Antifascism) not so related to football but in Minsk „Partisan“ Club really do whith it’s Fans a lot of work. And around the southern streets a lot of youngsters from football came to the Antifa and it became really much safer in Minsk in the sense that Nazis stopped attacking Punk Concerts because they knew that they’d be beaten anyways.
I: Seriously? That’s good to hear though!
A: And it’s even that at some point Nazis were no longer attacking the squat itself but just moving around the area, fishing for single people but later even this stopped because they knew that they will be beaten if they waited around. I almost never got into fights but I feel much safer on the streets now thanks to this.
I: And how is the situation with the police? Do they support, more or less, the fascist movements? Or do they fight them in the same way that they fight the leftist movements?
A: The secret service takes down nazis and gathers dossiers on them and then uses this against the Nazis to make them collaborate. And secret service in Belarus makes sure that Nazis do not make extremely violent crimes, like bombings or even if some group of nazis severely beats some migrants, mainly students. Sometimes Nazis attack them. If they are beaten so severely that they have to go to a hospital for several weeks, then Secret Service will put these Nazis into prison. Of course secret service and police are using Nazis against leftist and Anti-Fascists, they maintain this nazi-stuff at a certain level. And in (intelligible) Town for example, maybe it was organized by a secret service, Nazis attacked Anarchists walking in the Demonstration and there were various sound events and it looked like it was organized by secret service and police because there was no protection. Normally police heavily controls a demonstration but at this moment there were no riot cops at all around, which never happens in Belarus and riot police arrived maybe 5 minutes after the fight began, which for sure was organized by them.
I: You know in Germany there is the situation that in political groups we are always worried that there might come new people that are spies. Is this also happening in leftwing groups in Belarus?
A: Unfortunately, we have too many people who are like, really activists but cooperate with police and secret service after they were approached by someone.
I: So they pass on names and news and stuff?
A: Yeah, and so we are more into excluding those people and the anarchist movement is now quite splitted into small groups in different locations, not so many people are organized, not so many new people are coming and if they are coming they are first coming to public groups, a lot of which are quite open and nobody knows what they are really about. And afterwards they might do other stuff which is not so open, less official.
Police comes quite a lot to some of the events to take passport data from people.
I: I met some students from Belarussia but they said they had been sighted in a demonstration and because of that they lost the privilege to study in Belarussia, they had to study in Great Britain. Is that still happening?
A: It’s happening, not for many, but some.
I: Ok, so groups that are not existing officially like the ABC or Anti-Fascist groups, or groups like „Food not Bombs“ or environmental groups, or the last one, „right for street“? Is there even one of them that’s official? Because you mentioned the green party for example.
A: For Anarchists there is no official organization, some people go and become members of some environmental NGOs, some people become members of green party, like to protect themselves from harm. Yeah, but most people do the things they do just on behalf of their own.
I: What about Stuff to inform yourself, books, magazines and stuff? Is it possible to get this kind of things? The internet is probably the primary source?
A: It’s possible to download stuff from the internet, normally books come from some town or city from the people. But it’s impossible to sell books in Belarus. Some times in the bookstores you find Kropotkin und Bakunin, but it’s not possible to find contemporary anarchist books which are published nowadays, for instance Crimethinc stuff, which was published in Moskow, even if it is published officially. Mainly because the market is very small and partly because allmost all bookstores are afraid to sell anything political.
I: Maybe one last question: Is there any way we can support ABC from Germany after the tour is over?
A: … Maybe you can participate in the next demonstration in front of the Belarussian embassy in Berlin. Support you local comrades. … well possibly if you have a local ABC group, than you participate generally in an international network. International ABC Network is in the process of building itself, join this for sure.
I: I really hope that the tour that you guys did and do will be successful!