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(en) Britain, Organise! #65 - anarchism in belarus

Date Wed, 02 Nov 2005 11:03:25 +0200


The Anarchist Federation recently hosted a meeting of the
International of Anarchist Federations. Two comrades,
Pauluk and Maryna, from the Belarusian Anarchist Federation,
an organisation applying to join the International, attended
the meeting and made a presentation on the situation in their
country at the 2004 London Anarchist Bookfair.
The collapse of the Soviet Union has
resulted in yet another repressive regime
taking power, making it extremely difficult
for anarchists and others to operate
politically. This interview focuses on the
history of anarchism in Belarusus, as seen
through the personal experiences of these
two comrades. It provides insights into the
situation for anarchists in the ex-Soviet
influenced countries and shows how
anarchist ideas and practices emerge in
places where there has not been a strong
anarchist tradition in recent years. The
works of our comrades also illustrates how
people in different situations take the ideas
and make them their own, through creative
and imaginative initiatives.
How did you get involved in anarchism?
How did you first hear about it?
Pauluk: I have been in the anarchist
movement since 1994. All Soviet people,
sooner or later, hear about anarchism.
During our childhood, we watched films
about the Civil War and there were always
anarchists in them. The propaganda
portrayed them negatively. But it had the
opposite effect. The anarchists were shown
as people who, in between fighting the
Reds and Whites, were drinking and
dancing. So from childhood we had the
impression that anarchists were fun loving!
I was impressed with the critical position
towards the changes in the political system.
Lukashenko, the current President, used the
democratic movement to get elected and
then the repression started. So I got the
impression that the problem didn't lie just
with the democratic movement but was
somewhere deeper. So I started to try and
find out where the root of the problem was.
I read about anarchism and by the end of
1994 I sympathised with anarchist ideas.
How did you learn about anarchism in
Belarus? What did you read?
Pauluk: I read about anarchism in the
library; there were books by people like
Kropotkin. But not much was available. We
didn't have contact with other anarchists
either in the west or in other eastern
European countries. There wasn't even
much communication with other anarchists
in Belarus.
So there was a federation of anarchists
at that time?
Pauluk: Yes, already in 1992, founded by 8
people. There are still 6 of the original
members involved. In 1994, there were
about 20 people, but scattered around the
country in just two cities so I didn't hear
about anarchism from them, but from
books.
So how did things develop from there?
Pauluk: In October 1994 students
organised some actions against the rise in
prices on bread and milk. It was a street
performance action, with the slogan `Thank
you President for bread and milk'. It was
the first big action organised against the
President who had been in office for two
months. The organisation of this action was
influenced by anarchists and so because of
this I met other anarchists and by the end
of the year I was a confident anarchist.
Who were these other anarchists? Were
they from the federation?
Pauluk: Yes, they were from the Minsk
group.
What attracted you to anarchist ideas?
Pauluk: Taking into account that I was
coming to the anarchist movement from the
democratic side, I was attracted by the idea
that anarchism seemed the only real
democracy. Democracy that the democrats
were talking about was just a lie, an
illusion of democracy. I was reading about
other left ideas in general, including
Trotskyism, Maoism, everything possible.
Amongst these ideas, anarchism was the
only thing I could imagine.
Maryna, when did you start becoming
an anarchist?
Maryna: It is difficult to say because I was
very young when the Soviet Union
crashed. I was interested in the punk
movement. It seemed natural that we
shouldn't have what we had in the country.
Then I met Pauluk and he just gave a name
to what I was thinking about. It was what I
wanted, what I was thinking about. That
was in 1998 when I first got involved in
student demonstrations.
[The following questions are mostly
answered by both Maryna and Pauluk after
discussion between them.]
How many anarchists are there in
Belarus?
It is difficult to say because we don't have
membership like you do. Participation in
the federation is only possible when you
act. About 200 maybe.
After you had the student actions, what
did you do? Were you more involved in
the federation?
The federation consists of a number of
different initiatives.
Is it like in Poland?
Yes, it is like that but in Poland they have
more local groups. This is because of the
history of Poland- there is anarchist inter-
city relations. The Belarusian federation
also has local sections, but the work is
done around initiatives. One initiative was
the anti-Party initiative.
The purpose was of this initiative was to
stop young people get entangled with the
work of political parties because they use
the youth as a cheap workforce. So we
organised different humorous actions,
`happenings' on the street, which made fun
of all political parties, both the government
and the opposition.
Why do you think humour is such a
good weapon?
We took a risk because had never done it
before, we didn't know where it would lead
us, but it led to the fact that the movement
began to grow. But of course we didn't
invent it ourselves; we were attracted by a
Polish initiative that was used under the
dictatorship where they organised many
street parties and happenings.
Were you at all influenced by the street
parties in the west, like Reclaim the
Streets?
No, just from Poland. We read about what
was happening in Poland in newspapers.
In the 1990s, there was a drought of
information, it was difficult to get. But now
it is possible to get information from the
internet.
So the things we did attracted many people,
mostly young people. There was a lot of
publicity in the press, saying how
anarchists organised another funny action.
So people became interested, thinking that
anarchists must be very amusing people.
Maryna: I remember that I was involved in
the nationalist opposition movement for
some months and in one of the meetings
the leader told the audience about how they
conducted an action and anarchists were in
a separate block. They were hungry and the
anarchists said we have some sandwiches
and offered them around. The leader was
trying to laugh at this but it showed how
anarchists were being noticed by people,
even inside other political movements.
After you did these initial actions, what
happened next?
One thing was a counter-cultural group that
influenced the movement that organised
actions against the military. They were
formed in 1995 and by the end of 1995
they were already in touch with and
participated in actions of the Anarchist
Federation. At that time, it was the three
main cities, Minsk, Hroda and Homel that
were the basis of the Federation. There
were many actions carried out by different
initiatives in the federation so it is difficult
to talk about all of them.
One is the syndicalist group. They
organised strikes in places like the trolley
bus depot, they published a lot of
propaganda and they had a day of
solidarity with the unemployed. These days
of action always ended with arrests of the
participants. The result of this was that
many activists lost their jobs. It is difficult
to continue to be a syndicalist without a
syndicate. They didn't work anymore and
the government began to put pressure on
all unions so they couldn't practice
syndicalism anymore. One of the people
became a local councillor!
What about your paper?
There were several papers before our
paper. We got the idea of doing a
newspaper from our anti-Party actions. It is
a continuation of our work to make fun of
all authority- the government etc.
Did you do this along with the street
parties and `happenings'?
By the end of 1998 it became more
difficult to do actions because the President
issued a decree, which made it likely that
you could be arrested for participating in
these actions. We continued to organise
them but not as frequently as before. So we
had to replace them with something.
Where did you get the idea of this
newspaper?
It was always in our heads because we had
published some newspapers, so the idea
was born quite naturally. And when the
first issue was published we realised we
had done the right thing because it was
extremely popular.
And was it mainly popular amongst
young people?
No it was popular amongst everyone who
was interested in politics. With the
newspaper, all politicians knew about us.
First it was a little newspaper, but after a
year we registered it officially. We
celebrated our first year with an action
under the slogan `Legalise It'. The name of
the newspaper, Navinki, is the name of a
mental hospital and it also means `small
news'. The main newspaper is called just
`news' so we are making fun in two ways.
Our request to register the newspaper
officially was refused because the
authorities said that it had the name of the
mental hospital. We made a scandal in the
newspaper, so they became afraid and
accepted our registration.
What is your circulation? Do you sell it?
It is difficult to say, about 10,000 copies.
First it was a monthly and then a weekly.
But the circulation reduced because some
outlets for circulation were closed. Also,
we had a problem that the official
distributors only took our newspaper in
small quantities. The private distribution
networks were often afraid to take the
paper because of repression.
What happened to the paper?
Maryna: We were closed by the authorities.
We wrote about the President and `insulted
people's morality'. Pauluk was called to
court and fined 700 Euros. This was
impossible to pay. They came to his
parents' house and confiscated things from
his parents.
What do you now?
We publish an illegal magazine, because
illegally you can publish what you want.
How big is the movement now?
The thing is, we don't have membership, so
it is difficult to say. When people aren't
satisfied with the work of one group they
may join another group or start their own
initiative and work independently.
Have you been able to maintain an
interest amongst young people as they
have become older and because of the
repression?
Everyone who comes to the movement
understands that there can be repression.
So they don't discover that; they know it
already. There is one main way that we lose
comrades: they emigrate for different
reasons such as problems with the
authorities. But they keep in contact.
Maryna: My personal opinion is that they
do not do much anymore. They are too
busy with making ends meet.
We are at the stage where we only have
young people and they are still active, but
there are some people who are just at
home, raising children.
What do you think is the most important
activity to do now?
Right now the movement and the initiatives
are all growing. When someone comes to
anarchism we want to give him or her all
opportunities to participate in the way they
want. We are trying to build more of a
network so we have organised social
forums that can involve
everyone. We want people to
see that they are not alone and
that the movement is very wide,
one united front of struggle
against the system. And, a
person can find his or her place
in this. It is difficult to find
ways of doing something
because the State tries to
monopolise all possible
activities. They try to get people
to communicate only through
state organisations.
What do you think about the
other organisations that you
have come in contact with
when you have been abroad?
Our first contacts were with
Russian Anarchists. It is a
funny fact that anarchists from
Minsk and from Hroda were put
in contact with each other by
Russian anarchists. From our
western contacts we got a lot of
information about anarchism in
the modern world. Our
anarchism was based on
historical anarchism,
Kropotkin, Bakunin, and no one
really knew what was going on
in the west. We knew about the
Spanish Revolution but not
about what happened after the
war, like 1968. And when the
Iron Curtain fell, it was a
discovery to know what was
really happening, your ideas
and what discussions were
going on.
But the western countries didn't
seem to be familiar at all with
what was happening in the
post-Soviet countries. We also
noticed that there are long
theoretical discussions, often
about small points, while we
discuss more concrete issues.
We want to discuss issues that
we could talk about to `the man
in the pub'. In Russia we find
that they are often having
debates about who is the better
anarchist.
To conclude, this interview
shows how anarchist ideas and
action emerge in a variety of
contexts. For Maryna
anarchism is the name given to
what she was thinking anyway.
Disillusions with the so-called
new democracy propelled
Pauluk into the library, where
he found the ideas that helped
him make sense of what was
going on. Though they had no
initial contact with anarchists
outside their country, their
movement benefited from
hearing about what was going
on in other countries. Similarly,
the comrades in the
International have been inspired
by the courage, imagination and
commitment of the Belarusian
Federation. Their experiences
show how important it is to
spread anarchist ideas as widely
as possible. There are millions
of people who are looking for
alternative perspectives, fed up
with the current political and
religious ideologies. We need to
make sure that they come into
contact with both anarchist
ideas and anarchism in action in
order to strengthen and enrich
the global struggle for a new
society.

The Belarusian Anarchist
Federation can be contacted
via email at anarchy@tut.by
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