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Anti-integration hype as a sign of the times

Everyone and their mother has commented on the protest rally against "deep integration" that took place in Minsk on December 7-8. On the Internet, one can find both triumphal shouts about an unprecedented atmosphere of freedom (which even the police officers did not interfere with) and sad complaints about the lack of creativity and "blurring the agenda".

Hundreds of thousands of viewers (only on Radio Svaboda, the five-hour stream of the second day of the protests gathered more than 130 thousand views, while other Internet resources, Telegram channels and media also reported live) followed the movement of those columns, chilling in the December cold and wind, with mixed feelings, cheering the crows one second, and teasing it the next. The nod to the organisers by the obviously unprofessional Telegram channel "Belarusian Order" is indicative: "The spell "Long Live Belarus", sticking to teeth, absolutely inappropriate prayers, reading poems about "Moscovite yoke" – this is retrogradism and hardcore. The crisis of ideas is obvious ..." On the other hand, what else did the authors want to expect from the veterans of the "fight against Russian aggression"?

Repeating the tired ideas from both sides makes no sense. But some conclusions from the past two-day marathon are still worth drawing. Especially now that emotions have subsided, and we can analyse what happened with a cool head.

Three tracks can be distinguished in the protests of December 7-8.

The first track – anti-integration. A few days before the rally, there was a wave of solidarity against "strengthening integration" in Telegram messenger. The relevant statement was signed by more than 60 Telegram channels. But at the same time, all three paragraphs of the "petition" were almost word-for-word quoting the messages that had been repeatedly heard from the Head of the State. Moreover, contrary to the expectations of Telegram drama queens, the President has never put his signature on "documents that are harmful to the sovereignty of our country". Therefore, the telegramers clearly made a wrong guess in terms of the declaratory part of the appeal.

The analysis of the protest clearly shows an analogy with the recent events in Ukraine, when the publicly supported President is not supported during the negotiations on independence and territorial integrity (the meeting of the Normandy Four), but warned, saying "look, we are suspecting treason and ready to punish".

Probably some Belarusian establishment people are very impressed by the situation when there is a legally elected government with a strong credit of people's trust, and a radical minority imposes its will on it by drawing some "red lines". However, practice shows that the transfer of foreign templates to Belarusian realities is not very promising.

Paradoxically, the Pul Pervogo Telegram channel is right. Belarusians really got together to support Alexander Lukashenko during the negotiations with Vladimir Putin. Whatever meaning the author puts into this phrase, it perfectly characterizes the state of Belarusian society these days. After all, "got together" is not so much about the square, but about composure, the importance of political and historical moment. This is the main scale and caliber of support. It manifested itself in the calm and trustful (but not indifferent, as confirmed by sociological surveys) attitude of the overwhelming majority of citizens of our country to the work of authorized persons on the notorious "road maps", to the "secrecy" around the essence of negotiations, to the exceptional and difficult mission of the Head of State – warranting the independence and sovereignty, while holding the integration course in the interests of Belarus.

If not for this trust, Minsk would have long been compared with Hong Kong. On the eve of the announced "square" meeting, the President clearly outlined his position: he does not need such support.

The second track is an attempt by some politicians to use the Belarusian-Russian negotiations, to ride the popular global trend of "deterring Russia".

Pro-Western analytics is dominated by an oversimplified conception stating that Belarus sovereignty gets stronger with the increase in the amount of differences with Russia. By the way, on December 11, experts of "Expert Environment" joint project of BISR (the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Research) and BelTA (Belarusian News Agency) discussed this issue. For example, the report "The Growing Importance of Belarus on NATO's Eastern Flank" (published on September 16, 2019 by US Jamestown Foundation) keeps track of almost every case of non-occurrence between Belarus and Russia: the refusal to host a Russian air base on the territory of our country, limiting the number of Russian troops during "Zapad-2017" military exercise, invitation of observers from NATO countries to the exercise, non-recognition of the Crimea as part of Russia by Belarusian side, refusal to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, etc.

But even with such a simplified math, the "think tanks" in the US and Europe have taken an important step forward, coming to notice something that somehow had not been noticed before. Today the West recognizes the historical underestimation of the role of independent Belarus in the geopolitical coordinate system and the pragmatic approach of the leadership of our country to building an equal dialogue along the entire perimeter of the borders. And this is where the main logical manipulation of forecasters lies. Equality is not about restraining or imposing, it is about the neighbour's attitude towards you and vice versa. Equality presupposes the strengthening, not the erosion or "partial reduction" of sovereignty.

In this context, the tone of the slogans of the actions that took place on December 7-8 deserves a separate analysis. On the streets of Minsk, we witnessed a concentrated mixture of political rudeness towards the neighbouring country. After all, political culture is not manifested only in the use of fashionable signs and speeches, but also in attitudes towards the object of protest. Offences and ad hominem arguments never credit to even the most notorious characters. Based on the logic of our eastern neighbour, when your homeland is called shit, and the president is told where to get off with his portraits trampled and torn, compromises in coordinating economic "road maps", energy prices, access to sales markets are an extremity of masochism. Perhaps this is the cunning intention of the organizers, since the West does not follow the lead and does not impose sanctions.

The third track is anti-presidential. The third track is anti-presidential. Anti-presidential narrative is a "traditional garnish" to any protests. By following it, the authorities are usually to blame for any of the possible future options. But in today's geopolitical situation, who really ensures the independence and sovereignty of Belarus? Even from the point of view of today's Western analytics, the notorious "authoritarian regime" has done much more than many internal and external political forces together. This means (based on the banal logic of the West) that any change of power will significantly weaken Belarus and make it an easy prey for Russia. Either maintaining independence will require serious financial and political investment, which in today's turbulent environment (Brexit, waves of separatism and social protest, upcoming US elections, etc.) is hardly possible. Thus, in the present conditions, anti-presidential slogans may look impressive, but clearly do not fit into the social and geopolitical demand.

And one more thing. Indeed, there were a lot of young people in street protests on December 7-8 in Minsk. Thinking in a new way, tuned, albeit in their own way, patriotic. The demand for political activity in this age group today is obvious, but the channels for the realization of this energy are insufficient. And this is a separate topic for analysis.

To be continued.