Belarusian society split over 1917 October revolution
Nearly a thousand people took part in the rally to celebrate the October Revolution on November 7th held near Lenin’s Monument on Independence Square in Minsk by the Communist Party of Belarus.
November 7th (anniversary of the Great October Revolution, 1917) is a public holiday in Belarus since it legitimizes the current model of state. Belarusians are either neutral or nostalgic regarding the October Revolution. The opposition regards October Revolution as a negative chapter in Belarus’ development.
Unlike in the USSR, November 7th celebrations in today’s Belarus have a slightly different semantic meaning. They are closely integrated into the existing ideological paradigm which states that the Republic of Belarus gained its statehood as a result of the 1917 events. Despite the rejection of communist ideals, President Lukashenko still retains his image as being the torch-holder of Soviet traditions. Ever since his first years in the office, this image of Lukashenko has been supported not only in Belarus, but also in Russia.
The holiday is quite popular among the older generation which was raised in the Soviet Era. However for the younger generation the events of November 7th, 1917 have already lost their original meaning. For instance, the pro-governmental Liberal Democratic Party has proposed to rename October Revolution Day into the Day of Accord and Reconciliation, as has been done in Russia.
Among the politically active citizens there is no unity in relation to the November 7th celebrations. Different attitudes exist even among supporters and mainly relate to their attitude towards the Belarusian authorities. Three different groups laid wreaths at the Lenin Monument in Minks. About 200 members of Belarus’ Communist Party took part in the official celebrations. Later, representatives of the Fair World opposition Leftist Party (which before 2009 was called the Belarus’ Party of Communists) also laid flowers at the Lenin Monument. Orthodox communists - representatives of the ‘For democracy, social progress and justice’ opposition party (advocating for the Soviet Union revival) also held their celebrations near the Monument.
Unlike in previous years, the November 7th celebrations did not lead to harsh confrontations between supporters of the communist legacy and their opponents. For instance, in 2011 Young Front representatives threw eggs and stones at Lenin Monument and at protesters - Communist Party members. This year, opposition parties and movements have limited their activity to appealing to the authorities to rename the Lenin Street in Minsk, and to laying flowers on the graves of the victims of the communist regime.
November 7th celebrations continue to be used by the Belarusian authorities as an ideological justification for the Belarusian statehood. Despite the rejection of communist ideals, Belarusian society is not ready for full ‘de-communization’ of public consciousness.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.