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 have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.