A patriotic sign to cover a construction site. Banners and flags are omnipresent in Minsk, reminding those in Belarus of their Soviet past to the exclusion of other pasts. Under construction is a new arena for the World Ice Hockey Championships to be hosted in Minsk in 2014.
“Workers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!”
The rallying cry of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, used by Bolsheviks during the 1917 Russian Revolution, still rings loud and clear today in Europe’s last dictatorship.
November 7 marked 95 years since the October Revolution created the Soviet Union, and the immortal call to action was heard once again in Independence (formerly Lenin) Square. In front of the Belarusian Parliament, communists young and old gathered to reflect on the revolution that changed the course of history.
While some in Belarus took time to reflect and wax sentimental over Lenin’s ideals, many were simply happy to have the day off. It is a public holiday, after all.
To put it bluntly, the people I spoke with could care less about anniversary of the revolution. Instead, I took the opportunity to travel to the Khatyn Memorial Complex with some friends.
Belarus’ President, Alexander Lukashenka who is politically supported by the Communist Party of Belarus, the Belarusian Socialist Sporting Party and the Agrarian Party, believes that his plans and ideas for Belarus are very much in line with those of the October Revolution of nearly a century ago.
“We celebrate the October Revolution day [and] I can accept all the ideas that the revolutionaries put forth before people,” he noted. “There was not a single bad slogan. And with these slogans the revolution won. The present policy of our country relies on many of these slogans.”
Kyrgyzstan is the second remaining former Soviet republic to celebrate the day. Even Russia has stopped officially celebrating the date, opting instead for a Day of Unity earlier in November.
But again, Lukashenka has words for those republics, such as Ukraine and the Baltic States. “[These countries] faced a storm of criticism saying that the revolution brought grief and killed people,” he said.
“These negative processes involving the slaughter of people and the deviation from the ideas declared prior to the revolution were a wrong move.”
He emphasized the ideas were the focus, not the bloodshed in the attainment and maintenance of the ideas. It’s an interesting stance for the president to take, since his rule has sometimes resulted in violent repression of those in opposition.
Lukashenka’s economic ideas are based in part on cheap energy prices from Russia, though recent history has shown that low prices are anything but assured.
Lukashenka was the only parliamentarian in Belarus who voted against the dissolution of the Soviet Union. His emphasis on the Soviet symbols and interpretations in modern Belarus prefer to see the golden era of the country’s history as those under Lenin and Stalin.
Lukashenka may say publicly that November 7 is about “ideas” and “slogans,” but his actions show he accepts all the baggage of the October Revolution: brutality, cover-ups, crackdowns and pseudo democracy. The country routinely holds sham elections that do not live up to democratic standards, only serving to facilitate the incumbent’s victory.
A statue of Lenin still stands stoically, overseeing the square that once bore his name. Most soviet symbols have been removed from the former republics, but not here. Red carnations and roses, symbols of socialism, communism and labour, are at his feet.