In Minsk, what people here call the Great Patriotic War is never far away. Monuments, street names and museums are reminiscent of the terrible years between 1941 and 1945, when the Soviet Union was at war with Nazi Germany.
Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has used years of partisan resistance against the Nazi occupation of the country, and the eventual victory by the Red Army, as the basis for a neo-Soviet, Belarusian identity.
But in recent months, something strange has happened, as Lukashenko has faced anger and continued opposition to his continued rule and initiated a vicious crackdown. The war describes how his regime still did much to echo among the population, but with a twist: Now, his officers became Nazis.
It has become common for people to speak of officers as “fascists” and “businessmen” who remain in power only because of their military and police.
Looking at some of the images from the crack in August, it is not difficult to see why: Thousands of Belarusians were dressed in black and brutally assaulted and abused by security officials; Military vehicles patrol the streets; And anyone who supports any opposition movement can be snatched up for questioning at any time.
Yuliya Chernavya said, “We were laden over endless films and books about fighting fascists, and then, when you look at the uniform, the style, the methods used by the authorities, it’s not hard to see why these memories Resonate? ” A Belarusian cultural anthropologist.
Under Lukashenko, the war has been the focal point of school history teaching and hundreds of monuments and museums. The country’s Independence Day is celebrated on the day Minsk was liberated from the Nazis in 1944, not the day Belarus actually gained independence from the Soviet Union.
“We will expand this space to raise new patriots who are able to protect not only themselves, their families and children, but also their country,” Lukashenko said earlier this year at Stalin Line, a museum complex outside Minsk. Visited. One can see bunkers from the Soviet Union-built defensive line in the 1930s, ride on tanks and receive tours from guides in redhead uniforms.
In 2014, Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin reopened Minsk’s main World War II museum, updated for the 21st century. Putin has also used the victory of the war as the basis for a new Russian identity. Belarus, unlike most parts of the Soviet Union, spent much of the war under occupation, and here, memories and vows of the local partisan movement fought against the Nazi occupiers and local allies are strong.
An example is demonstrators demonstrating on this legacy in the fight against Lukashenko Vozhyk, A one-page A4 pamphlet of anti-governmental arrangements and satirical articles. Vozhyk There was a wartime partisan leaflet originally called “Crush Fascist Vermin”; Now, it is released digitally over an encrypted Telegram channel, and comes with the following message to distributors: “Biased! Download the PDF, print it, and paste it into the entrance of your apartment .. . We are the majority and together we will win! “
Is one of the editors of Vozhyk, Who wished to remain anonymous, said he had chosen the name because of the resonance with the duration of the war: “The officers are demons and they fit the definition of fascism. During the violence of August, it was incredible how people survived. Stayed: They went out, came home, slept early and then went out. A biased gene is alive in all of us. ”
It is true that almost overnight, thousands of Belarusians acquired their own white-red-white flag, which had been effectively banned for the last two decades. Group telegrams on the app have sprung up in different towns, streets, or apartment blocks to organize protests, with participants often using conspiratorial methods to shield their identities from each other, so that if one is caught by authorities , Then they will not be able to give to others. In short: a modern partisan movement spread within a few weeks.
Lukashenko’s supporters claim that they cannot see the similarities. “Lukashenko has helped many people, people here have a good life, and they are crying about fascists. What fascist? Alexander Metla, who runs the Stalin Line complex. Every year tens of school students and other visitors see military reconstructions and see a heroic version of the war effort on campus, featuring a group of Stalin and a large photograph of Lukashenko in military uniform at the entrance.
For their part, the authorities have tried to show that it is the protesters who are descendants of the Nazis, stating that the white-red-white flag was used by Nazi allies (but ignoring its long history ). During the weekly Sunday protests, the army guards a line of barbed wire and armed soldiers at the Second World War Museum. Defense Minister Viktor Kherenin said that using white-red-white flags in such “holy places” would be dealt with strongly by the military.
Such rhetoric worked well in Ukraine in 2014, when the Kremlin portrayed the Maidan revolution in Kiev as a “fascist coup” and supported a separatist movement in the east of the country that symbolized Soviet World War II symbolism Was held back However, using the same playbook in Belarus has not had the same effect. Partly because far-right nationalists simply do not exist in Belarus, and partly for Lukashenko’s sheer brutality of bitterness and the courage of those who continue to stand against it.
“We always laughed at this stereotyping of Belarusians, as if it was nonsense, but it was really amazing how people suddenly got these tips like they knew from their birth,” Chernavskaya said.