Protest against the vagrants tax in Vitebsk, February 25, 2017 (Image: Belsat video capture)
Mass demonstrations are taking place in four major cities of Belarus today, and the protest against construction at the site of the Kuropaty mass graves are continuing. But perhaps the most serious indicator that Belarus is moving toward a revolution is that Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s traditional base in the villages appears to be collapsing.
As usual, most coverage focuses on the demonstrations in Belarusian cities – there were mass meetings in four of them today – and on the nationally symbolic Kuropaty grounds where activists continue their protests and have announced plans for more actions in the future.
It is difficult to know how people in the villages are reacting, but indications that they too are turning away from Lukashenka over the vagrants tax are likely to prove even more important than the actions in the cities because they will affect officials in Minsk who have always been told and believed that Belarusians in the villages support Lukashenka – and thus they should too.
If officials in Minsk conclude that Lukashenka has lost the backing of the villages – and it is their residents that he has always presented himself, a former collective farm head, as representing – then they will be more likely to turn away from him and thus open the way to revolutionary change.
Two new messages from the Belarusian countryside will push them in that direction. Pavel Sats from Osovaya in the Maloritsky district tells Radio Liberty’s Belarusian Service today that he has the impression that “in Belarus a revolution is maturing. People are getting poorer before their eyes,” and they can’t pay the vagrants tax.
He describes the sad fate of a man in Lyakhovets who is not yet on a state pension but who has lost his job. His son is unemployed, and his wife looks after their child. How can they possibly pay Lukashenka’s tax? Earlier, they scraped by, but this foolish action has pushed them over the edge into anger and despair.
Villagers, Sats continues, now have to search for the cheapest of cheap foods, bread, and some of them are going to stores near the Ukrainian border where it is imported for half the price of bread in their own places of residence.
The other signal comes from Konstantin Syrel of Ushache. He says that he is certain Lukashenka’s situation has now become untenable. The Belarusian leader has “fallen at one in the same time” into a situation where he no longer has time or room for maneuver and where anything he does is likely to make the situation even worse.
To the extent that ever more people in the Belarusian countryside have concluded that, Lukashenka’s days are numbered not because these people will overthrow him directly but because those who have been his defenders in the past are no longer going to be willing to back him in the future.
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