Research Findings: Protest and Civil Society Mobilization in Belarus
“Prospects of Post-Authoritarian Transformation in Belarus: Tracing Civic and Political Initiatives for Democracy Promotion” by Vasil Navumau and Olga Matveieva
The EurasiaLab Fellows
Vasil Navumau, PhD in Sociology, is a visiting fellow at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies (Bochum) and civic activist. He is the author of a monography and several publications on protest movements in Belarus, and Russian disinformation in Belarus. Olga Matveieva, PhD in Public Administration, is an associate professor at the Institute for Public Administration. Her research interests include e‑governance, contentious politics, gender issues, and global challenges to public administration system. The researchers published several co-authored comparative articles on protest in Belarus (Revolution of Consistency) and Ukraine (Euromaidan), and gender-related consequences of COVID-19 pandemic for both countries.
Project Description and Methods
The project aimed to trace civic initiatives that emerged during the mass mobilisation after the falsification of the presidential elections in Belarus in 2020. It analysed civic initiatives to connect them to the existing Eastern Partnership instruments and the EU mechanisms to expand the dialogue on a peaceful conflict resolution in Belarus.
In order to identify all relevant initiatives, the fellows firstly monitored reports of key Belarusian media from August 2020. They secondly conducted interviews with civil activists and EU representatives in order to analyse the capacities and impact of the groups of initiatives mentioned. An in-depth analysis of the opportunities and current potential of the Republic of Belarus subsequently aimed at identifying strategies for further cooperation with the EU in the framework of the Eastern Partnership.
The Belarusian protests in 2020–2021 led to an exploding emergence of civic initiatives responding to the authorities’ brutal practices and manipulated elections. In order to oppose the authorities, advance their agenda and promote human rights, civic activists used creative and innovative methods.
The research identified around 70 civic initiatives which covered multiple areas, such as (among others) financial assistance of arrested protesters, medical help, assistance to strike committees or students, support to former ‘siloviki’ (riot police), support with re-education, black-listing of companies, tools for recounting of votes, psychological support or support for independent media. The initiatives were mostly focused on providing direct assistance to Belarusians who suffered from the brutal repressions, launched by the authorities to disseminate the mass protests. People with different income levels were affected to economically varying degrees by the protests and the coronavirus pandemic. Several initiatives paid special attention to specific target groups on the basis of gender, age or social, economic or political criteria. The fellows developed an infographic that shows the identified initiatives and their thematical focus, while at the same time assessing their degree of innovativeness and their social and political relevance.
The research concludes that the movement, which has been called the ‘Belarusian Awakening,’ should not be seen as an isolated response to government repressions, but as a continuation of broader trends affecting Belarusian civil society since the second half of the 2010s.
You can learn more about Olga’s and Vasil’s project on the “Eurasia on the Move” podcast episode #1: Belarus.
Furthermore, the key findings are reflected in the academic article “Telegram Revolution: Technical and Conceptual Innovations of the 2020 Belarusian Protest” which has been submitted to the peer-reviewed journal Canadian Slavonic Papers.