More Thoughts on Belarus

After I wrote my recent piece about past Russian liberals’ admiration of General Pinochet, Mark Galleotti published a short comment saying that I shouldn’t have written what I did – not because it’s false (which it isn’t), but because it makes Russian liberals look bad and so undermines their struggle against the evil Putin regime (or words to that effect).

A very similar logic has been on display this week following the arrest of Belarusian activist Roman Protasevich, after the Belarusian authorities diverted his flight to the Belarusian capital Minsk. It didn’t take long for some researchers to discover that Protasevich had some dubious connections with far-right groups, including some time spent with the Azov Regiment in Ukraine. This news, however, raised the ire of many people, who complained that it is wrong to drag up this dirt about Protasevich’s past because it diverts attention from the crimes of the Belarusian state and thereby helps excuse its repressive actions.

In both instances, what we see is an argument that unpleasant truths must be suppressed if they are politically inconvenient. Academic research must be subordinated to political objectives. In my latest article for RT, I discuss this matter. I note that the facts about Protasevich’s fascist links are not directly relevant to the rights and wrongs of his arrest, nor to the rights and wrongs of the diversion of the aircraft. It also true that they may be used to deflect attention from the alleged misbehaviour of the Belarusian state. But I also argue that that’s not a reason to cover up those links. The public deserves to be fully informed. Beyond that, you ignore such links at your peril. In 2014, many chose to ignore the presence of the far-right in the Maidan revolution in Ukraine. The cost has been high.

To illustrate the point, I cite an article in Politico by Leonid Ragozin, in which he argues that European states should support opposition activists in Belarus and Russia, particularly those like Protasevich who make use of social media to promote their cause. He writes:

The EU has a unique opportunity to play a key role in nurturing the new generation of Russian and Belarusian political and cultural leaders who will inevitably replace the corrupt authoritarians in power today. By embracing the healthy part of society in both countries and working together with people like Protasevich and Navalny to build a common European future, the EU will do more to bring about the end of dictatorships than any number of sanctions can ever offer.

This is where the story of Protasevich’s fascist connections suddenly becomes important, for can one really call such people “the healthy part of society”? I think most people would say not. And that is why politically inconvenient facts shouldn’t be ignored.

Ragozin has written some good stuff in the past, but this isn’t one of his best pieces, in my opinion. As well as discussing social media activists, he also makes reference to educational institutions ‘like the predominantly Belarusian European University of Humanities in Vilnius … the newly created Free Russian University, based in Riga, …. [and] The Moscow School of Political Studies [that] has been also forced to relocate to Latvia’. The argument appears to be that European states should be doing all they can to support such institutions, so as to nurture a new generation of liberal, democratic youth who will then return to their home countries (Belarus and Russia) and liberate them from oppression.

It sounds nice, but let’s think about it for a minute. What will be the net result of these educational programs? The answer, I think, is a group of cosmopolitan, Westernized young people who are completely out of touch with the domestic realities of their own countries as well as with the interests and values of their compatriots. If they go back home, it’s most unlikely that they will be able to persuade large numbers of people to follow them, precisely because they will be so alien.

Change when it comes, is often the product of shifting patterns of thought among the ruling elite. In a place like Belarus, that means changes in beliefs (or at least perceptions of interest) among bureaucrats, policemen, secret servicemen, factory managers, and the like. But, Ragozin’s Western-educated youths aren’t ever going to get that type of job. Given that, in Ragozin’s scheme, the declared purpose of their Western education will be to subvert the state, they will be marked down from the start as dangerous elements, not to be trusted with employment in the state system. Perhaps they’ll get jobs in tech start ups, or somewhere in the ‘creative classes’, but those aren’t the people who change the system.

If you want to get the elite to shift, you have to persuade them that it’s safe to do so. That means, as a first step, reducing international tensions. It also means that associating liberal youth with a strategy to subvert the state is likely to be counterproductive.

So, what should be done? To be honest, my own instincts tell me that we should leave well alone. Rather than trying to improve others, we should focus on improving ourselves, and then let the power of attraction do its work. I’ve yet to see good evidence that doing otherwise brings positive results.

35 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Belarus”

  1. “but because it makes Russian liberals look bad”

    Lol. Denouncing Russian liberals is basically a national sport. Here’s from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, written 150 years ago:

    …Russian liberalism is not an attack upon the existing order of things, but an attack upon the very essence of things themselves—indeed, on the things themselves; not an attack on the Russian order of things, but on Russia itself. My Russian liberal goes so far as to reject Russia; that is, he hates and strikes his own mother. Every misfortune and mishap of the mother-country fills him with mirth, and even with ecstasy. He hates the national customs, Russian history, and everything. If he has a justification, it is that he does not know what he is doing, and believes that his hatred of Russia is the grandest and most profitable kind of liberalism. (You will often find a liberal who is applauded and esteemed by his fellows, but who is in reality the dreariest, blindest, dullest of conservatives, and is not aware of the fact.) This hatred for Russia has been mistaken by some of our ‘Russian liberals’ for sincere love of their country, and they boast that they see better than their neighbours what real love of one’s country should consist in. …” He goes on and on.

    Has anything changed in 150 years? Not much, it seems.

    Except that later in this tirade he says “There can be no such thing anywhere else as a liberal who really hates his country“, but we’re now observing the same phenomenon in the United States.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. but we’re now observing the same phenomenon in the United
      Basically. I may have lost interest in the debates about inner and outer Anti-Americans vs lovers of the American constitution, I guess?

      But what’s your point, Mao?

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  2. “After I wrote my recent piece about past Russian liberals’ admiration of General Pinochet, Mark Galleotti published a short comment saying that I shouldn’t have written what I did – not because it’s false (which it isn’t), but because it makes Russian liberals look bad and so undermines their struggle against the evil Putin regime (or words to that effect).”

    *****

    All the more reason to ditch Galeotti as a good go to source and favor someone who tells it like it is.

    One of numerous examples:

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2021/05/22/bbc-limits-and-related-censorship-on-russia-coverage/

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  3. BTW, noting Protasevich’s transgressions is legit on account of those who highlight the negatives of Assange (real or otherwise) as a basis to suggest that the latter is somehow less ethical and less of a journalist than the former.

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  4. “who had had fought with the notorious Azov Battalion in Ukraine…” — I have found such statements to be ambiguous in English, becaus “fought with” could mean either “fought alongside” or “fought against”, in other words, each the exact opposite of the other! I would recommend always being more clean by using either “fought alonside” or “fought against” instead of the preposition “with”. Just a tiny literary note.

    “Democratic principles rule out the notion that uncomfortable truths should be locked away in a cabinet, only to be let out when it’s safe for the public to know them. …” Hear hear! This is exactly what happened in America with the Hunter Biden story and his infamous laptop. The New York Post reported the story, but it was repressed by other mainstream media (including Google and twitter, etc.) on the grounds that the public couldn’t handle the truth 2 weeks before the election. Then, as soon as the election was over and Biden “won”, they grudgingly allowed to story to come out. It might have been better and allowed the public to make a more informed choice, if they knew about this shit before they cast their ballots!

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    1. It might have been better and allowed the public to make a more informed choice, if they knew about this shit before they cast their ballots!

      I sympathize with your agony. I really do. 😉

      Yes, no doubt both the Ukraine affair and the China affair of Biden jun are distasteful.

      Babbling alert: But pray tell, what exactly pulls all those US citizen into the orbits of a government or president? Idealism? Ditto: Campaign support? The will to serve? Or personal advantage, insider information that one day or the other will pay out one way or another? Or influence, information, power?

      Giuliani worked for free for your beloved still-rightful-president (vs an illegitimate one) for free, for no special self-interested reason? Arbitrarily ditto ‘the Kraken’ only lily-white intentions? You already contributed to her cause, by the way? …

      You consider Manafort a martyr, tortured for fighting the right causes only? Or does his case show while not proving any collusion there may not be too many idealists drawn into the orbit of politics. That’s America for god’s sake. The land of the winners. America, the greatest country on earth.

      Irony alert: I agree, Biden jun, may have had a really unfair advantage as the son vs people needing to fight to get a son’s attention 😉 But an exception to the general rule? The Trump family in government? Completely different matter? Just as the president they worked for free after all?

      Yes I am a bit cynical. …

      By the way. Politics and/as Power: Is there any author that looked into the relationship and events around Gorbachev and Yeltsin? I would be very interested in Putin’s take on that part of history starting with his experience in Dresden, was it?

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  5. “So, what should be done? To be honest, my own instincts tell me that we should leave well alone. Rather than trying to improve others, we should focus on improving ourselves, and then let the power of attraction do its work. I’ve yet to see good evidence that doing otherwise brings positive results.”

    After Russia ’92-’03, Iraq ’03, Libya ’11, Syria ’11-present by AQ headchopper proxies, Ukraine ’14, it should be evident that the West isn’t in the business of improving other countries. They do something else entirely.

    What they actually do is wreck other countries to provide opportunities for the well-connected in the West to plunder in the wreckage.

    The West, and the Anglosphere mainly, are furious that Putin stopped their plundering of Russia, and has impeded their plans for Syria, East Ukraine & Crimea, and now Belarus.

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  6. Paul, I fully agree with you. Suppressing inconvenient facts – whether about the Euromaidan or the Syrian rebels – tends to come back to haunt us later. It is important to note, however, that these opposition groups operate in a difficult environment with little political oxygen. As a result, they tend to have an unsavoury side and are unlikely to have a sophisticated political programme. Moreover, authoritarian rulers usually do their utmost to prevent the opposition from becoming too respectable (e.g. Assad’s tendency to release Islamists over secular rebels). We should, therefore, avoid following in the footsteps of Amnesty International who temporarily revoked Navalny’s ‘prisoner of conscience’ status, despite the fact that his racist statements had nothing to do with his imprisonment and pale in comparison to the language of certain members of Russia’s establishment.

    US/Britain must be very cautious in supporting any Russian oppositionists. Personally, I find all this bickering over whether Navalny is an American puppet or, conversely, if Assange is a Russian agent to be rather futile. But it seems to gain traction in both countries. The worst thing the West can do for the Russian opposition is support it publicly, as Mark Galeotti had suggested they do elsewhere.

    As you mentioned, Western countries must reform themselves. It is no good complaining about Russian oligarchs when Western banks harbour their wealth and Western courts silence their critics through vexatious libel suits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ignoring such is what helps keep liars like Adam Schiif and Evelyn Farkas from being deservingly taken out of mass media/body politic circulation, in conjunction with censoring the truly excellent based sources out there.

      Galeotti is thus carrying on like a sycophant. Reminded of when NBC’s Lester Holt pretty much said that being fair in media is overrated.

      Concerning one of the professor’s propped sources over much better content (yours truly included):

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    2. Well – on Navalny’s comments – I am afraid I am not too familiar with all the ins and outs of Russia’s political establishment making horrible comments but with Zhirinovsky at least everyone is in on the joke, at least anybody who has looked him up on wikipedia. With Navalny it is not quite so, and also no aspect of backtracking, or practice suggesting difference from rhetoric. Furthermore there is a Russian opposition – it’s called the Communist Party. But for reasons I don’t think I need to elaborate on the West would never give any kind of support to it. Finally one measure of why there is no real opposition to Putin is that Putin, through the vehicle of United Russia, has coopted many different things and people as United Russia is a classic ‘catch all’ Party meaning that it can present many different faces, and it is a coalition held together through money. Joining United Russia is a relatively easy way to corrupt riches or at least a good steady job in government so that is elites or wannabe elites taken care of. For other people Putin’s Russia is far less corrupt than any Ukrainian government so the use of public spending is another way they hold a coalition together. Finally where that does not work, there is ballot stuffing.

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  7. This news, however, raised the ire of many people, who complained that it is wrong to drag up this dirt about Protasevich’s past because it diverts attention from the crimes of the Belarusian state and thereby helps excuse its repressive actions.

    The point where politics start truth disappears based on interests?

    I agree it should be mentioned. On the other hand, is it relevant juridically?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Going to fight in another countries civil war is illegal
      He went to kill Ukrainians in the east of the country.

      It also gives clear indication of how radicalised this person is

      Similar to young British born Muslims who went to fight in Syria for Islamic state. It’s always has terrible consequences

      The Manchester bombing of the pop concert – this was done by people who were refugees in the uk – who had gone to fight in 2011 overthrown gaddafi they returned to the UK and years later planned the bombing of a pop concert.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Going to fight in another countries civil war is illegal
        He went to kill Ukrainians in the east of the country.

        It’s not clear if he killed anyone, he may simply have been some type of embedded journalist, which doesn’t necessarily rule out he joined the fight at one point. …
        **********
        The Manchester bombing of the pop concert – this was done by people who were refugees in the uk – who had gone to fight in 2011 overthrown gaddafi they returned to the UK and years later planned the bombing of a pop concert.

        I wasn’t aware of the Manchester Arena Bombing. Inspired by the Paris attacks, Bataclan? You are aware that Salman Ramadan Abedi and Roman Protasevich were both born in 1995? Abedi in GB his parents hailed from Tripoli, we are told:

        Wikipedia/Manchester Arena bombing/Attacker:Abedi’s father was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a Salafi jihadist organisation proscribed by the United Nations,[54] and father and son fought for the group in Libya in 2011 as part of the movement to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.[50] Abedi’s parents, both born in Tripoli, remained in Libya in 2011,[44] while 17-year-old Abedi returned to live in the United Kingdom. He took a gap year in 2014, where he returned with his brother Hashem to Libya to live with his parents. Abedi was injured in Ajdabiya that year while fighting for an Islamist group.[55] The brothers were rescued from Tripoli by the Royal Navy survey ship HMS Enterprise in August 2014 as part of a group of 110 British citizens as the Libyan civil war erupted, taken to Malta and flown back to the UK.[56][57]

        This comes to mind:
        Patrick Bahzad; BLAST FROM THE PAST: Expanding on operation “Mermaid Dawn” in Libya; 10 April 2015

        Operation “Mermaid Dawn”
        To achieve quick and decisive victory though, the capital was not just attacked from the outside, with the Islamist brigade of Belhadj as a spearhead, but also from within. The so-called “Tripoli Brigade”, a mixture of Libyan exiles, Qatari and Western Special Forces as well as government informers acted from inside Tripoli to forward crucial intelligence to the advancing troops and the Western pilots who were striking from the sky.

        ***********
        None of both of course would be considered guilty, neither Protasevich as propgandist and supporting fighter of the Azov Battalion nor Abedi, at least considering events in Lybia. Serving distinctive Western interests.

        Wikipedia lists Belarus among the belligerents, by the way,
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tripoli_(2011).

        Russian/Balarus links? information from the opposition? Or official statements?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Guest, we had clashes between Salafis, including circles around the most prominent German convert, ex boxer and jihad preacher Pierre Vogel and the German Defence League. Forget when, 2006/2007/2008??? Maybe there were other events that escaped my attention.

        I am repeating myself here. According to early Spiegel reports Mohammed Atta, and his co-terrorists are said to have considered joining the fight in Chechnya.

        The War on Terrorism radicalized both camps. But Atta et al did not come out of nowhere.

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  8. Also the issue of Russian liberals’ admiration for Pinochet seems very interesting, given their overall tendency to blindly support neoconservative foreign policy. In recent weeks, writers like Yulia Latynina have been extremely vocal in their support of Israel. Indeed, I have never met a Russian liberal who did not whitewash Jerusalem’s human rights record. Edward Snowden tends to get smeared on TV Rain. I think a lot of liberal Russians have this semi-mythical vision of the West which obscures nuance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is true, also there is just that dark side to Liberalism just as there are dark sides to Socialism and Conservatism. Conservatism maintains itself through violence. Liberalism and Socialism usually impose themselves as the new social order through violence and there is a strongly anti-egalitarian, indeed callous indifference to human life in Liberalism through both Locke and Hume which explains a Liberal admiration for Pinochet and Yeltsin – even though both of them were absolutely horrific. But the death and suffering they caused does not matter because they created a certain kind of economy – not necessarily one that worked, but they created that kind of economy and that is all that matters – at least to many liberals.

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  9. Apologize for off-topic, but if there are history students out there, especially students of Soviet history, I have just started a new series of posts based on the transcript of the Tukhachevsky trial in 1937.

    Grover Furr has been through this material, of course, with a fine-tooth comb, no doubt; and Grover is a more serious historian (I am not actually a historian at all). Still, as an artist, I have my own take on things, and the material itself is inherently interesting.

    In future entries I plan to focus on the “Napoleonic” element of these events, and whether or not there actually was a conspiracy to pull off a sort of “palace coup” against Stalin. In other words, for Tukachevsky to do unto Stalin what Zhukov later did unto Beria!

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    1. How much of this is true about Furr?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grover_Furr

      Offhand, Arthur Koestler comes across as being more of a Trots than Tukh.

      You show a Soviet stamp honoring Gamarnik and his getting rehabilitated in the early 1960s. The Soviets did the same two things with Tukh.

      What about the claims/evidence of a Nazi attempt to besmirch Tukh for the purpose of weakening the Soviet military?

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      1. Nitwit inquiry:

        comes across as being more of a Trots than Tukh.

        This is a curious statement. Trots, assuming I guessed correctly, triggers a US related association chain. But Turks? Can Trots on the other hand trigger the same associative chain in every reader, assuming we are talking about Trotzkists here, not some type of pre-monotheist religion. Who are Trots and who are Tukhs?

        Would you care to explain?

        I would highly appreciate if you invited me into your associative memory trails. Partly, at least?

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      2. What about the claims/evidence of a Nazi attempt to besmirch Tukh for the purpose of weakening the Soviet military?

        Ok, now I understand. There are references to those allegations in the German wiki articles I checked, as such, allegations*. … Haven’t finished Yavlensis series yet.

        * There were some type of cooperations between the German army and Russia/USSR post Versailles. German rather short enty on Jakir or one link:
        https://tinyurl.com/Jona-Jakir

        It’s not my intention to suggest anything via that link from German Wiki,surely not that a German-Russian/USSR military conspiracy. More interested in humans caught up in the waves of changing historical perspectives anyway.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iona_Yakir#Military_reform

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      1. Then again, Pavel Felgenhauer is a sought after defense analyst, along the lines of how Mark Galeotti gets disproportionate high profile play, relative to the qualitatively better options.

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      2. So there’s no misunderstanding, someone with paper credentials on a subject can be subpar when it comes to that topic.

        Conversely, there’re those who produce great quality, while lacking the formal credentials.

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      3. Yes, technically Furr teaches Medieval Literature. But unofficially he covers the Stalin Beat in Soviet History.
        I don’t want to disparage him too much because he has dug up a lot of interesting stuff, and also put in the hundreds of hours translating documents from Russian to English. Better him than me, proper translation is truly tedious and time-consuming, and to do it right, you can’t just resort to computer translation.

        Anyhow, even though I disagree with Furr on his atrocious analysis of the Moscow Trials, I think he made a couple of valid points with his Katyn analysis. For example, that archaeological find of a Polish policeman’s pin in a gravesite quite far away from Katyn. These are “heretical” issues that no other “historians” will touch, so forces people to stick to the facts and keeps them honest, rather than just repeating mantras, in the nature of “Everybody knows that….”

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      4. “For example, that archaeological find of a Polish policeman’s pin in a gravesite quite far away from Katyn. These are ‘heretical’ issues that no other “historians” will touch, so forces people to stick to the facts and keeps them honest, rather than just repeating mantras, in the nature of “Everybody knows that….”

        ****

        Suggesting what?

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  10. By the way, Paul, what about student exchange programs? Are they not useful to understand the other better and, gradually, perhaps reduce international tensions? Surely your visits to Russia (and to USSR before) have made you think/see/understand people in the RF and the other successor states as, indeed, people, just like you and me? I agree that setting up universities for Russians just on the other side of the border is naive, to say the least…

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  11. Russian liberals look bad because economic and political liberalism in Russia yielded the demographic and economic disaster of the lost decade of the 1990s.
    Nor am I particularly convinced that the aforementioned social media equivalents of the School of the Americas is anything more than the latest attempts to create Lenin or Chalabi.
    I do agree that fixing our own house should be more important, but I also believe that the attractions of the West were largely due to the American financial depredations pre- and post World War 2: pre in the form of American refusal to honor past norms of cancelling war debts with allies, post in the form of a smarter (i.e. not Hitler arising) IMF, World Bank, Marshall plan etc.
    The existing and recent past attempts to get groups of other people to kill each other so Americans can benefit short term, sell arms and long term, rebuilding destroying infrastructure – are anything but civilization progressive. If anything, parasitical.

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  12. To this day everyone discusses the incident by considering only what is permitted in the Western MSM. Still talking as if Belarus diverted/forced the plane to land in Minsk… these are lies, as MoA has shown in this post: https://www.moonofalabama.org/2021/05/by-the-book-what-really-happened-with-the-ryanair-flight-in-belarus.html
    And in several other. The latest: https://www.moonofalabama.org/2021/05/ryanair-bomb-threat-in-belarus-western-media-narrative-disagrees-with-the-facts.html#more

    Obviously, whoever sent the emails with the bomb threats had motives and we may argue about these motives, but after receiving these emails Belarus actions were completely justified…

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      1. Yes, and if the Western security services suspect that Belarus organized the bomb threat, they should investigate that…
        But they don’t do that. They use lies. Almost everyone is led to believe that the Belarusian fighter jet forced the commercial airplane to land and they arrested an opposition figure.
        The truth is that the decision to land in Minsk was left to the Ryanair pilot. The fighter jet was a standard procedure under the circumstances. It wasn’t used to threaten and force the Ryanair plane to land.
        I am against using lies for propaganda and justifying unjustified sanctions…

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      2. OKay.

        Western mass media failed by:

        – clearly suggesting that this particular take-down (or however it’s termed) was a precedent, by ignoring similar past instances

        – presenting Protasevich as some kind of a choir boy.

        Liked by 1 person

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