Belarusians Wear Jeans in Silent Protest

Grass-roots organizations in the former Soviet republic of Belarus want their countrymen to wear denim as a silent protest to fight for democracy on Jan. 16.

This is the fourth consecutive month that various human rights groups have staged an event on the same date to rally people and demand change in the autocratic state where KGB-like surveillance rules and the media have no rights.

Although other Russian enclaves have been able to ride the wave of democracy with their own "colored revolution," experts say Belarus' "denim revolution" is different in nature and has many more obstacles to overcome.

Why Jeans?

"These are voices of opposition in a place where such a thing has been extinguished," said Sarah Mendelson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "In a very authoritarian regime, any kind of protest is a success."

She commends these grass-roots organizations for taking a stand and showing that they exist, explaining that protesting is considered a criminal activity and any writing that is critical of the regime can land a person in jail for three years.

"Come out in the streets of your cities and towns in jeans! Let's show that we are many," reads the statement released by the youth group Zubr. Zubr means bison, Belarus' state animal.

Zubr's denim choice came as a fluke. The statement said that during one of the group's rallies, police seized all of the flags. One of the group leaders fought back by making his own flag. He tied his jean shirt to a stick, and the "denim" symbol was born.

It's also a loaded symbol.

"Jeans evoke the West," said Celeste Wallander, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at CSIS. "Denim is an assertive statement to show that they [Belarusians] are not isolated."

Along with wearing denim, Zubr and human rights group Charter 97 are calling for Belarusians to light a candle for 15 minutes at 8 p.m. on the 16th of every month. Wallander sees these silent protests as a first step to challenge the repressive regime.

But democracy in Belarus still remains far off in the distance, experts say.

Republic in Name But Dictatorship in Fact

"People should not think change in Belarus will be like the one in Ukraine," said Wallander, referring to the "Orange Revolution," which led to the overthrow of a Russian-backed dictatorship after fraudulent elections.

It won't be like the "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia or the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia either.

"Certainly there's a kind of contagion, but there's nothing predestined about it," said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Other popular resistance movements appeared elsewhere like in Azerbaijan and never went anywhere, he said.

Analysts point to the government's stronghold on the country.

Alexander Lukashenko has been president since 1995, and over the years he has steadily consolidated his power, restricting freedom of speech, the press and political opposition. Last year, Lukashenko staged a referendum to eliminate presidential term limits, which passed by a 77-percent margin despite reports of massive fraud by international observers.

In addition, although the country, sandwiched between Russia and Poland, has been independent since 1991, it has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any other former Soviet republic.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...