At a first glance, Belarus appears to be a calm and empty country, which many consider to be stuck in a Soviet-era time warp. Others describe it as a black hole, a ghost country. But looking more closely, the observer may be surprised to see the stage becoming more colourful and animated, somewhat reminiscent of the classic “Harlem Shake”, the delirious dance that has engulfed improbable places around the world... Not everyone is flailing their arms anarchically, in strange disguises, waving strange objects, and dancing in random chaos... More simply, they are silently living and running, writing, fighting, creating, shouting, and hoping for a better future that they wish would come sooner. Belarus’ “Shake” is in slow motion but it is continuous, and spreads throughout most of society. However, the convulsions are likely to last for several years before any changes manifest themselves.
Paradoxically, it was in a graveyard that the shaking process first began. In the immediate fringes of Minsk, along an anonymous road, lies the forest of Kurapaty. There, around 30,000 persons between 1937 and 1941 were executed by the Soviets (or by Nazi invaders, according to the Belarusian government’s version). Looking firstly at the forest, only evergreen canopy dominate. Looking more carefully at the same space, a regiment of wooden crosses emerges, which grows more numerous by the year. As soon as the murdered dead persons would start moving or be moved, a story about Belarusian identity, distinct from Soviet uniformity, would be unearthed, bringing back the Belarusian People’s Front and its democratic attempts in the early 90s.
Since Lukashenko’s ascent to power in the mid-90s, no decadent shakes can occur at the surface. Instead, an intense struggle for individual rights and personal honour has been pushed underground. For several years, Belarus has seen the development of a few independent trade-unions, non-politicized, preferring to focus on the daily issues that the workers have to face. One of the most active independent trade-unions is at a mine called “Granit”, located in Mikashevichy in the Brest-Litovsk region, near Poland’s eastern border. On 1st April, Granit’s trade-union secretary-Treasurer, Anatoli Litvinko was fired. One year ago, his wife, Ludmila, was dismissed, along with almost all the activists who had created the trade-union - Oleg Stahaevich Nicholas Karyshev, Vitaly Pashechka and Gennady Pavlovsky. It triggered no upheaval but it shows that tensions are rising….
But probably, one of the most promising Belarusian “Shakes” remains what is being gradually built by the political opposition. Large Belarusian squares rest inexorably empty since December 2010. Outside, no billboards of opposition figures, no plates indicating the premises of a political party or non-registered or opposition media. Inside small, private flats however, around street corners, at the 1st or 2nd entrance, somewhere, a substantial contingent of bright, and often young, journalists, experts, intellectuals and politicians permanently brainstorm, deliberate, elaborate strategies, cancel those strategies, adjust those strategies, communicate with their fellow citizens, meet with them, visit them, resist official pressures and learn a lot. Compared to the leading candidates in 2010, the next generation appears to be far more efficient. The opposition is gaining significant momentum for what will perhaps be the final Shake in the 2015.presidential campaign. Meanwhile, however, as a way to relax, a “Belarusian Shake” on October or Independence Square could be fun.