“The Belarusian Anarchists in Warsaw” – a group of activists who were forced to leave their country because of repression. Katya moved to Poland in 2021, and Ignat has been living there for several years. “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” talked with them about the difference between the anarchist movement in Belarus and Poland, and common problems for both countries.
Katya and Ignat: During our long activist “career,” we have been involved in a variety of activities. Among the things we can openly talk are various educational projects, such as the Anti-University. We participated in mass protests, including the Anti-Nuclear Resistance of the noughties and early 10s, the 2011 Clap Rallies, the 2017 ‘parasite’ protest and, of course, the 2020 protests. Over the years, we also organised our own unauthorised actions, including marches and pickets as well as creative and street actionism. We have also been involved in the defence of parks (Kotovka Park among others), environmental and feminist activism, the organisation of Critical Mass, freemarkets attended by thousands of people.From 2012 to 2020, the movement had its own anarchist library called “Free Thought” existed in the city centre (with interruptions due to repression). One of the oldest anarchist initiatives in Minsk was “Food instead of Bombs,” which lasted for over 15 years and was eventually destroyed by repression in 2021. Since 2009, there has been a Belarusan group of the Anarchist Black Cross, which has been and still is engaged in supporting imprisoned anarchists and anti-fascists for all these long years.
It’s difficult to remember everything we were involved in, but the list is much longer and broader in reality, including non-public activities.
What are you doing in Warsaw?
Katya and Ignat: Among our public activities we can mention the spreading of anarchist ideas and practices in the Russian-speaking diaspora (mostly in the Belarusian diaspora). We interact with participants and organisers of such events, disseminate practices of collective discussion and self-organising. We participated in the birth of the initiative of the Sunday “Belarusians of Warsaw” and still today our friends are part of the organising collective.
In 2021-2022, we held the “School of Anarchism” – a series of thematic lectures explaining what anarchism is, what anarchists want, the goals they follow, and what methods they choose. We organise workshops for the diaspora, and periodic lectures and discussions on various social and political topics. At the beginning of July we organised a “Festival against authoritarianism”, where we raised many interesting issues and held a number of workshops.
We are also involved in supporting our mates who have gone to the front in their fight against Kremlin’s imperialism. We raise funds, purchase equipment and supplies, and send them to Ukraine. We raise money, buy equipment and supplies and send them to Ukraine. Helping refugees. Raise the importance of the war against imperialism in our events.
In addition to this, we engage with the local issue. The anarchist movement is international and for us there is no division into nations and races, and we don’t accept state borders. All anarchists in the world usually stick together, so we are also actively involved in local struggles: for the rights of women, queer people and refugees on the Belarus-Poland border.
Is there a difference in the introduction of activism in Belarus/Poland? Where is the society more conscious and ready for change?
Katya and Ignat: Yes, of course, there are differences, first of all because of the different political conditions in these two countries and our personal experience with emigration and refugees.
For example, as far as political conditions are concerned, at the moment Belarusian anarchists in Poland are not a group that is subjected to any repression by the state. Therefore, we can act more openly than in Belarus—organising public educational events, inviting everyone, publishing our announcements and statements in social networks. Some of our mates even choose to publicly position themselves as anarchists, which almost everyone in Belarus avoided.
We have become less involved in street actions and interventions, focusing more on creating educational content, although we still assist in organising and participating in demonstrations.
At the same time, the refugee status, on which most anarchists in Poland are based, limits our ability to operate in areas that the state controls and criminalises. For example, the Polish government at one point criminalised any assistance to people crossing the border in the Podlasie area – even the provision of medical care to them. The consequences for activists with Polish citizenship and refugee status if detained in this area would be very different.
As for society’s readiness for change, we do not believe that “society’s awareness” is divided by national state borders. At the same time, it is obvious that different political and social conditions create different levels of politicisation.
In 2021, when most of us left Belarus, Belarusian society was politicised much more, and questions about political and social change were more relevant than ever. Today, it is difficult to assess whether these questions have remained as relevant – from another country, in a repressive environment that seeks to destroy any possibility of speaking out. The Belarusian diaspora in Poland is definitely much more politicised than the average Polish citizen, but we cannot say what the situation looks like in Belarus, as we are not there..
In Poland, there was mobilisation around the Strajk Kobiet movement, but from the perspective of a person living here only recently, it does not seem as comprehensive both quantitatively and qualitatively. Although slogans against the ruling party are very popular, people are not so ready to get involved in active protest, to go to the streets, to create political structures and movements as in Belarus, and they are less ready to question the state power (as I think, perhaps people in Poland would disagree with me).
In general, in any country in the world there is inequality and there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the way society is organised. This inequality is always supported by the existing power, and for sharp politicisation, only a important trigger is needed, which one can capture as many people as possible.
What problems are the most topical for Belarus/Poland? And in your opinion what solutions do you see?
Katya and Ignat: We can identify a number of problems that are important for both of these countries, and some that mainly affect people in only one of them. Of those problems that are relevant for both Poland and Belarus, we would name:
The war in Ukraine – Belarus is a springboard for the Russian state, while in Poland the threat from its eastern neighbour leads to restrictions of freedom for security.
Dictatorship and repression – it may come as a surprise to some that this is a topical issue for Poland, but we will remind you that the party of Law and Justice has been in power for almost 8 years and is actively trying to limit civil liberties. Poland is beginning to look more and more like an authoritarian state. For Belarus it is probably unnecessary to explain why this is an actual problem.
Atomisation and depoliticisation – people do not consider politics as something they can participate in, delegate decision-making to elected parties and people and therefore lose control over their lives. When they think about their personal problems, or problems in society, they do not feel that they can change or influence anything. Also, both in Belarus and Poland, people are becoming more and more separated – it no longer seems usual for us to communicate with our neighbours and ask them for help, to unite to solve some problems. The Courtyard Movement in 2020-2021 showed that we can live differently, people started to unite, but repression prevented this process.
Poverty and instability of living standards – in both countries a huge number of people have to survive from wage to wage, save, work multiple jobs, go hungry, and live on the streets. This situation is artificially created by the system of capitalism – we live in a world where anyone can have the necessary resources to live a decent life.
Borders as restriction of people’s freedom of movement and xenophobia – there are daily tortures and murders of people on the Belarus-Poland border, caused by the consistent racist and xenophobic policies of Belarus and Poland. Lukashenko uses people from the Middle East and Africa as pressure on the EU, which is only made possible by the anti-immigrant xenophobic policies of the EU and Poland.
The issue of body autonomy is very topical for Poland – in 2020 there were mass protests against stricter criminalisation of abortion, which led to nothing. Since then, the number of women who have died from complications during childbirth has been rising steadily. Abortion could save their lives, but doctors are scared by the existing laws and are not ready to help them.
Although this problem does not seem relevant for Belarus, where abortions are still legal, the broader problem of gender violence and patriarchy is understood there as well. After 2020, almost all initiatives working with victims of domestic violence were closed and now it is very difficult to find support in a situation of violence.
The question of solutions is quite difficult to answer in an interview – people write whole books on how to solve these problems. In general terms, self-organisation and solidarity solve these problems. When people are ready to unite to fight against oppression, when they are ready to help each other and realise that caring for the other is a necessary condition for living in society, then we can solve these problems.
I think there is a decrease of left-wing ideas in the world right now, what do you think this is due to? And how can this be changed?
Katya and Ignat: The main enemy of anarchism is not only the state but also capitalism. Capitalism devours people’s minds, desires and needs. In a world of exclusion and atomisation, in which competition is considered the standard and is forced on people from childhood as the only true way to exist, it is very logical to expect a movement to the right. Capitalism turns us into consumers, from subjects of society to objects of their advertising and business. With the development of the market people spend less and less time on social life, the system locks us in our homes and destroys social ties. Today we don’t even know the name of our neighbours and we don’t even say hello to them. People are going into daily routine and satisfying the desires imposed by the capitalist system. We no more need common sit-downs in the yard, communication or help from the people around us. People who are close to each other do not try to collectively solve the problems that arise in their lives, but prefer to turn to “specially designed” services or write a complaint. This unsuccessful method makes them even more frustrated and less and less interested to do anything at all. Frustrated, they delegate their power to someone they often do not trust in order to take the weight of responsibility off their shoulders.
In this way, people gradually become apolitical objects of manipulation by those who use politics to oppress. The police brutally suppress any form of opposition and attempts by the people to take back power. In this background of a general decrease in politicisation, right-wing conservative and outright fascist parties are popping up here and there with increasing frequency. And they take power using populism and current conditions.
It seems to us that what we are seeing is not just the fall of left-wing views, but the fall of politicisation in general, and on the other side, the rise of the right-wing and the far-right. To counter this we need to break the chains of individualism, selfishness and start taking an interest in our own and others’ lives. The more people are interested in what happens to their lives, the more difficult it will be for the power-hungry capitalists and owner-capitalists to get into power.
The main problem with leftist ideas is that they are utopian. What is anarchy? Is it a utopia or is it something that can really be built in society?
Katya and Ignat: First of all, we want to note that anarchism is not on the “left-right” axis of coordinates at all. This paradigm assumes that parties are divided in their struggle for power. Since anarchism does not fight for the seizure of power, it simply cannot enter this pattern. For anarchism, it does not matter whether the bosses are on the left or the right – their whip does not get any easier. The left is often no less authoritarian than the right, and sometimes even more so (Stalinists, Maoists, etc.). The left is about centralisation, creating the state and managing its resources from the top down. It is the power of bureaucrats, the power of the few. Whereas anarchism also implies free co-operation of local communities and co-operatives for mutual benefit. All processes and decisions that affect a community are controlled not by a small group of bureaucrats, but by all members of the community. This is self-organisation and self-governance. This is the absence of the state, and therefore of any instruments of oppression.
Is it a utopia? It depends on what one puts into the word “utopia”. If the meaning of this word is ideality and beauty – then why not, but if we give this term the meaning of impossibility – then hardly. After all, communities organised according to anarchist or near-anarchist principles have existed in history and exist today. We will not go into a detailed description of various of them – you can find this information on the internet. Below we will give you 3 examples each from history and present time, as there are actually a lot of them. There was the Paris Commune – anarchism, socialism. – Makhnovshchina – anarchism. Spain during the civil war (1936-1939) – anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism. From actual examples – Zapatistas (Chiapas, Mexico) – they have a mixture of anarchism and Marxism, Rojava (Western Kurdistan) – democratic confederalism. And the Israeli kibbutzim – socialism.