We publish the second part of the interview with “Belarusian Anarchists in Warsaw”. In it we talked about the participation of the Belarusian anarchist movement in the resistance to the Russian occupation, as well as about how to support Belarusian activists.
What issue is more topical for the anarchist movement now? And for you?
Katya and Ignat: There are four areas of struggle for the international anarchist movement that have remained relevant for many years:
Anti-capitalism – fights against the exploitation of the poor by the rich, for the creation of a new social and economic system. Capitalism harms not only people but also nature, the destruction of capitalism is necessary to stop the global climate crisis.
Anti-authoritarianism – fights against the power of the state, which is exercised through the state’s monopoly on violence, and for the right to self-determination and self-government of people.
Anti-fascism – fights against the oppression of people based on their ethnicity, control of people’s movement across borders, xenophobia and racism, as well as against authoritarianism and militarism.
Feminism – opposes gender oppression, the patriarchal binary of gender, and the cult of violence associated with the notion of masculinity.
Specifically for us, as Belarusian anarchists, who are most involved in the problems of our region, the anti-authoritarian and anti-fascist struggles are particularly relevant. If the dictatorships in Belarus and Russia were destruction, along with fascism in Russia, many issues affecting people in our region, such as war and repression, would disappear.
In general, we work with all the issues mentioned above, but we spend a lot of time fighting these dictatorships.
I know that burnout is common in the movement, what do you think it is connected with? And how can it be avoided?
Katya and Ignat: Burnout is a common problem among activists in any field. The factors that cause burnout in the anarchist movement will probably be familiar to many activists in different spheres:
The number of activists – in the Belarusian anarchist movement there are quite few people free. That’s why everyone has a very heavy workload.
Life in capitalism – we all need somewhere to live and something to eat, and often trying to provide for ourselves and our families takes up all our energy and time. And since we all had to escape from Belarus to a new country, we have even more difficulties in settling in – bureaucracy, not knowing the language, adapting to a new place, trauma from state violence, etc.
Not always an obvious result of activism – no matter how much activism we do, it seems like the suffering in the world will never end. It’s very easy to burn out when you don’t see any direct results of your work, and it feels like the state and capitalism just gets more brash and more violent.
Insecurity is probably the only point that is more relevant to the anarchist movement, but anarchist struggles have always been persecuted by the state, long before 2020 many people can’t stand living in constant anxiety and repression, and leave activism.
Would you like to write something about the war in Ukraine?
Katya and Ignat: The situation in Ukraine is quite difficult, but everyone has the right to be protected from state violence. In the case of war, we see that the violence comes first of all from the Russian state. The example of Mariupol shows that Putin’s military is ready to destroy entire cities to achieve its own goals, raping, killing and kidnapping people. The Ukrainian state remains a state and a barrier to freeing people from the government, but no Ukrainian politician will allow the level of state violence that Putin’s regime allows. We would like to point out that the Kremlin’s atrocities in Ukraine are just a continuation of the policy of suppressing freedoms inside Russia.
Torture, murder and kidnapping are everyday occurrences for the nations that find themselves under Putin’s control. We can talk about political and social persecution across Russia as well as dictatorial regimes across the planet that are supported by the Kremlin.
Russia’s victory in this war would be a complete disaster not only for Ukraine, but for all of Eastern Europe. The Russian world continues to spread like a plague across the continent in an attempt to build a new Empire. In such an environment, it is hard to imagine the success of a new uprising in Belarus, Kazakhstan, or other countries under Moscow’s control. We Belarussian anarchists in exile will lose everything we have tried to build over the past 30 years. The fall of Putin and the defeat of the Russian army will lead to the liberation not only of Belarus, but also dozens of other peoples who have been trapped in this prison.
Do you think the same principles can be applied in times of peace and in times of war? Such as pacifism and humanism?
Katya and Ignat: The kind of pacifism that is often mentioned by modern liberal Europeans is inappropriate in times of war as well as in times of peace. Never before in history has the tactic of non-violence defeated any authoritarian regime, much less imperial expansion. All the examples that pacifists are so fond of are farce and manipulation. Neither the struggle for India’s independence from the crown, not the protests against the Vietnam War, not the struggle for equal rights for black people in the USA, etc., which pacifists are so fond of boasting about, were victorious or exclusively non-violent – this is well demonstrated in Peter Gelderloos book “How Non-Violence Defends the State”.
Everyone should have the right to self-defence – people who are attacked by the police, border guards, the army or the state have the right to use any tactics, including violence, to defend themselves. Few people would condemn a victim of a beating for trying to fight back, but when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine or, for example, the protests currently taking place in France, there are immediately “pacifists” who condemn any use of force to defend themselves against an attacker.
Very often people who call themselves pacifists or anti-violence do not notice very real violence by the police, border guards, and armies, just because it is legitimised by the state. It is assumed that if one spends their whole life suffering because of the way society is structured for people of their skin colour or economic conditions, then the only form of protest they can afford is friendly banners and petitions to their tormentors.
We understand that state violence is structural and often leaves no choice of tactics for those who are subjected to it.
Most often pacifism is the privilege of successful white people who live in relative safety, comfort and prosperity and teach oppressed groups of people (non-white people, women, LGBTQ+ people, ethnic minorities, etc.) who are directly affected by oppression and systematic violence how they should protest and what forms of protest to choose. However, we believe that combining and integrating tactics (violent and non-violent) is more likely to lead to victory over oppressors if both sides co-operate properly. We just need to help each other, not exclude and look for provocateurs.
This applies more to fighting authoritarian regimes and state violence at home, but in times of war there is no pacifism to speak of at all. But even in such terrible conditions it is worth to show humanism. Even now we see examples of soldiers providing necessary medical assistance to their enemies. Humanism, or rather empathy and care (because they are needed not only for people, but also for animals) should be basic for any society, for any relationship. It is worth using violence only where it is inevitably necessary, and trying to overcome the thirst for revenge. Anarchism aspires to a society in which violence will not be a form of solving problems and conflicts, and will become unnecessary.
How do you assess the events of 2020 in Belarus? And why do you think mass protests happened exactly in 2020, not earlier, not later?
Katya and Ignat: As anarchists, we were very happy to see how horizontal connections were formed within the protests of 2020. People self-organised into political groups, showed solidarity with protesters. The protest did not have a leader as such, but people themselves created support systems that worked without any instructions from above. Perhaps because of this, such an active protest was able to last for several months.
To answer the question of why such massive protests occurred in 2020, we believe that the COVID-19 epidemic had the most impact. The pandemic itself and its consequences affected almost every person in the world, and the state showed itself completely useless, powerless, and even destructive, ignoring the dangers of the virus and leaving many people to die.
At the same time, self-organised initiatives began to emerge that carried out the tasks that many put on the state: supplying hospitals, spreading information, helping those who could not leave their homes. This experience showed the power of self-organisation and proved that we can build networks that can resist the destructiveness of the state.
In addition, many people were simply tired of living in a dictatorship – the living conditions for many people were unbearable, reaching a breaking point and eventually took the form of protest.
Can nationalism in any form be healthy? Waves of nationalism appeared after the events of 2020 in Belarus – what are your thoughts on this?
Katya and Ignat: First of all, we would like to say that in public discussions nationalism is a very polysemous word, so it can be difficult to speak about it. And it is clear that in Belarus, which was under the influence of the empire for a long time, where language and culture were consistently destroyed, it is an even more complicated issue.
We believe that nationalism, in any form, restricts freedom and democracy. Nationalism always requires an “other” to whom empathy and freedom can be denied. Nationalism cannot exist without militarisation, violence, and inequality.
We are trying to talk more about nationalism, and educate about its dangers. Our mate wrote in an address to the Belarusian diaspora:
“Knowledge of history, speaking a language, respect for your relatives or love for your hometown does not make you a nationalist. So, by what characteristics can you differentiate, single out a nationalist? Hatred or indifference towards those who are different… It is the desire for strong power. Strong power is only necessary for a weak society. This is the path to tyranny…”.
Back to your activities, you host a podcast, what is it about? And what event promotions are you still planning? If you can write about it.
Katya and Ignat: We recently released the podcast Dogma about the war in Ukraine from an anarchist position. In it we talked to anarchists from different countries about how the movement in their country reacted to the war in Ukraine: some started to help the warring anarchists, some condemned the anarchists’ entry into the war of states, some considered it a clash of two empires.
This podcast demonstrates well how differently anarchist ideas can be interpreted – after all, flexibility and decentralisation are some of the main values of anarchism, so the reaction to such a significant event as war has been different.
Our next big project will take place in August – an eventful month for us, at the beginning it will be the anniversary of the protests in Belarus, and the last week of August is the international week of solidarity with anarchist prisoners. In Belarus, there are around 30 anarchist and antifascist prisoners, and over a hundred all over the world. We are preparing an event to highlight this issue and give people the opportunity to show solidarity with people in detention.
Do you need volunteers or any help? How can people contact you?
Katya and Ignat: If you want to join the anarchist movement, come to our events! We regularly participate in demonstrations, organise various educational events, and are always open to meeting new people. Help is always welcome, so come and meet us!
If you are not in Warsaw or not ready to become an activist yet, the best way to help us is to spread our posts and announcements on social networks. You can also donate to the Anarchist Black Cross Belarus – a collective that helps imprisoned anarchists and anti-fascists.
What would you like to wish our readers?
Katya and Ignat: We wish you faith in yourself and others, not to give up, to remember all the people who suffer from unfreedom and injustice, and to keep fighting even when it seems that we have already won. Freedom and solidarity!
Do you have books on your distro, and what books do you recommend for our readers?
Katya and Ignat: There are many books, so it’s hard to choose only 3-4. Of course, we highly recommend the book “On the way to Magadan” by Belarusian anarchist Igor Olinevich, written during his imprisonment from 2010 to 2015. He not only describes the prison life but also offers an excellent analysis of how and through what means repressive states operate. Although more than 10 years have passed since its writing, the book still accurately describes what is happening in Belarus now – and Igor is back in prison with a lengthy sentence.
“Feminism for the 99%” explains in simple language the connection between gender and economic oppression and offers solutions that work for everyone. Besides, it’s a very short book =)
“Black Flags and Windmills” effectively demonstrates how anarchist principles work in practice. It’s a book about how anarchists organised a mutual aid network after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. While the state closed the city and deployed the army out of fear of looting, anarchists, together with the local community, provided food, medical assistance, and support.
There are also several books on the distro that explain what anarchism is in an accessible way: Anarchy Works and Anarchism: from Theory to Practice. These will be of interest to those who want to better understand the theoretical principles of anarchism and how they are implemented in reality.
But overall, the distro has about 20 books on very different topics, from work to the history of anti-fascism, so we suggest seeing if there’s something you’re interested in!