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Informational confrontation among the Lukashenka’s devotees


The conflict that attracted attention between the deputy chairman of the regional branch of the Belaya Rus party, Svetlana Varianitsa, with Grigory Azarenok and Olga Bondareva, became the first vivid public manifestation of the confrontation between groups of the so-called elites of the Lukashenka regime.

This telegram conflict has been going on for quite a long time, but apparently right now the activity of pro-Russian activists and pro-Russian influencers began to pose a threat to the existing system when these groups began to express opinions that went beyond the guidelines issued by Lukashenka’s administration.

One of the reasons why this became possible is not only the destruction of Belarusian civil society but also the emergence in its place of a pro-Russian simulation of civil society.

During his visit in June 2021 in Minsk, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev said, ‘We must pay attention [...] to the activities of non-governmental and non-profit organizations [...] If we talk about Belarus, their ultimate goal is to change the system and power in your country. As a matter of fact, we have been observing this recently, and you, who live in Belarus, see it better than anyone else.’

Following Patrushev, Alexander Lukashenka in July 2021, speaking about non-governmental organizations, admitted that ‘a purge is underway.’ And already in December, he accused civil society agencies of foreign financing, an attempt to organize a coup and rebellion, and announced their liquidation. According to Lukashenka, including through civil society institutions, ‘The collective West is not abandoning attempts to reduce the level of integration interaction in Eurasia.’

According to human rights activists, more than 1,200 public organizations have been closed since 2020.

At the same time, the illegitimate authorities, in contrast to genuine NGOs, create so-called GONGOs - non-governmental organizations that are actually created by the state. Examples of these GONGOs include the “Round Table of Democratic Forces” by Yuri Voskresensky and the “Systemic Human Rights Protection” by Dmitry Belyakov. The latter also established the Emil Chechko International Charitable Foundation, named after a Polish defector who made unsubstantiated allegations in state media about the crimes of the Polish military and border guards during the 2021 migration crisis.

Many of these so-called GONGOs have joined forces and formed “patriotic forces.” On August 9, 2022, they held their first forum, and a year later, a meeting of the Headquarters of the Patriotic Forces of the Republic of Belarus took place. These self-proclaimed “patriotic” organizations have a distinct pro-Russian orientation, as evident from the declaration they adopted on August 9, 2023. The declaration states, “Belarus remains faithful to its obligations in the Union State, based on an understanding of the common path of the East Slavic peoples, despite all adversities and trials.”

Special forms of interaction with the state are provided for the largest GONGOs, such as Belaya Rus, Belarusian Republican Youth Union, Belarusian Women’s Union, and Association of Veterans.

In addition to the liquidation of independent NGOs, large Russian public associations and foundations financed by the Kremlin have become more active in Belarus. These include Rossotrudnichestvo, the Gorchakov Foundation, the Russian World Foundation, and the Support Fund for Compatriots. These activities coincide with the actions of state structures of the so-called “Union state.”

Therefore, let’s have a look at the influencers and activists associated, directly or indirectly, with pro-Russian organizations. The roster of media personalities from regime TV who hold clearly pro-Russian views includes well-known figures like Grigory Azarenok, Evgeny Pustovoy, Ksenia Lebedeva, Alexander Shpakovsky, and Evgeny Lazutkin. At a lower level, several pro-Russian activists, such as Olga Bondareva, Elvira Mirsalimova, Svetlana Zhigimont, and Alexey Talai, promote imperial narratives through Telegram channels.

While everyone is entitled to their own views, it is worth noting that these individuals have connections with various Russian media projects and organizations that advocate for deeper integration with Russia. For instance, Grigory Azarenok appears on the channel of Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, Ksenia Lebedeva provides comments to the chauvinistic website Tsargrad.tv, and Shpakovsky and Lazutkin have been involved in the Sonar-2050 project, which is financed by the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation. Notably, Alexander Shpakovsky even attained a high position at the Belarusian Embassy in Russia, a position that would not have been possible without the consent of the Russian side.

Olga Bondareva is associated with the “Infospetsnaz” movement, created by Dmitry Belyakov, an employee of the pseudo-human rights organization “Systemic Human Rights Protection.” Belyakov is known as the initiator of the pro-Russian party “United Fatherland.”

Additionally, there are several anonymous Telegram channels that Olga Bondareva and Svetlana Zhigimont repost from on their own channels. It may be worthwhile to delve into the narratives of one of these channels in more detail.

One target of criticism in this Telegram channel is the music band “Drozdy,” who are referred to as “woodpeckers.” They are accused of supporting democratic forces and are labeled as so-called “bechebeshniki” (supporters of the Belarusian national white-red-white flag) and “zmahary” (“scufflers”). This conflict would be easy to dismiss if it weren’t for one crucial aspect. By criticizing “Drozdy,” there is also criticism directed at the Lukashenka administration for coordinating the band’s participation in high-level events. Additionally, there is mild criticism of Igor Sergeenko, the head of the administration.

Recent posts have emerged in which the authors attempt to create the impression that individuals with the last name Lukashenka are involved in the activities of mysterious groups. For example, in a photo from the “Vytoki” festival, where dictator Lukashenka’s son, Viktor, is in the center, they identify people whom they label as hidden “zmahary” (“scufflers”).

In parallel, Olga Bondareva accuses Minister of Education Andrei Ivanets of promoting Nazism simply because he emphasized the importance of Belarusian-language education and stated that more attention should be given to the study of the Belarusian language. Bondareva perceives this as discrimination against the Russian language and a sign of Nazism.

Interestingly, the group “Drozdy” fell out of favor after they began singing more songs in the Belarusian language and gained popularity among “yabatski” (Lukashenka’s devotees) on TikTok.

It is noteworthy that this group of pro-Russian activists passionately praises the Belarusian GUBOPiK police special unit and the riot police, while also displaying fanaticism towards the Wagner PMC.

Despite the efforts of propagandists to deny any divisions within their ranks, the split is evident. Another group has emerged among the Lukashenka’s devotees criticizing these pro-Russian activists. Their motivations do not seem to stem from genuine love for Belarus but rather from perceiving these activists as threats to the established Lukashenka system.

So, who are these people?

Igor Tur, who attempted a more conciliatory approach towards the protest community during a meeting with Lukashenka; Marat Markov, who refers to pro-Russian activists as “wombats”; and Ilya Begun, likely associated with the KGB of Belarus, are among the notable figures. Among the activists, Svetlana Varyanitsa stands out for posting clips of the group “Drozdy” on her channel and increasing the amount of Belarusian-language content, which irritates pro-Russian activists. Varyanitsa has already been labeled a hidden “bechebeshnik” (supporter of the Belarusian national white-red-white flag) by these activists.

In 2020, when the Belarusian people chose democracy, activists like Varyanitsa and journalists like Tur believed they could gain favor by showing loyalty to the dictator, turning a blind eye to lies and violence, and assuming that everything would eventually return to the comfortable state of 2019, allowing them to flourish.

However, various pro-Russian activists held a different perspective. They echoed the same slogans as Tur and Varyanitsa, but their intention was never to return Belarus to the state of 2019. Their goal is to incorporate Belarus into Russia, and they pursue this agenda cunningly, thoughtfully, and cynically, convincing the power-hungry Lukashenka that only they are his true supporters.

Yet, neither of them comprehends that Belarusians are a nation capable of making their own choices and determining their future. Belarusians have the ability to find common ground among themselves. However, there is an obstacle preventing this unity—the dictator Lukashenka—and a significant threat to all of them: the Russian world, which denies the existence of Belarus.

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