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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Belarus Events a Utopian ‘Revolution of Individuals,’ Novosibirsk Anthropologist Says


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Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 28 – The Belarusian revolution, Roman Shamolin, an anthropologist at Novosibirsk’s Open University says, is best understood as “a revolution of individuals” as there is no central leadership or party program but rather “an inexhaustible personal inspiration which arises in an unpredictable fashion and spreads everywhere.”

            Few especially among Russians who are inclined to pessimism could believe this was possible, he continues, but without all the aids Russians have convinced themselves are necessary, Belarus’ “Slavic spring has not ended.” Instead, it comes back every weekend as an inspiration to itself and others (echo.msk.ru/blog/shamolin/2716327-echo/).

            What explains this and what makes the Belarusian events so special is that the people there are pursuing not just the ouster of a dictator or a change in institutions but a kind of utopia in which their dreams of a better life in which they will be in charge will finally be realized for them.

            Thirty years ago, Soviet citizens were almost unanimous in viewing any utopia “as the dark side of human existence.” There were good reasons for that given that people had lived under the Soviet regime which in soulless and often sadistic ways sought to impose its “Big Project” on the population.

            Because of its internal contradictions, that utopia fell apart and with it the system and country created in its name. “But utopias do not belong only to the state or to some party, Shamolin continues. “They are created not by their forces but only used by them. A utopia is born in the consciousness (or unconsciousness) of the individual.”

            That which the Belarusians want and are inspired to pursue now is “not simply the overthrow” of Lukashenka. Rather they are experiencing a foretaste of utopia when individuals are in a position to renew the world and, as a result, your thoughts and feelings become clearer and deeper than they were.

            “This is a very intimate and personal state,” he says. “It can’t be awakened by slogans or the will or charismatic leaders.” Rather it arises in the confrontation between individuals and injustice. And that is why it has such power to mobilize people who aren’t being mobilized by anything else.

            And the pursuit of such goals, even more than their achievement, serves as a constant source of inspiration and action. One can even say that “movement toward utopia is one of the strongest human characteristics one can experience. Not the achievement of utopia but movement toward it.” That is what is on view in Belarus now.

            And that is why Russians and others can’t turn away. “The Belarusian utopia of democracy carries within itself now much more meaning and hope than all realized democracies known to us.” It is something even greater than hope; it is inspiration itself on the march – and that is why Belarusians keep showing up and why Russians can’t avoid watching them do so.

Window on Eurasia — New Series