- Introduction: The issue of latent social conflicts in the Belarusian society
- Chapter 1. The increase of latent social conflicts in the Belarusian society and the causes of the increase
- Chapter 2. Strategies to change the situation and resolve social latent conflicts for different actors
- Chapter 3. The strategy of “Our House” to resolve violent latent social conflicts
Latent social conflicts are the main and driving factor of politics and the public sector in Belarus for the last 23 years. This is due to the fact that at the moment there are no generally accepted mechanisms for resolving conflicts of interest of various social groups in Belarus. They have not yet been drafted. There is also no public culture to resolve social conflicts, especially violent social contradictions. The reaction of the Belarusian government has been the same over the years: when a certain social group made the statement about the existence of a certain problem (conflict of interests) and the commitment to find a solution, the Belarusian authorities forcefully and repressively silenced this group, ignoring their interests and needs. Thus, the conflict was becoming latent but did not disappear. The peculiarity of latent conflicts is that they are not visible, but they have their dynamics and stages of development, accumulate negative energy and then explode immediately at the stage of emotional confrontation. Therefore, with the accumulation of latent social conflicts’ energy, the outbreak of social protests occur every year in Belarus. In 2017, there were several outbreak waves – large off-line (outbreak of mass protests against a new tax on unemployment) and somewhat less online (a female campaign for home births, a campaign against hazing in the army, etc.), that, in our opinion, point to the critically dangerous accumulation of latent conflicts in the Belarusian society.
A latent conflict is always an “abscess” on the body of a society. The bigger it is, the worse consequences after the “breakthrough” are. The later the latent social conflict “explodes”, the more violence will be at its “autopsy”. This means that latent conflicts need to be identified and resolved in a timely manner in order to avoid various forms of violence in society.
The Belarusian Government is a “suicidal” state (the term is coined by activists of “Our House” and it stands for readiness for aggression and auto-aggression in case of a conflict and inability to end the conflict), i.e. in any conflict, be it a conflict between a citizen and a state, a social group and a state, another state (Europe, Russia, etc.), the Belarusian state perceives any disagreement of someone as a personal attack on itself and furiously attacks in return, instead of solving the problem (conflict) substantially. Often this strategy gives a result because not all parties to the conflicts with the Belarusian state are ready to “burn themselves” and “go all the way” (their own or the Belarusian state) in this conflict.
It is important to remember that if not to “cure” latent long-term social conflicts, then “sepsis” occurs – a general “contamination” of the state, and then armed conflicts, civil war, banditry, killing each other by citizens begin. A simple example: the latent conflict between the residents of Crimea, Donbass, and Lugansk and the rest of Ukraine under certain circumstances, manipulation and stimulation by Russia splashed into a protracted armed conflict, repression, murder, and now it is unclear how to stop everything and what to do. Although if they began to work on these latent conflicts in Ukraine prematurely, then Russia would not be able to use them, and the annexation of the Crimea, DPR, and LPR would simply not happen. The latent conflict between the “hinterlands” of America, the accumulated “invisible” problems of the American middle-class, which was ignored by the political elite, led to the election of Donald Trump. Therefore, the prevention and timely identification, and then the resolution of social conflicts is the task number 1 for any country today.
What is happening in Belarus today?
Chapter 1. The increase of latent social conflicts in the Belarusian society and the causes of the increase
The expenditures of the Belarusian state exceed its revenues; money is short for Belarusian officials.
In other words, the Belarusian authorities live “unaffordable”. The Belarusian authorities have a catastrophic shortage of money, despite the fact that Russia has not reduced its support to Belarus (for example, in August 2017 Belarus received 700 million dollars in loans, provides duty-free oil, cheap gas, which will be even cheaper in 2018), and also keeps its market open. At the same time, Belarusian state-owned enterprises suffer losses due to the fact that fixed assets and equipment are depreciating. The investments spent on several modernization processes were wasted. In addition, there are record-high repayments on the foreign loans – this is a very significant factor in formation of the money shortage. As of July 1, 2017, according to the Ministry of Finance of Belarus, the value of foreign and domestic public debt amounted to 4% of GDP. This is the maximum value over the period of 25 years of Belarusian sovereignty. Now 10% of the expenditures of the national budget is used to serve only the public debt. As a result, in order to pay off over-indebtedness, the government is forced to significantly limit, among other things, social expenditure. Doing all this, the National Bank does not use a printing press, that is, unlike in previous years, there is no inflationary financing of state expenditures. And this increases the demand for money – before it was compensated by inflation, and the people endured, now inflation has been drastically reduced and has made it more difficult for the budget. Moreover, the people are at the end of their patience.
The Belarusian government squeezes out the missing resources from the population.
The Belarusian authorities have chosen a very dangerous strategy to squeeze out money from the poor population for the needs of the state. Taking into account the sharp drop in the income rate of the population in Belarus, this is leading to an increase in social tension, destabilization and a massive popular discontent, which does not ignite anywhere, but only accumulates. For information: according to the legislation of Belarus, the right to take administrative legal action against citizens is vested in over 30 authorized bodies, including district courts, economic courts, administrative commissions within the district executive committees, internal affairs bodies, bodies of the State Control Committee, fire supervision bodies, sanitary supervisory body, border troops, customs authorities, tax authorities, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transport and Communications, etc. The national budget contains the number of fines, that state bodies must foreclose on the population at any cost. For example, in 2016, about 8 million Belarusians were fined, i.е. in fact, every second resident of the country or each family was fined. In 2016, it was planned to collect 100 million rubles of fines from the population to the budget of Belarus (this is approximately 50 million euros), and in 2017 a penalty figure of 136 million rubles (this is approximately 68 million euros) is already stipulated in the budget of Belarus. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 89% of Belarusians aged between 18 and 50 years were subject to misdemeanor liability. Such behavior of the Belarusian state breeds a lot of discontented people who are “waiting in the wings”.
People cannot afford to pay for what is enforced by the Belarusian state.
Belarusians have nothing to pay with for fines. The state takes children hostage (the removal of children for non-payment of fines, taxes or utility bills is becoming a practice in Belarus), employs other mechanisms to squeeze out money from people. In our view, this will come to no good. In addition, the huge household over-indebtedness to the State for utilities is growing. Therefore, at the beginning of 2016, residents of only Minsk region had indebtedness of about 94 billion Belarusian rubles (about 47 million euros) for housing and communal services. There is no exact figure of the indebtedness of the population all over Belarus (it is clear why this is hidden statistics), but it is possible to multiply 47 million euros by 6 regions and get an approximate figure of how much the population owes to the state for housing and communal services. Another feature is that the inability of the population to pay for housing and communal services is growing in an avalanche manner: as early as in 2015, the household debt throughout Belarus was 8 million euros, and in 2016, this figure approximated to the debts in one area. It is curious that all statistics on household debt for housing and communal services on a national scale is closed. They are available neither on the website of the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services nor on the website of the Belstat. Such a situation (the state wants money from people and people has no money) creates a base for a violent social explosion when people take the streets not to protest peacefully, but rather violently that may cause deaths. This is the direct path to a civil war.
The peculiarity of the latent conflict is that it always seeks an outlet.
This means that in a situation of latent conflict, a person becomes aggressive and capable of violent acts against him/herself and others, mainly, family and close people. The rate of domestic violence has increased in Belarus. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 77% of women face one or several forms of partner violence in their entire lives. Every fourth case of female suicide in Belarus is the result of domestic violence. However, Belarusians are not an aggressive nation. In our opinion, such an increasing level of violence in families is due to unresolved long-term latent conflicts in the society.
In addition, Alexander Lukashenko never managed to return to the crime rate of the “dashing 1990s” (1991-1993),
although the state propaganda talks a lot about how Alexander Lukashenko managed to defeat “banditry and criminal abuses.” In 2001 the new Criminal Code was brought into action. As a result, a number of actions were decriminalized; some of the previously criminal conduct moved to the ranks of administrative offenses.
Despite decriminalization the number of criminal offense cases is not encouraging at all. For comparison:
1991 – 81.3 thousand criminal offenses were registered
1992 – 93.7 thousand criminal offenses were registered
2015 – 96.9 thousand criminal offenses were registered
2016 – 92.9 thousand criminal offenses were registered
2017 (the statistics is available until September) – 64.9 thousand criminal offenses have been committed in the period from January to September, but the Ministry of Internal Affairs is already increasingly concerned about the statistics on rape (their number increased by 77% compared to 2016).
According to the UN statistics, in 2013, Minsk even became the second most dangerous city in Europe by the number of intentional homicide cases.
At the same time, a social profile of a perpetrator (i.e. a person who uses violence and commits a criminal offense) is a man under 30 years of age from the province, i.e. a person who grew up and was brought up under the government of Alexander Lukashenko, and applies his methods in problem solving and in communication with society.
In order to understand the socio-political situation of nowadays, we also need to mention two very serious latent violent conflicts that are actively developing but not visible yet.
Conflict between the Belarusian militants who went to fight in Ukraine (a part of them went to fight on the side of Russians, another part on the side of Ukrainians) and the Belarusian state.
Today they cannot return home, because there is a criminal provision for mercenary activities and being involved in any armed conflict. Moreover, Alexander Lukashenko is well aware of the danger to himself of the combined groups of armed men with combat experience who do not obey anyone. Therefore, Belarusian security forces are catching and imprisoning almost all militants who are trying to return back home. Belarusian militants are angry with the Belarusian authorities and believe that Lukashenko has deprived them of their homeland (although Lukashenko did not force them to go and kill someone, nevertheless, they consider him the culprit of the fact that they cannot return to Belarus). Both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian Belarusian militants have contacted “Our House” and tried to talk about their relationship with the Belarusian authorities. “Our House” had to refuse them; because it does not feel to have enough capacity to be engaged in violent conflicts between the armed parties (militants have weapons, so do the Belarusian state). Nevertheless, it is already clear that there is a conflict, and in case of a social explosion, these militants with weapons and combat experience will be in Belarus (there are virtually no borders between the DPR, the LPR and Belarus). We see the threat, and we do not like it.
A brewing and very emotional latent geopolitical conflict with Russia, which is also a “suicidal” state and does not know how to resolve conflicts and emerge from them.
There are no Russian-Belarusian quarrels, scandals, confrontations and tensions in the media landscape that are habitual for Belarusian philistine, except for the TV program on NTV channel on November 29, 2017, where Russian presenters emotionally named Alexander Lukashenko a “cheating wife” and a “prostitute”. This is a dangerous sign. The conflicts with Russia have always evolved according to the similar scenario with escalation of the conflict occurring about once a year, usually at the end or at the beginning of the year. Our experience in conflict management suggests that before the escalation of the social conflict, the parties always stop talking to each other, avoid touching the contentious sensitives topics, and during meetings, they talk very cautiously “about nothing.” This is a stage of “calm before the storm”, i.e. tense silence. Then there is a sharp emotional escalation of the conflict (usually because of a trifle), and the more the parties have not talked to each other, the more emotional and irrational it will be. The presidents of Russia and Belarus do not talk to each other and do not discuss anything. Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin did not have a bilateral meeting for almost a year, (the last was on April 3, 2017 in St. Petersburg, and then the metro attack prevented it), they meet only publicly and at certain events. In our opinion, this indicates that the penultimate stage of the latent conflict between Russia and Belarus is coming to an end, which will result in a very emotional confrontation between these two countries. If the Belarusian state has a strong position in all latent social conflicts inside Belarus, then in this emotional conflict with Russia it will play about the same role as the Belarusian woman in the conflict with the Belarusian state, i.e. it will have a weak position. Alexander Lukashenko understands this situation and is very afraid of it; he does not know how to resolve it. Please note that Alexander Lukashenko appealed publicly to Vladimir Putin at an informal meeting of Heads of State of CIS on December 26, 2017.  The non-verbal language that Lukashenko and Putin have been exchanging is very interesting (Alexander Lukashenko’s darting eyes, Vladimir Putin’s little side hard glance, the extended sighs of Alexander Lukashenko, the stone faces of both presidents). It is important to note that Alexander Lukashenko never mentioned the development of Russian-Belarusian relations during his almost 6 minutes speech (he mentioned only the increase in turnover between Belarus and Russia by 25%); he praised Vladimir Putin for a long time, spoke about the situation concerning Russian athletes and the Olympics, and literally in the last few seconds he said the most important thing for himself, but in a very weird tone: “Vladimir Vladimirovich (gabbling), we would like to maintain stability in our relations. Try to make sure that this stability is preserved even after the presidential elections.” And it is not about whether Putin will remain after the elections, but about the development of Belarusian-Russian relations after the elections in Russia. The camera shows Putin’s stone face. For the entire time of Lukashenko’s speech, none of the two presidents smiled and joked. Both have very gloomy facial expressions. If we did not know what was going on, we would have taught that they were discussing someone’s death or funeral.
Therefore, we believe that the latent conflict between Russia and Belarus will end in a very strong emotional escalation because of some trifle, and the parties will very vehemently attack each other and will not be able to stop. The only question is whether all methods of attacking each other in this conflict will be peaceful and non-violent, and who (which countries) will be dragged into this conflict and what their role will be.
The second important issue in this situation is will the emotional escalation of the conflict coincide with the social explosion and escalation of all latent conflicts within Belarus? If so, then the forecasts for further developments in Belarus will be very pessimistic.
Therefore, the socio-political and economic situation is complicated.
The odds of a social explosion through the use of violence are great. The only question is when this will happen: tomorrow, in a year or in a couple of years.
What to do? What strategies are available for Belarus today?
Chapter 2. Strategies to change the situation and resolve social latent conflicts for different actors
Strategy number 1: (the most massive and widespread) Do nothing in the hope that nothing will happen.
Try not to touch upon the situation. The Belarusian government, some of the opposition political organizations and most of the representatives of civil society adhere to this strategy today. This is the most irresponsible and dangerous strategy, in our opinion. If we do not take any steps now, then, in our view, the development of the situation in Belarus will follow not the “Ukrainian scenario”, but the Syrian one. That is, there will be some little thing that will blow up Belarus almost in the literal sense of this word. People will come out to kill officials and police; police and officials will come out to kill people. Add here pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian militants, who will immediately come with weapons in their hands. Then another emotional and protracted conflict with Russia, which will necessarily add something to the common boiling pot … Doing nothing is a direct path to civil war. There should be no illusions. Leaving the situation as it is will be the second “Syria”.
Pros of this strategy: you can always say: “I’m not guilty” and “I did not know that everything is so bad” and absolve yourself of responsibility for what is happening.
Cons of this strategy: if you do not manage to emigrate to conflicts escalation, you will have to experience all the processes together with Belarus, and they will be painful and, as we suspect, not always peaceful.
Strategy number 2: To engage in dialogue with the Belarusian government, explaining your point of view.
The strategy is good because the parties talk to each other and do not keep silent, i.e. all latent conflicts and contradictions develop in a mild form and there are chances to avoid emotional escalation and blocking each other. The strategy provides an opportunity to have a certain influence on the situation if the Belarusian authorities are not allowed to manipulate the notion of “dialogue”. Because, most often, by the “dialogue” the Belarusian state means that the parties meet and talk, but the other party refuses its needs, interests and demands for the sake of a conversation with the Belarusian state. In practice, the choice of a “dialogue” strategy means actually becoming a GONGO (a state-controlled organization) for Belarusian CSOs.
Pros of this strategy: the possibility of influencing the situation, reducing tensions in relations with the Belarusian state.
Cons of this strategy: it is not stable, the Belarusian authorities can at any time change the agreements and roll back the situation, exposing the other party of the dialogue in an interrogatory position, as it happened recently (December 2010) with Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland – Radoslaw Sikorski and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany – Guido Westerwelle.
Strategy number 3: Get involved in conflict escalation in a peaceful way (through protests).
This is the strategy of Nikolai Statkevich and the Belarusian Democratic Congress. It is clever. Nevertheless, this strategy makes sense only if the parties involved in the conflict escalation have enough capacity to manage and resolve conflicts in a peaceful way. “Our House” has some doubts whether those who adhere to this strategy are sufficiently trained in the field of conflict management. In addition, if there is no sufficient training, then this strategy does not make sense and becomes dangerous too.
Pros of this strategy: the faster the escalation of several conflicts within the country, the more chances that all the other latent conflicts will not gain enough destructive energy and will not “rush off” simultaneously.
Cons of this strategy: taking into account the above-mentioned factors, the risks are too high that an outbreak of protests will get out of control and become violent, i.e. it will no longer be possible to manage conflicts and direct them to a peaceful course.
Strategy number 4: To emigrate somewhere as, in fact, about 1 million Belarusians are currently doing.
This is an excellent strategy to develop personal talents and build own life, but, unfortunately, all of Belarus cannot emigrate. By the way, not so few Belarusians, as it might seem, choose this strategy. For example, in the second quarter of 2017, Belarusians received $ 267 million of personal transfers from abroad, which is 22.5% more than in the same period in 2016. The net income out of this (minus income taxes) was $ 96.6 million – compared to the second quarter of 2016, it increased by 19.7%.  All the rest is money transfers from those who have gone abroad to work. For the sake of completeness, it is important to understand that, after all, the majority of Belarusians work in a “walking distance” (Russia, Poland, Lithuania, etc.) and bring money to their families in person. Only Belarusians who have traveled far beyond Moscow transfer money through payment systems. Only in 2016, 346,000 Belarusians were registered as migrants in Russia – and clearly, most of them came to work, albeit without official registration. Moreover, according to estimates of even Belarusian state bodies, the real number of Belarusians who went to work in Russia can be much larger (up to 1 million people). According to the European Parliament, about 8 thousand Belarusians move to Europe every year, while the total number of Belarusian migrants in the EU is 267 thousand people. That is, this strategy is quite popular among Belarusians.
Pros of this strategy: a person leaves Belarus and s/he is no longer concerned about the problems of Belarus, s/he builds her/his own life and develops her/his talents.
Cons of this strategy: emigration does not solve the problems of Belarus as a country and Belarusians who remained in the country.
Strategy number 5: (the strategy of “Our House”) “to bring soldiers home from the war.”
That is, take unresolved latent conflicts, resolve them and shut the conflict. Or, in other words, redirect the liberated energy to a peaceful course (for example, to work towards implementation of “Our House’s 10 Requirements for Local Councils” or to work on the formation of local budgets for a sustainable solution to the local problems).
Pros of this strategy: it reduces the degree of public irritation and tension, leads to the de-escalation of conflicts and resolution of contentious issues between the state and citizens. It gives an opportunity to manage the situation, preventing violent resolution of social conflicts, and it directs the resolution of social conflicts to a peaceful course. The difference between this strategy and the “dialogue” strategy is that it is not a dialogue with the Belarusian authorities, but mediation in the conflict between the Belarusian state and Belarusian citizens (social groups). The mission of “Our House”, based on which it was founded, is a democratic transformation of Belarus by non-violent means. This strategy leads to the realization of our mission. This is a stable strategy because it builds the system, where the situation cannot be rolled back at the will of one of the parties (for example, the Belarusian authorities).
Cons of this strategy: it is slow and requires a lot of own emotional and time resources, as well as good capacity in conflict management and professionalism.
The conflict that lasted for decades and is perceived as part of life by parties cannot be resolved and closed in one day. This strategy is slow, but reliable and stable.
What does this strategy mean in practice? What does it look like?
Step 1. Visualization of the conflict.
This is the most unpleasant stage, but it is indispensable. That is, first it is necessary to understand that there is a latent conflict, to get an idea of what it is about and to visualize it. Why is it important to visualize?
- Visualization is always an awareness of the situation we currently find ourselves in. So, it is possible to make an assessment and identify the treatment. Visualization is essentially the same as a doctor’s diagnosis. It is important to remember that the diagnosis of a conflict is the most painful stage. It gets easier from here. During the “diagnosis”, i.e. visualization, the conflict needs to be “touched”, and if it is “touched”, it always “hurts” the parties to the conflict, which means that they begin to resent loudly (most often those who “touch”). The disclosure of the conflict and its resolution must proceed as safely and carefully as possible. Those who deal with this need to be prepared for the fact that a lot of negative emotions will be spilled over to them. Nevertheless, this is almost the same process as the operation when the doctor drains an abscess: first, the patient is in pain, but then s/he feels relief and the wound heals. However, as if the doctor did not want, the stagnant pus will smell and, probably, even get on the doctor’s white coat. “To touch”, i.e. to resolve the latent social conflict is always terrible and unpleasant – both for the state and the non-state sector, because, as a rule, resolution of a latent conflict requires decisions that are not welcomed (amendment to the law, mediation with those who are in emotional confrontation with the conflicting party, etc.). Therefore, the standard strategy of both parties in case of a latent conflict is to avoid and delay decision making to resolve the conflict until it “goes off”. This is the only strategy that Belarusian state has and it cannot do it differently.
Step 2. Identification of the basic needs and demands of the parties to the conflict (what each party wants to achieve so that the conflict is ended).
This is important, as it is impossible to resolve the conflict, ignoring the interests and needs of one of the parties. Otherwise, the conflict goes into a hidden sphere. That is, at this stage, it is important that the parties to the conflict do not destroy each other or destroy themselves, and recognize the needs of each party. A protective wall between the parties to the conflict is needed. Now, “Our House” very often introduces such a wall. The Belarusian state has more power and tools to destroy a citizen in terms of the conflict, especially women (to take away children, etc.). The problem is that avoiding conflict does not solve the situation: the state makes conflicts out of nothing.
Step number 3. “To bring soldiers home from the war.”
The point of the stage is to resolve the conflict and to release the liberated energy to a peaceful course (for example, to the work of local authorities and active citizens towards gender-oriented budgets). This stage is unpleasant because both parties to the conflict are so used to the situation of “war” that they are resisting ardently and passionately to keep the status quo. Why do we call the parties to the conflict “soldiers”? Because they often call themselves like this. The government, the opposition, local activists often use military terminology in their work and operate with the terms “fight to the finish”, “these are our (class) enemies”, etc. The problem is that there is often no one to celebrate the victory: both parties to the conflict are so burnt by the battle that there is no more energy left for anything. Usually, both sides set the alike goals: to fire, to imprison, to destroy, to damage a career, etc. The task is to resolve the conflict and provide the parties to the conflict with different goals and a different meaning of life, where they can apply their talents and abilities, but without fighting. It is not always possible to do this, precisely, because of the habit of “fighting”, but the success stories of “Our House” show that this is the right choice.
Step number 4. The SOS warning system for conflict prevention.
In our view, the conflicts that last for 10-20 years are the most difficult to resolve. During this time, the parties got used to the conflict so much that they do not presume their life without it. The second difficulty with latent protracted conflicts is that they are always emotional and parties no longer hear each other. Our House wants to develop, introduce and disseminate an early-warning system for the conflict so that the conflict is stopped at an early stage (and not at the stage when the parties are ready to kill each other), including suppressing repression at an early stage to avoid the gloomy situations of auto-aggression, aggression, violence, suicide, etc., which the activists of “Our House” witness periodically.
Step number 5. Lessons learned and a change in the system so that in the future such conflicts do not arise (and if they arise, they are solved in a timely manner).
This is the advocacy campaign, i.e. the amendment in legislative procedures. That is a slow and accurate transformation of the system by non-violent means. Very calmly, gradually, through the use of indicators- this is how we can track system changes. This is the final stage, which is also important, because it “gives a new meaning to life” to the parties to the conflict, without generating a new conflict.
Unfortunately, in Belarus, there is no public culture of resolving social conflicts, where one of the conflict parties is the state or representatives of state bodies. This leads to the fact that conflicts become latent: go into a hidden sphere, accumulate and move to the stage of emotional confrontation. This applies to all conflicts – be it the conflict between an individual citizen and a state, a social group or another state.
Today, the tension in the Belarusian society is growing due to the fact that the state spends more money than is available and tries to take the missing resources from the population that is rapidly impoverishing.
The strategies for overcoming this complex situation can be different, each strategy has its pros and cons. Different players choose different strategies, depending on the goals.
In any case, Belarus will definitely not get bored in the next two years.