September 25, 2020

Events in Belarus have historical importance as the first Internet revolution, says analyst


“It is no exaggeration” to say that what is occurring in Belarus now is of world-historical importance and will be studied for a long time to come as “an improbable phenomenon,” Russian historian Andrey Zubov says. It is “an example in pure form of a revolt of the masses of a cultured people against a harsh authoritarian dictatorship in the Internet era.”

The last portion of this is key, the analyst says. It is the Internet that “has allowed the people to organize themselves without charismatic leaders, without control of the post and telegraphs, television center or the typographies of newspapers” (

Earlier, those who wanted to make a revolution needed all of these things to mobilize protest. But now, “the horizontal communication of the Internet” replaces all of them, notes Mr. Zubov. “NEXTA and friendly chat rooms are making the revolution in Belarus,” no one else, he points out. All that is needed is a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the authorities and an unwillingness of the latter to leave.

“If a significant part of the people are satisfied with the powers that be,” Mr. Zubov says, “a revolution of this new type will not occur” because those in power will be able to “mobilize their supporters” against it. That is why a regime based on professional, tribal or ethnic rule of one group over another may prove especially stable.

“But where the powers that be aspire to represent the entire society, it is now extremely vulnerable. An entire society can easily organize itself against ‘its’ powers.” That is what has happened in Belarus.

The Internet plays yet another role, also very much on view in that country. Belarusians may or may not have travelled to Poland, Lithuania or Latvia, but the Internet makes these countries familiar to them – and their successes relative to Belarus’s help drive the anger Belarusians feel toward Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

And finally, the Internet plays another role in such circumstances: it can shame the “siloviki” by depriving them of their anonymity, as when NEXTA (a channel on the Telegram app) and others publish the names and addresses of police, thereby making it impossible for any officer to hide behind his uniform and act as if he isn’t involved. His family and friends will make it clear that he is.

That kind of moral pressure in a relatively small and homogeneous society like Belarus may not work overnight, but over time, it puts an unbearable burden on the “siloviki,” Mr. Zubov continues. Those higher up may hold out longer out of greed or expectations, but they too can be shamed in ways no one could do earlier.

“A revolution of this new type will not occur in one or two days. Moral pressure increases gradually,” but with the Internet, it will grow. And, while some opposed to the regime may grow tired of protests, the most committed will not; and the rest will remain mobilized via the Internet as well.

Mr. Zubov extends his argument beyond Belarus. He says that any regime like Mr. Lukashenka’s – and in this category he includes both Vladimir Putin’s and former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s – which relies “only on lies, force and cruelty” is doomed. And when one of these regimes, like Mr. Putin’s, helps another, it only “accelerates the fall of both.”

By giving Mr. Lukashenka money, Mr. Putin has become “a co-conspirator of the Belarusian tyrant who is dying politically.” This new reality will extend over the world, but it is worth noting that it “is already beginning on the streets of Belarusian cities,” the Moscow historian concludes.


Paul Goble is a long-time specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia who has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau, as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The article above is reprinted with permission from his blog called “Window on Eurasia” (