Belarus: The issue is working class solidarity – not “imperialism”

A few days ago, following up on a suggestion I made to LabourStart’s mailing list that people try out the secure messaging app Telegram, I received an interesting question. I had mentioned that pro-democracy protestors in Belarus and Hong Kong were using the app intensively.

The question I received was: “Is Telegram also being used in Bolivia?” When I replied that I didn’t know, my correspondent replied: “It’s just that it’s used in two places where the imperialist states are very much involved against the government.”

LabourStart’s current campaign in support of jailed trade union leaders in Belarus.

Leftists who see Belarus and Hong Kong as countries under some kind of progressive government facing an assault by “imperialist states” are – to quote Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” – misinformed.

And it is our job to inform them of what is really going on in those places.

There can be no better argument against the notion that the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is some kind of progressive than looking at the cases of Siarhei Charkasau, Anatol Bokun, Yury Korzun, and Pavel Puchenia. These four men are all trade union activists, mostly members of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU), and they have all been arbitrarily detained several times over the last two months.

As IndustriALL global union explained: “The union leaders, who are also strike committee members, are being targeted for their trade union activity. On 21 September, Anatol Bokun took peaceful action in support of his co-worker Aleh Kudziolka, who refused to leave his underground workplace in a protest against rigged presidential elections and the extreme violence of riot police. He was detained the same day and remains in jail.

“Anatol was one of 22 workers detained by the police, but he was the only one sentenced, to 25 days of jail for alleged public disorder. Anatol was due for release on 16 October, but he has been detained again and taken to an undisclosed detention centre in Soligorsk.

“Similarly, Siarhei Charkasau, who is the vice chair of BITU, was detained along with Yury Korzun and Pavel Puchenia while having a picnic in a public park in Soligorsk on 3 October. They remained in detention for 15 days. On 16 October, the day they were supposed to be released, they were detained again and moved to a police detention centre in Soligorsk.

“While in detention, Anatol Bokun, Siarhei Charkasau, Yury Korzun, and Pavel Puchenia were asked to lie: if they signed a document and recorded a video for the state-run Belarusian Television channel admitting guilt and remorse for their part in the strike action, they would be granted freedom. The four union leaders refused to budge. As a consequence, they have been unlawfully detained for 15 more days.”

Are these the actions of a progressive government? Of course not. And no progressive, or trade unionist, or socialist should find themselves on the side of a repressive regime that jails trade union leaders.

IndustriALL summed up what is really going on today in Belarus in these words: “The level of violence against peaceful demonstrations following the recent presidential elections in August is extreme. By the beginning of September, the UN Human Rights office had documented at least 450 cases of torture and ill-treatment of people deprived of their liberty. There has not yet been any criminal investigation into cases of death or torture.”

IndustriALL and BITU have launched an online campaign demanding that these activists be freed at once and that the repression stop now.

It’s a campaign that every trade unionist and socialist should support without hesitation – and indeed, with enthusiasm. It has absolutely nothing to do with “imperialist states” and everything to do with working class solidarity.

Please show your support here:

This article appears in this week’s issue of Solidarity.