Anti-Repression Work in a Ghost Like Movement

International

11th May 2023
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It’s been almost two years since the uprising in Belarus was suppressed by the regime. It left many anarchists in jails, while others had to flee from their country in fear of repression. In this text, a member of Anarchist Black Cross Belarus will dwell on what it’s like to keep doing anti-repressive work when the movement is not really there anymore.

The two biggest groups of anarchists are now distributed between Belarusian prisons and exile. ABC-Belarus, after operating for over 14 years in the country, also had to leave to protect its members and keep up the work.

For the first half-year in migration, comrades seemed to be eager to stick together and do something - if not change the regime in the country, then at least attract attention to some 30 comrades who ended up in jails.

Of course, this activity was impeded by the need to figure out one’s life and papers in a new place, lack of local language proficiency, people being scattered all around Europe and Asia, and depressive states caused by forced migration and lack of any personal or political prospects.

Every now and then, at our strategic meetings, ABCBelarus discussed the potential of remaining one of or the only anarchist collective from Belarus. We asked ourselves, if there is no movement anymore, would our work make sense? We don’t see ourselves as a charity group that exists exclusively for the benefit of those facing repression. We see our work as political action that is only valid and legitimate when we have a movement around that we can not only serve and be accountable to, but also rely on.

Our hardships are very much related to the context in which our group was formed and how it functioned. Trying to avoid repression, our members were anonymous even to the most trusted comrades. That created problems with collecting money inside the Belarusian movement, the lack of channels of talking to groups and individuals without compromising anonymity and the inability to personally interfere in the urgent situations of repression. We still needed the comrades to do the field work while we made sure people felt secure about their legal expenses being covered by the movement, instead of become a burden of their families. We also pioneered the shaping of collective security culture to avoid potential expenses and repression because of people’s security neglects.

It also created a disbalance in who people saw as responsible for doing repression response work. It felt like comrades mainly relied on ABC-Belarus in terms of raising money and organising lawyers, which was fine as long as we had small amount of comrades to take care of in the course of the last decade.

But things changed drastically after many of us had to leave and the number of prisoners increased exponentially. It feels like the movement is slowly fading, with many people choosing to continue with normal life, while we can’t really afford that, having 30+ comrades to care about, with some sentenced to terms of 15-20 years in prison.

Interestingly, it seems like when some Belarusian anarchists left the repressive context and they found themselves in a safer environment, the need for networking or relying on the community became less pressing. And the inclination to avoid any clashes with the past reality in the form of reading sad letters of comrades or reports of ongoing pressure on them in jails is very much understandable as a psychological self-defence mechanism. Activists are traumatised and tired and need some rest. Some will probably not return from that activist break. At the same time, when they personally don’t need the ABC-Belarus protection anymore, there is no need to follow and engage with us. Previously, people invested in ABC knowing that the structure will protect them and their comrades in case of necessity. Now this doesn’t seem real.

On the other hand, the fact that Belarusian anarchists found themselves in more liberal countries that allow organising public campaigns there and awareness-raising or benefit events, they are not massively using this chance to fundraise for their imprisoned comrades. Even for simple tasks like helping to layout a book by a prisoner or create some design to advertise our campaigns are no eager volunteers.

Over time, activists also get disillusioned in the struggle for change in Belarus, because it is not really possible to greatly influence the situation there, and being active in exile feels like fake and sectarian activism for the sake of activism. Moreover, like in most political movement, the “effective life” of an anarchist amounts to 3-5 years. It means, the more time passes in exile, the less comrades we will have around, with almost no influx, since the diasporas are not so numerous and mostly consist of the same tired, traumatised and demoralised migrants.

In light of this, ABC-Belarus remains a very specialised labour-force that seems to be responsible and accountable for organising full-fledged and long-term support of our imprisoned comrades. Needless to say that we are also traumatised and tired, just there is no one we can share this burden with or pass it to, so we will have to carry it. Of course, not everything is so dark, we still can rely on some comrades, we are just concerned about the gloomy trend as the years go by.

Anyways, our imprisoned comrades still need support, now more that ever. To be able to sustain the level of financial aid we used to provide to them, we need external help. Just recently, we have launched a ‘personal supporter’ campaign which implies looking for individuals and groups who would take custody over a Belarusian imprisoned anarchist and cover most or all of their expenses.

Read more on the campaign on our website abc-belarus.org. Consider becoming such a backer, seriously. www.abc-belarus.org/en/supporters

We also invite you to think about how solidarity and anti-repression work is organised in your activist communities, because we all deserve to be reassured that we will not be left behind in dark times. ■

ABC - Belarus

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