Thank you, father, for saving me from USSR!
22 October, 2015
On the 11th of October, the population of Belarus has elected Alexander Lukashenko to serve his fifth term as president, affirming yet again that the country’s overwhelming majority prefers diktat to freedom. Belarus opted for social stability, entrusting the task of maintaining it to “Batska”, and him alone.

On that day I, a 28-year-old, was given an opportunity to travel back in time and see the political and social environment my parents lived in with my own eyes. Almost nothing has
changed in Belarus since the Soviet times. I’ll save the excursion into history for later; first, I would like to say a few words about things I witnessed that made me value what I have – a homeland that is free. It might be the only thing we have right now, but trust me on that one – without it, nothing that the Belarusian people today call their own has any value.

Complete dissonance: The pre-election periods in Georgia and Belarus

I arrived in Minsk on October 8 together with about twelve of my colleagues, two of them Georgian. Had we not known in advance that the elections were just a couple of days away, we would have never guessed, since nothing about the city pointed at the fact. Minsk was festively decorated with lights, flowers and national flags flapping everywhere, to the point of being obtrusive. Billboards depicting presidential candidates – an inseparable attribute of any election – were nowhere to be seen. Who could have thought that presidential elections anywhere can be preceded by such funerary quiet?

Imagine a government in a country of ten million. Now imagine a protest against this government taking place in the center of the capital, with the number of attendees barely reaching a thousand – and that’s if we count foreign media representatives, onlookers and plain-clothes policemen.

A person hailing from some tranquil, depoliticized society might not find anything strange in such a sight, but I am a person in whose country pre-election periods mark fiery peaks of political tension - times when disagreements between politicians and people breach the confines of political TV shows, spilling over onto the streets.

Imagine Georgia in which you turn on your TV and fail to find a single heated political discussion, where words sometimes give way to fists. Imagine Georgia in which you will not find activists of various political parties clashing with each other in the pre-election period.

Horrified? And yet that’s precisely what is happening in Belarus. Out there, it is simply impossible to hear open, free political debates on TV, regardless of the topic. It is near-impossible to find citizens who disagree on some political issue – Belarus is a country where no one wants anything and everyone just goes with the flow, including the media.

Complete dissonance: Attitudes of Georgians and Belarusians during the pre-election period

We Georgians are constantly looking for something new and are always expecting changes. Yes, we all will readily admit that we have a habit of choosing messiahs to send on this quest for changes and heaping impossible expectations on them, but I hope that we will one day learn to place our stakes not on those who rely on fiery speeches and emotions, but on those who think clearly and outline their plans in black and white. We do indeed frequently replace our governments and equally frequently remain disappointed with them, but this still qualifies as change. This is not the case in Belarus, however…

There, no one is looking for anything new and no one wants things to change. On the contrary, people react with fear when you dare say that developments require change. They do not understand that sitting in the same spot for decades equals stagnation and regression, no matter how comfortable this spot may be.

Complete dissonance: Atmosphere at election precincts in Georgia and Belarus

On October 11, I got an opportunity to spend the second half of the election day together with a journalist from the Minsk office of Radio Liberty. Our camera crew planned to go live at one of the central election precincts, so I and my Armenian colleague decided to follow them.

Can you imagine an election precinct in the center of a capital city, at 4 o’clock of the election day, where a camera crew has to wait for over half an hour just to catch a single person throwing a ballot into a ballot box on tape? One with patriotic music getting broadcast from the speakers? How about an election precinct holding a live concert? In just a few meters from the ballot box, singers and dancers were prancing on a stage. Right next to them there was a canteen, where “everything is sold at its own price, without any commerce”. The people did not see elections as a political event; for them, it was a holiday.

Therefore, I do not have a sliver of doubt that the absolute majority of votes that saw “Batska” elected for his fifth term is actually the real outcome of the election. With such an electorate, I doubt that Lukashenko does even need to rig the votes…

Two years ago, I visited Iran and talked to local denizens. Almost all of them told me they wanted change but saw no way to make it happen. In Belarus, we have the opposite – change can happen, but no one wants it.

Those who wanted change took to the streets on October 10, and their number barely reached a thousand. Those who wanted change boycotted the elections. Those who wanted change showed pride in the country’s new Nobel Prize owner Svetlana Alexievich, and I shared their pride for her.

I am also proud of the fact that decades ago, my father’s generation, which we constantly blame for civil wars, managed to rip us from that “Soviet comfort zone” and give us the privilege of choice. That generation gave us an opportunity to vote for novelty and change. Only change brings development and progress, and I wish dearly for the Belarusians to wake up one day and make a choice of their own.

Author: Giorgi Giorgashvili