Back in the USSR? 100th anniversary of the October Revolution in Belarus

“Today, November 7, mankind celebrates the greatest date in the history of the humanity – 100th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution.” The Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago so no such headline is being run.

“Today, November 7, mankind celebrates the greatest date in the history of the humanity – 100th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution.”  Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago so no such headline is being run. Instead its former member republics have found either another date or another content to celebrate. The only post-Soviet republic still celebrating the anniversary of October Revolution: Belarus. Where else than in the ‘last European dictatorship’?  However, such a derisive answer explains nothing. To what extent does the October Revolution and its socialist ideals impact the Belarusian people and authorities? What  role does this holiday play in Belarusian politics? Is there any shift in the  perception of the revolution in Belarus?

During the first years of independence, adherence to the Soviet past and ideology legitimized President Alexander Lukashenko. The socialistic (or pseudo-socialistic) rhetoric of socially oriented market economy, the viability of the revolution’s ideas, limited entrepreneurship, strong state patronage, etc. dominated the Belarusian political life and public opinion. However, quasi-implementation of these ideas required permanent financial allocations which the“socially oriented” and planned Belarusian economy could not generate. When allocations were coming from Russia, everybody was satisfied, including ordinary Belarusians who received their 500 USD salaries and enjoyed state subsidies, as well as Belarusian elites who were able to develop businesses extracting Russian resources and syphoning public funds.

Unfortunately, this system requires more money each year and economic instability in Russia significantly reduced Moscow’s willingness to sponsor socialism in Belarus. At the same time Belarusian society itself shifted its opinion on the country’s development.

Firstly, after the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis,  Belarusian authorities emphasized a national – Belarusian – identity. While the Ukrainian crisis was not the only reason for this change, it definitely intensified the process. Similarly the October Revolution stopped being the only source of the Belarusian statehood and independence with links to the Principalities of Polotsk and Turov, as well as to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania coming into the official discourse.

Secondly the current economic situation forced authorities to pay attention to the development of national business. Nobody says that they welcome it but they have to refer to it as one of the sources of support. Thus, at least discussions on possible economic reforms have become an integrated part of the Belarusian political agenda.

Socialist rhetoric is also disappearing: salaries are lower and prices higher than in Poland, Lithuania or Ukraine. The last ramparts of socialism – low transport and housing fares, as well as pseudo-free education and medical treatment rest on the chopping block.

With state support diminishing and unemployment growing, Belarusians rely less on the state. Recent research shows a generational change has also contributed significantly to pro-market values becoming popular among Belarusians.

International factor also plays an important role sincee Belarusian authorities want to improve country’s relations with the West, as well as to emphasize Belarus’s lack dependence on Russia. In these frames, the Soviet past does not seem to be a good argument.

That being said authorities will not stop celebrating the anniversary of the October Revolution or follow the Kyrgyzstan’s example and find another content for the same date. Rituals (including pro-Soviet organization of public holidays) remain important for the Belarusian government.  Such rituals, like decorating Soviet monuments, serve as instrumenta of mobilization and political control. No doubts, that Alexander Lukashenko personally prefers socialistic ideas and celebrating the October revolution. However, Belarusian society is changing, gradually transforming this celebration into a ritual and relict inherited from the past.


Photo by Poliakowa via