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Prepare for Social Upheaval


Doug Casey

Interviewed by Louis James, Editor, International Speculator

L: Tatich, I’m in Minsk, where I just recorded/participated in an illegal march through the city. Opposition supporters rallied… there has been some violence… I hear they’ve broken into a government building, but I have not been able to confirm that yet.

    Editor’s Note: For new readers, “tatich” is Mayan for “big chief.”

Doug: Sounds like fun. Maybe some appropriate music should accompany the festivities. The Marseillaise worked for the French in the 1790s… let me think… you should play them Street Fighting Man on your iPhone.

L: I should have stayed longer. The crowd seemed to be breaking up, so I came back to my flat, and now I’m seeing reports that the “special police” have turned violent. I left friends there…

    Estimates vary between 10,000 and 50,000 people who took to the streets of Minsk, in spite of ice and snow, to protest election fraud in Belarus.

Doug: Big group. It’s always an interesting question what it takes to get people out in the streets, and then what controls their mood.

L: I’ve got a bunch more pictures like that. Too bad they don’t have V masks, as in the film, V for Vendetta.

Doug: I’m a huge fan of Guy Fawkes, who is said to be the only man who ever entered Parliament with honest intentions. But even more so of V, his near-future alter ego. We should get them some V masks for next time. Everyone, everywhere, should have a V mask hanging in the closet, awaiting the signal to put it on.

L: My friend is back – thank goodness! She says she was on the front line, as the police formed up and pushed people off the square. She says she shouted at them, “What are you doing? We’re your brothers and sisters!” and that they were ashamed – but they followed their orders…

Doug: I’m glad she’s okay. That’s the only problem with these things, they’re inherently volatile, unpredictable, and can be very dangerous. Sometimes it goes the way of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

L: The TV news here is saying that it’s a smaller number of angry drunk people. It’s a lie – I was there, and the crowd was absolutely positive – almost giddy – with people laughing and helping each other. Some strangers helped me climb up on a frozen fountain so I could take pictures. They used the same lies as last time, in 2006; the authorities said the tent city that had sprung up on the main square was just some drug users and advised people to stay away for their own safety. They showed pictures of syringes they claimed to have found in raids, over and over again on TV. This time, they are showing footage of some people breaking the glass door of a government building – my friend says it was KGB agents who provoked the action, that you could see them using hidden radios at times. I saw a guy in plain clothes smash a camera out of a woman’s hands, so I’m pretty sure the authorities do have agents in the crowd.

But they’re not going to get away with it, this time. There were too many people there – this is a small country, and if 20,000 people who were there each tell 10 others the truth, that’d be about a fifth of the population. People are going to know what happened, this time.

    Editor’s Note: Two weeks later, Doug and Louis continue the conversation. Meanwhile, thanks to the Internet, powerful images of the violence of December 19 have made the truth available to all.

Doug: About Belarus… It’s disgusting how not just lazy but completely stupid and dishonest the media generally are. The reporters appear to be chosen for how credulous and psychologically pliable they are, although factors like how well their hair blow dries and how many producers they sleep with must also be important. They basically just parrot what they are fed from the local media, which, certainly in the case of Belarus, is all controlled by the state – and composed of people just like themselves. Then running dogs of the establishment, editorialists like Thomas Friedman – who’s never had one thought in his whole life that was both original and correct – will spin it one way for their crowd, while rabid dogs like Sean Hannity – who’s rarely right, but never in doubt – will spin it another way. None of them actually have a clue. I believe 90% of everything in the news is bullshit. I watch it and read it purely for entertainment. And to have an idea what other people are supposed to believe.

But sorry to go off on a tangent. How are your friends in Belarus doing?

L: Only one of my former students was arrested, but many friends of friends were in jail. Most did 5 to 15 days’ time and are out now.

Doug: So, what are the implications? Belarus is famous for being Eastern Europe’s last communist dictatorship – is there another “Orange Revolution” in the making?

L: Not right away. The dictator, Lukashenko, actually does have a lot of support, particularly among pensioners and other dependents of the state, who know their apple carts will be upset when real economic reform hits the country. But the regime’s brutality has been well and fully exposed. Even the pensioners will have to admit, if only to themselves, that they are living off a despotic system.

I do think, however, that Lukashenko may have just made a big mistake. Before, the opposition was very splintered, centered on a variety of leaders with very different views on which way the country should go. The opposition leaders remain as before, but now a large portion of the population sees the dictatorship for what it is, and they are joining hands, at least in spirit, to oppose it.

When I went to one of the jails in Minsk with my friend, to take a toothbrush, a change of underwear, etc., to a friend of hers, I found that people there were giving approved food and water to those who brought care packages for other prisoners and may not have known the rules. Some others were arrested for singing Christmas carols outside of another prison. I feel a sense of solidarity forming among these people. Differences remain, but an opposition community is forming, and that could become a powerful force.

But it will take time to grow. People are afraid. They don’t want to get blacklisted and lose their jobs. The police are still raiding and searching homes of suspected troublemakers.

Doug: I looked it up, and after the U.S., Belarus has the highest percentage of its population in prison. A bit surprising, in a way, because the poorer the government, the fewer people it can afford to imprison – but perhaps they make up for their lack of means with extra desire. Unfortunately, the U.S. has lots of both.

Did it ever come close to the edge? Might the people in the square have decided to fight back if things had gone a little differently?

L: I doubt it. Not this time. The police were outnumbered, and you can see in some of the video footage that they look scared at times. But they had the armor, and I’m told the army was there, behind them. The people were not looking for a fight; they were doing the Belarusian equivalent of holding hands and singing Kumbaya – until the police started beating them with their night-sticks, at which point they fled.

But next time… it could get really ugly. And if the crowd gets big enough, the military could even switch sides, as has happened in other peaceful revolutions.

Like many so-called turning points in history, nothing changed that night. Most people went back to work, to school, to the stores, as usual the next morning. It’s more like an inflection point; I believe people will look back on that night and see it as a shift in the tides that will eventually lead to great changes. Historic days don’t exist on their own: months and years of building social pressures lead to them – they are just the exclamation points at the ends of long sentences, or even paragraphs and pages of history.

What about you, Doug? You’ve traveled in active war zones – did you ever see history being made?

Doug: I’ve been most fortunate wandering through the valley of the shadow of death. Statistically, though, even in the worst places, when hundreds of people get killed – which is a considered a big deal anywhere – the odds of dying are thousands to one against. As a matter of fact, for discretionary travel, my first choice is always some place on the U.S. State Department’s “stay away” list. I hate crowds, and due to the hysteria, the hotels, restaurants, attractions, and taxis are empty. So they appreciate your business, and prices are low. And, if you’re actually concerned about that stuff, security is usually much improved after an “event.” So I was in Israel during the last intifada. I went to all the hot spots in Rhodesia during the war… Guatemala and Colombia when the guerrillas were active. There are lots of others…

In point of fact, though, I generally feel more at risk at a traffic stop in the U.S. these days. It seems that U.S. cops have been brainwashed into thinking that any contact with the public may actually be with a terrorist, or rampaging militia member, or a heavily armed religious cultist. Things have definitely changed in the last ten years, and these guys all seem to be on a hair trigger. I really don’t like getting near droopy-eyed teenage soldiers in the Congo, but I now consider U.S. cops almost as dangerous.

All those soldiers and police in Belarus were essentially average people – although I’m sure, like police everywhere, more than a few have extra Y chromosomes. The key is that when they put on uniforms, they do as they’re told. They’re no different from their U.S. counterparts. Always remember with cops and soldiers: their first loyalty is to each other. Their next loyalty is to their employer. They aren’t there to “protect and serve” the people in the street. People are all potential criminals and rioters. The people are the last priority, contrary to the fairy tales.

L: Hm. You know, things didn’t go over the edge that night I was on the streets in Minsk, but I was thinking about how quickly things can change. The blood the police shed, beating peaceful, unarmed people, including women, reminds me of the amazing speed with which the “thin veneer of civilization” can be stripped away. The former Yugoslavia comes to mind: a relatively wealthy European country turned into a bloody chaos of multiple warring factions, war crimes, and mass graves, all in a matter of weeks.

Doug: And as you point out in this month’s edition of the International Speculator, no matter where you live, even in the United States, it’s dangerous wishful thinking to tell yourself, “It can’t happen here.”

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