By Andriy Manchuk
August 19: Emmanuel Macron raised his voice against human rights violations in the Republic of Belarus. “The European Union must continue to mobilize on the side of hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who peacefully advocate for the observance of their rights, freedom and sovereignty,” the French president wrote on his Twitter account. Although such a call in itself is interference in other people’s internal affairs.
But it’s not just that. Macron’s words are the quintessential hypocrisy that is the essence of the modern politics of the world’s leading states. Because his own government brutally suppresses massive protests of the French, who peacefully stood up to defend their rights and freedoms. However, this never provoked a reaction from the European leadership.
The crackdown on French demonstrations has been particularly brutal. I myself saw this during the May Day march in Paris, timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Red May. The police blocked the march of many thousands, which was dominated by representatives of trade union organizations, sprayed people with gas, fired rubber bullets and brutally beat young people with batons, catching them in the alleys near the tourist promenade Muftar. The authorities blamed anarchist students for the incident, but I saw that the cops beat everyone indiscriminately. And among the victims were completely peaceful people — random inhabitants, tourists and journalists.
Under public pressure, the authorities launched an official investigation against the brutal police officers. However, this did not have serious consequences for them. And within a few months, the French police brutally suppressed the speech of the “Yellow Vests” — although the protesters at first only demanded cancellation of the next increase in gasoline prices, and their protests were exclusively peaceful in nature, without overstepping the boundaries of current laws. After all, yellow reflective vests first appeared on these people at the request of the traffic police — and only then did they become an iconic political symbol.
Macron’s government decided to teach the rioters an exemplary lesson in European-style democracy. In the first months of the protest alone, 5,600 people were detained in Paris, and many of them were harshly sentenced. According to French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, 11 people were killed and 2,500 demonstrators were injured in the crackdown. Having visited a “Yellow Vests” rally in Paris, I saw a man maimed there, his eye shot out by a rubber bullet fired by the gendarmes. Although he did absolutely nothing wrong.
There are many such victims. “Eighteen people were left without eyes from the beginning of the Yellow Vests protests. Five more people lost their hands as a result of the use of grenades. Not a tear gas grenade, but exploding grenades, with a charge of twenty-five grams of TNT: this provides a deafening loud bang,” wrote sociologist Fabienne Jobar. However, police violence against protesters in the heart of Europe has not elicited the compassion of liberal intellectuals from Kiev and Moscow. And its representatives have repeatedly expressed direct support for President Macron, calling for him to save France from the pogromists.
Of course, this example is not unique. The global political class and its post-Soviet clientele clearly divide mass protests into right and wrong protests. The coup in Bolivia, where the right-wing putschists overthrew the legally elected President Evo Morales, found a lively response from the “world community” — despite the fact that open enemies of democracy came to power, who canceled the elections in that country in order to prevent the return of the socialists. But on the other hand, protests against Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno did not arouse any enthusiasm in Europe and the United States — because this “smoker Lenin” pursued a policy in the interests of Western corporations. Even though the Ecuadorian military killed demonstrators right in front of television cameras.
This doublethink takes on a truly Orwellian character. U.S. government officials fervently supported liberal protests in Hong Kong and just as strongly condemned the massive actions against police brutality and racism that erupted throughout the United States. Protests for the independence of Catalonia, in which most inhabitants of the region participated, did not meet with any sympathy in Brussels, and no one demanded that sanctions be applied to the Spanish ministers who suppressed them. And youth rebellions in England did not attract the attention of the top media at all.
Terror from the authorities of Brazil and Colombia, which systematically kill social activists, did not lead to the condemnation of Presidents Bolsonaro and Duque — because these states are ironically called “the beloved wives of the United States.” But the Venezuelan government is the target of constant pressure and continuous propaganda.
The same was true of Chile. On the eve of the quarantine, a popular uprising against the right-wing regime of President Piñera was raging there. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Santiago, including many schoolchildren and students. They took control of one of the city’s main squares, repelling attacks by the police, who acted against them with police brutality. But it was a wrong, social “Maidan” — and post-Soviet commentators spoke of it only to condemn the rebellious youth, complaining about the broken windows of banks and shops. And now these same people admire the “civilized,” “cultured” protests of Belarusians — contrasting them with the “wild” protests of Chileans and Black Americans.
“One of my Russian colleagues wrote today that here, in Chile, lumpen criminals and barbarians protested, breaking windows, breaking traffic lights and preventing normal people from working. As a contrast to the light-skinned Belarusian protesters, who do not cross the road against red lights and take off their shoes to stand on a bench. The struggle of the Chileans is opposite to the struggle of the Belarusians, they are fighting against exactly what the Belarusians are striving to achieve today. Chileans already live in the paradise sought by Belarusians and are moving backward. From the point of view of traditional Western democracy, everything is fine in Chile. Nobody falsifies election results here; the choice is usually predetermined by the press and the educated. Chileans rebelled not for the abstract democracy of changing one mask for another, but for the concrete democratization of education, health care and pension protection.
“These people do not have the secular manners of Belarusian democrats with a free higher education — in response to bullets and water with acid from water cannons, they break glass in desperation and break traffic lights and bus stops for barricades to stop the police attacking peaceful demonstrators. Thousands of them have been in Chilean prisons for several months and international human rights organizations are not fighting for their protection, and no one will announce sanctions against Chile for murder or shooting the eyes of barbarians,” journalist Oleg Yasinksy writes from Santiago:
Of course, all this in no way justifies Lukashenko’s policy and the brutality of the Belarusian riot police. That’s not what we’re talking about. The world’s leading governments have normalized double standards that discredit the struggle for democratic rights. Ignoring the violence of their own police or the bloody crimes of their satellites, they cynically use protests to destabilize “undemocratic” states, which include competitors of the West. Real grassroots protests — under social slogans, in the interests of the popular majority — are hushed up and ruthlessly suppressed. And liberal-nationalist coups, organized under the slogans of anti-social reforms, always receive large-scale support from the honest media, European politicians and people with good faces.
And then, when the new government represses dissidents, imprisons journalists and bloggers, and shells rebellious cities, they are just as amicably silent. Answering everything with a cynical common phrase: “This is different.”
Translated by Greg Butterfield