Updated at 17:19,07-01-2021

Who are they - the new dissidents?


Today's dissidents are not only attending demonstrations, but also work for the establishment of the civil society.

Dissidence – both Soviet and modern – has been discussed in ECLAB_Interaction project French philosopher Michel Elchaninov and the characters of his book "New Dissidents» ( «Les nouveaux dissidents', Edition Stock, 2016). The Belarusian part of the book arose from the meetings and conversations with Sviatlana Alexievich, poet Dzmitry Strotsau, “U” gallery curator Hanna Chystaserdava, architect Artur Klinau, and others. "EuroBelarus" Information Service found out who can be called dissidents in today's society.

Michel Elchaninov is the editor-in-chief of «Philosophie Magazine» magazine, a specialist in Russian classical philosophy. In 2015, in France, his book "In Putin’s Head" has been published. The book received Prix de la Revue des deux Mondes prize, and was translated into German, Polish, Norwegian, Spanish, and Greek.

Michel Elchaninov is also the author of the foreword to the collected stories by Sviatlana Alexievich published in France in 2015. In 2013 he edited "The Prison Correspondence" between Nadzeya Talakonnikava and Slavoj Žižek in English. In 2016 "Nemtsov's Report" with his afterword was published in France. The last book by Michel Elchaninov "New Dissidents" introduces the cultural forms of protest in contemporary Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, China, India, Iran, Palestine, and Mexico. The book is based on interviews with intellectuals and activists, with whom Michel met during his visits to these countries.

- I've always been interested in the dissident movement of the 1960s - 1980s in the Soviet Union, which had a huge resonance in France. Everyone knew Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, and the dissident movement was important in all of Western Europe. In addition, some dissidents have come to live in France. And after the collapse of the USSR they have been totally forgotten. And I decided to invite them to Paris to tell what they have been through, - Michel Elchaninov told.

Among these people he met Natalia Harbaneuskaja, who in August 1968 along with seven colleagues went on the Red Square to demonstrate against the introduction of troops into Czechoslovakia. The demonstration lasted two minutes, after which the KGB officers detained the participants, and Natalia ended up in a mental hospital.

According to the philosopher, now interest towards dissidence and Stalinism among youth is increasing, and a new generation of dissidents is forming. Of course, the world is different, globalized, without USSR. Nevertheless, Michel has been traveling round the world for three years and met with people, who were peacefully and individually protesting against dictatorship.

- Of course, new dissidents are very different from the historical ones, and no one can say that they are dissidents. My friend Zoya Svetova, a Moscow-based journalist, said that the dissident should be behind bars, and if (s)he not, (s)he is not a dissident. The dissidents of former times didn’t like to be called like that: they didn’t like to be heroes, and saw themselves as people who sometimes allow themselves to behave with dignity, - the speaker said.

Another difference between the dissidents of the past from today’s dissidents is that the former went to demonstrations a lot. And today there are many other ways to show disagreement with the government apart from demonstrations.

- I met a former dissident who became a symbol of the new dissidence – Mustafa Cemilev, the spiritual leader of the Crimean Tatars. His own son is held in captivity in Russia.

According to Michel Elchaninov’s definition a dissident doesn’t use violence and acts peacefully, on his or her own behalf, doesn’t hide and is not subject to any organization.

New dissidents are sometimes not political. They are not only attending demonstrations, but also work for the establishment of the civil society. This is what Michel saw in Minsk - not only protests, but work with culture, Belarusian language, protection of the rights of workers, women and minorities. For the civil society to appear one needs to read, discuss, and create alternative platforms.

“U” gallery curator Hanna Chystaserdava told about one of such platforms.

- The very environment has moulded our work. Our first gallery “Padzemka” (Belarusian "Underground") opened in 2004 has appeared in virtually sterile cultural space. For us it was important to show the potential, which is appreciated abroad – and now in the country - because people are the main wealth of Belarus.

The poet Dzmitry Strotsau, who works with Belarus’ literary heritage, said that he grew up in a totally Soviet family, but in the early 80s he got in the circle of Kim Hadeev – a well-known known Minsk non-conformist. As a student of the Philological Faculty at BSU in 1949, at one of the Komsomol sessions Kim Hadeev dared to call for Stalin’s assassination and the overthrow of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

- When I came into his circle, it was a strange environment, a truly free space for information and communication. Of course, no one called himself a dissident. But there were a lot of such people from a lot of different areas.

Dissidence led an Orthodox priest Alexander Shramko to the church.

- I wasn’t hiding my views and could not agree with what was happening. The church was to some extent a sanctuary of spiritual freedom that was untouched by the communist ideology.

The meeting touched upon the topic of modern Russia and, in particular, its President Vladimir Putin, the main character of one of Michel’s books. According to him, the Kremlin's ideology now has a great success in France in connection with the crisis of the European Union. The country is waiting for new terrorist attacks – and there probably will be some, so now a "strong temptation to lean to Putinism exists."