Denim revolution

by Rob Horning

23 March 2006


No, not a new line from 7 for all Mankind or Hedi Slimane. The “denim revolution” is what opposition leaders are trying to spark in Belarus, in emulation of Georgia’s “Rose revolution,” Ukraine’s “Orange revolution” and Krygyzstan’s “Tulip revolution.” Protesters are gathering in city squares and wearing denim to emlemize their resistance. Only a few hundred seem to be gathering in the frigid cold in Minsk, but I’m suprised to how much support that they’ve garnered in New York; everywhere I look here I see people wearing their denim, presumably in solidarity.

Belarus, a once and future part of Russia but currently a landlocked dictatorship, recently had a sham election re-elected the autocrat who, in a Stalinist touch, likes to be known as “Father”—Alexander Lukashenka. The Economist provides this character sketch of Europe’s last dictator: “With his egomaniacal gestures, his moustache, comb-over hairstyle and oddly squeaky voice, Mr Lukashenka might almost be funny?were he not also a brutal autocrat. Formerly the manager of a collective farm, he was elected president, on an anti-corruption ticket, in 1994. He quickly set about ensuring that the relatively honest vote that brought him to power would be his country’s last. In 1996, a rigged referendum extended his presidential term and neutered parliament. In 2004, another fixed plebiscite changed the constitution to let him remain president indefinitely.” He’s been guilty of the usual tactics of squelching the press and intimidating, jailing or assaulting opposition leaders. He even commissioned this hilarious song by some sub-supper club Europop band to contribute to his propaganda wave.
This site has a lyric translation:

Well-set and slim
He won’t teach you evil
Father can bridle anyone
Father is stronger than the rest

He will settle conflicts
He is reliable and calm
He just throws a glance and you see
Who is the master in the house


Listen to Father!
In the morning, day, and nightЉ
Listen to Father!
If you feel bad
Listen to Father!
If you are ok
Listen to Father!!!

(The video is worth watching, despite the strange Blair Witch Project camerawork.) Anyway you can see what the revolutionaries are up against. Protests continue in Minsk but few believe a regime change is possible, and America has little interest in exerting any diplomatic pressure. But the hope now is that ordinary Belarusians will begin to acknowledge general possibilities for resistance and take hope in them. “To the extent that this is a revolution, [opposition candidate] Milinkevich often says, it is a revolution not on the streets but in the mind.” Whlie there’s a danger in personalizing the need for a wholesale social change in that sentiment—“if I just think differently, I’ll have done my part, and I don’t need to stand out there in the cold”—it still seems pretty inspirational. It starts with a willingness to make the effort to imagine an alternative; only then can you make the een more laborious effort of communicating that possibliity, which has no anchors in shared experience, to others, to begin to unify and organize.

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