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Remembering Belarus’s Denim Revolution

Denim means many things to many different people. Although its cultural identity is firmly rooted in the United States, jeans have an appeal that spans the entire globe. Case in point, Belarus’s politically charged Denim Revolution of 2005-06.

Russia had the October Revolution, the Czech Republic had the Velvet Revolution,  and the Denim Revolution began in the central European country’s capital, Minsk, in September of 2005.

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Democratic party supporters were protesting president Alexander Lukashenko after the disappearance of their leader, Dmitri Pavilchenko. Riot police soon confiscated their red and white party flags so protestor Nikita Sasim (above) waved his denim shirt and announced that denim would serve as their flag instead. Police quickly beat Sasim unconscious, but the image of the denim flag remained.

Denim still had a powerful connection to liberating western ideology. Belarus was a former Soviet republic, where Levi’s and Wrangler jeans were a highly desirable black market item.

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Party members began to wear denim on the 16th of every month as a sign of solidarity and waving indigo-colored flags to match Sasim’s shirt. The movement culminated in a 40,000 person protest in March of 2006 to dispute presidential election results.

The protest was again broken up and ultimately the Denim Revolution was unsuccessful in overturning the election. However, the movement was one of the most cohesive oppositional political blocs in post-Soviet Belarus.

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Protestors in Minsk’s October Square in March 2006.

It’s easy to forget the power both clothing has over us and how quickly something like a simple denim shirt can become the rallying cry for a revolution. Who knows what your fades could inspire.

Images courtesy The Economist, Charter 97, Arts and Democracy, and BBC.