The Struggle of Belarus

Medium Reads, Politics
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Alexander Lukashenko has been president since the establishment of the role and the office in 1994, following his election into the supreme council of the now defunct republic of Belarus. It is undoubtedly peculiar for an elected president to stay in office for so long, but to understand this we can look at his past. Prior to his role as President, he fought in the soviet army and led an All-Union Leninist Communist league (The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but for the youth). He also became a political officer and a tank specialist.

Following his military career, Lukashenko became a member of the official Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He also became the deputy chairman of a collective farm until he was promoted to the post director of the Gorodets State Farm. Eventually when the office and role was established Lukashenko ran for president. One of his rivals, Kebich was known as a clear favourite yet shockingly and suspiciously Lukashenko won with 80% of the vote.

Lukashenko’s life seemed to revolve around Soviet Russia and the communist party of the Soviet Union. Seeing as he fully agreed with the communist ideals and worked for Russia and the Soviet Union, it is not the boldest of claims to say that Russia assisted Lukashenko in being a part of the supreme council of the republic of Belarus and the President of Belarus.

From this conclusion the next question would be why? This question that can easily be answered if we look at his history as president of Belarus.

In just Lukashenko’s first term, he made the Belarusian language equal to Russian, forged closer economic ties with Russia, and proposed a new union of Slavic countries under Russia that would later become the Union State in 1999.

As expected, this instantly raised many concerns and there was an attempt to impeach him, but Lukashenko convened a new parliamentary assembly from those who were loyal to him. In his second term it was thought he would be up for re-election in 1999 but, despite his lack of favour at the time, he won a referendum that extended his term by two years. After these additional two years he once again won his re-election despite a lack of favour from the public.

Lukashenko then used this term to abolish limits to presidential terms and from then he continued to steamroll his opposition regardless of public favour and used his police force to quell any disagreement or protest. This lasted 26 years and is technically ongoing but it seems to be coming to an end.

Belarus used to be a staple of authoritarian stability, but the country has been turned upside down recently. On August 9th, it was asserted that the Belarusians had elected the dictator Alexander Lukashenko once again. Lukashenko’s opposition, Svetlana Alexievich, had most likely won the election but she was forced in to exile in attempt to silence her.

This assertion that Lukashenko won, and the exile of Svetlana Alexievich were violently rejected with widespread protest. But the demonstrations began in July, a month before the election. These demonstrations were caused by the governor of Khabarovsk being arrested on Moscow orders and charged with murders from as far back as early 2000’s. The reason for this was widely speculated to be related to the governor’s elect without the Kremlin’s blessing.

The Belarusians themselves have seemed to had enlightenment of sorts. The Belarusian republic started in 1918 and ended in 1919, so in the last 102 years, Belarusians have had a single year of respite. Ever since, cases similar to Svetlana Alexievich have been commonplace, but this time the Belarusians have tasted the forbidden fruit and will not give it up.

Protestors came to the independence square in Minsk, covering it in the flag that unites them, the flag of the Belarusian republic. The police seemed to have dialled down their characteristic extreme violence following mass, global publication and reprimands, instead playing patriotic songs from World War 2. These songs were quickly drowned out by the shouting, drumming and chanting of the protestors. This was short lived as plainclothes policemen began beating up protestors once more. An image speaking volumes.

Svetlana Alexievich then launched and led the National Co-ordinating Council. It aims to bring a peaceful end to Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, but Lukashenko refused to negotiate. This revolt is highly important because Belarus has been the template and the trial run for many of Putin’s tactics in order to gain and keep power and now Lukashenko, a slightly more dictatorial mirror image of Putin has lost all credibility.

We can look to what is happening in Belarus and take some slivers of foresight on what may become of Russia, as on the other side of the mirror, you have the unfolding story of Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Putin.

Alexei Navalny was a Russian opposition leader who was hoping to issue a “palpable rebuke” to the Russian regime at this September’s election. Unrest in the Russian Far- East showed this was working but this all came to a head following a suspected poisoning leaving him comatose and silencing him.

The culmination of these events left the prospects of Vladimir Putin in uncertainty. The poisoning of Navalny sparked even greater protest in Belarus, but this time, despite beatings and torture from the police resulting in at least five deaths, the protestors are determined, unrelenting and in increasing numbers.

Rather ironically, the tactics of Putin and Lukashenko to tranquillise the unrest in their respective countries only seemed to fan the flames of revolution that would seemingly result in the regime’s tumultuous downfall. Rather hilariously though, the only people able to calm this unrest while negotiating with the current leaders would have been their oppositions. One who now lies comatose in a hospital. The other in exile.

Hopefully though, this would be the end of Putin and Lukashenko. Hopefully, but unlikely. Vladimir Putin and by extension Lukashenko are very strong as proven by their brutal police. Protests seem like a demand, but in countries like Belarus and Russia, they are simply requests for change. The people can’t protest for ever and if nothing changes the protest will die out even faster. Putin knows that and so does Lukashenko. Lukashenko has been President for 26 years and has been hated for 25 of them, of course there have been protests, but they died like I predict this one will.

The only hope Belarus had was NATO, but NATO revolves around America’s military might and seeing as Trump and Putin are currently lovebirds (as seen from Trump’s radio silence on Belarus) as long as Trump is in office NATO can only tweet about Belarus. “Thoughts and Prayers” seem to be the extent of it.

The opinions and sentiments expressed by this writer do not necessarily represent Colloquium as a whole.

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