More than 60 days of non-violent protests have followed the August Belarusian elections. This piece examines the history of the development and if there is a credible argument that the ongoing protests can trigger a Lukashenko resignation?
The long plague of injustice, brutality, and violence imposed by the Belarusian government has put no damper on the anti-Lukashenko protests that have been on display for more than 60 continuous days. The question is, what would you do in the face of authoritarian-like abuse, and just how much would you be willing to lose for it? Many Belarusian citizens and some outsiders were brought to the streets following the corrupt and illegitimate re-election of who is commonly known as Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. The people of Belarus have put up with the Soviet-like government of Lukashenko for over 24 years, and the final nail in the coffin, the fraudulent election of August 5th, 2020, had finally ruptured into an ultimate push for a more democratic Belarus and a Lukashenko resignation. These events bear some prime research-based evidence in the indication of how nonviolent opposition can achieve its goal. However, the question is, will these massive waves of protests be enough to ignite a spark that manages to foresee the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko?
Lukashenko’s government consists of a leader who has slowly amassed shocking amounts of power and has continued to use that power to sustain his grasp on the highest office of the country. While at the same time, making it impossible for the opposition to compete. For the past 24 years, Lukashenko’s leadership has been both undemocratic and a blatant example of modern-day authoritarianism. Of which his control of nearly all divisions of government has made it impossible for the people to challenge this firm hold on power. Freedom House, an organization focused on the classification of freedom, democracy, and conditions of government within the world. Considers Belarus, under Lukashenko, as substantially unfree and the people’s political rights and civil liberties have both fallen victim to the authoritarian practices.
The ultimate question is, how can a “dictator” fall, and can that be done by the mass mobilization of citizens through nonviolent protest? Although this process is ultimately one of precision and accuracy, the end game, a resignation, is not out of the question. Top scholars in nonviolent civil resistance, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, have produced significant literature on this concept. Their scholarly book titled, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict” provides some implications when considering the events in Belarus. The first rationale behind a possible success is that of the Belarusian protests’ extraordinarily high levels of participation. There have been days, where over 100,000 people have been in attendance of the anti-Lukashenko protests. This continued amount of participation has caused a civil disruption, and the persistence of this disruption has significantly raised the cost of maintaining the status quo for the regime, while also and inevitably shifting many loyalties of those who once supported Alexander Lukashenko. Therefore, the argument calls into question just how much the incumbent is willing to pay to maintain the status quo. Chenoweth and Stephan discuss the idea of backfire and negotiations. In relation, these continued, nonviolent Belarusian protests have gone on for more than 60 days, and each day that passes without change brings forth an even higher chance of an ultimate backfire against the Belarusian government. This means that the government could lose more, massive amounts of support, and the obedience of its citizens will be at stake. When compiled with the use of strictly nonviolent resistance measures, like those in Belarus today, the cost for Lukashenko to continue his status quo will seemingly only rise, and his support will continue to dwindle. The reality of this situation is that there is only so much opposition, both externally and internally, that the current regime can take, and the cost of supporting the status quo will eventually, if the trend continues, be too much.
Also, several supplemental factors supporting change come to the foreground. With the first being the critical role of external or international pressures. Because this resistance has transpired for so long, the number of foreign states and organizations have gradually and quickly added up in support of the nonviolent protests. For example, the promised help of the French President, Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s recent sanctions put on Belarusian leadership in regards to human rights violations, and even the European Union’s opposition to Lukashenko’s rule. Furthermore, the clear spotlight that has been placed upon Belarus and the events transpiring within, by a plethora of global media outlets. Seemingly not a day goes by without developments and stories about the events in Belarus coming up in the media. With accounts from a variety of news stations, international organizations, and all-over social media, to name a few. This intensity of attention essentially places Lukashenko and his government under a microscope, and practically any events that transpire will likely not go unreported. Therefore, serving as somewhat of a binding mechanism to help the transpiration of a Lukashenko resignation and constitutional reform.
On Sunday, October 13th, massive protests took place yet again. However, they resulted in something like never before. Alexander Lukashenko spent hours meeting with opposition leaders over the possibility of constitutional reform. Although the opposition ultimately wants a Lukashenko resignation, the idea of negotiations now transpiring for the first time since the fraudulent elections took place, is important news. This initial cooperation brings hope for the eventual and full success of the Belarusian nonviolent resistance. In conclusion, the continued persistence of the protests, substantial international support, and the ever-rising cost to maintain the status quo are all effective and historically evident means of achieving the end goal, a resignation.