‘‘An authoritarian style of rule is a characteristic of me, and I have always admitted it’’. This brave but problematic statement was made 19 years ago by the Belarusian President Alexandar Lukaschenka back in 2003 (BBC, 2020). Maybe this was an early signal of how certain political issues regarding Eastern Europe would escalate in the future, like they are doing nowadays in regards to weakening legislative powers, the violation of civilian rights and freedoms, and many more all at the expense of increasing presidential powers (Karatnycky, 1998). A signal for the rise of an unstoppable authoritarian leader with no limits.
Belarus, an Eastern European country bordering Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and most importantly Russia, was formerly a member of the Soviet Union (Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.). Therefore, up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus was following the rules and policies emphasized by the former leader of the USSR Joseph Stalin, since the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922. Starting from the period when Stalin’s commands were being strictly obeyed, until today, Belarus always had and continues to have a very close and powerful relationship with Russia. However, this powerful relationship with Russia has had more negative consequences for the country, such as its gradual isolation from the West, rather than positive outcomes.
Thus, I would argue that Belarus has lost the ultimate chance to evolve into a democratic nation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union due to the election of Alexandar Lukaschenka in 1994, who gradually introduced his populist authoritarian tendencies and policies throughout his leadership as the Belarusian President. Clearly, Lukaschenka can be represented as the biggest challenge for the re-democratization process of Belarus, since the government under his rule has paved the way for competitive authoritarianism or even established a full autocracy, which is unfortunately the fate for a lot of other post-Soviet nations.
Even nowadays in the 21st century, the recent re-election of President Lukaschenka in 2020 (EUROPP, 2020) and the currently most problematic global political issue, which is Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, all decreased or even eliminated Belarus’ chance to overcome competitive authoritarianism in the near future and to transition into a democracy.
The first important event I would like to discuss here is the military alliance of Russia and Belarus regarding the invasion of Ukraine. Although the dissolution of the Soviet Union happened years ago in 1991, Belarusian President Lukaschenka argues that the West is trying to get ‘revenge’ from the former Soviet Union nations, because they have lost the Second World War against the Soviets (Al Jazeera, 2022). This shows how much Lukaschenka continues to live in the past and how he ignores his country’s approximate yearly loss of export incomes in the value of 18 billion dollars, due to the sanctions imposed by the West (Al Jazeera, 2022). It is very unfortunate for a country’s leader to ignore the well-being of his citizens, economy and development at the expense of being a close ally of Russia. If looked at the issue from an objective point of view, this is simply a desperate war against the West, managed by post-Soviet countries who cannot leave history in the past and thus continue to live in the past.
The second, and very crucial event is Lukaschenka’s change on the death penalty law in Belarus (Brezar, A., 2022). The main goal of this modified law is to scare the opposition, such as politicians who are from opposing parties, but also ordinary citizens who are simply politically active. This new law, enables the populist government to execute anyone from the opposition by simply labelling that person as a ‘terrorist’ and his or her act as a so called ‘attempted act of terrorism’ (Brezar, A., 2022). This is nothing new under the well-known ‘Lukashenkism’ which represents Belarus’ authoritarian leader, who is controlling the police, media, as well as its citizens. He is being presented as an individual who is ignoring the fundamental institutions in a democracy, favoring the re-introduction of the Soviet Union, and doing everything in his power to maintain a close relationship with powerful Russia (McMahon, 1997). As a result, almost none of the civilians have the courage to actively participate in politics especially if their ideology is opposing that of the government, since they are very likely to face harsh consequences such as facing unemployment, police suppression and even arrestment due to the lack of Freedom of Expression as well as the Freedom of Association. Therefore, step by step, concepts such as ‘freedoms’ or ‘basic rights’ such as peacefully raising an opposing voice are being eliminated in Belarus, where Belarusian citizens are expected to obey their dictator.
To conclude, it can be stated that Russia acts as a huge democracy and freedom blockade between the West and Eastern Europe, which is why post-Soviet countries such as Belarus are making this anti-developmental progress since 1994. Lastly, it is crystal clear that European influence and support is much needed for an ideological change in Eastern Europe, such as in Belarus (Potocki, 2011, p. 62). Therefore, the Belarusian citizens together with the EU’s support, have to collectively take action against their dictator without any further due before it gets too late or impossible to make any changes, just as McMahon had also warned and advised to do back in 1997. To sum up, I personally want to believe that this increasing discontent within the Belarusian society towards the regime and their brave uprisings are a signal for the end of Lukaschenka’s era. However, the EU has to end its balanced approach towards this issue, and has to clearly side with the Belarusian citizens who need the EU’s support to make any changes in order to secure a peaceful future.
Al Jazeera. (2022, May 16). Belarus urges Russia-led military alliance to unite against West. Russia-Ukraine War News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/16/belarus-urges-russia-led-military-alliance-to-unite-against-west
BBC News. (2020, September 11). Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko under fire. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53637365
Belarus – Resources and power. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Belarus/Resources-and-power
Brezar, A. (2022, May 19). Belarus president changes death penalty law to target opposition. Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2022/05/18/belarus-president-changes-death-penalty-law-to-target-opposition
Karatnycky, A. (1998). Freedom in the World: 1997–1998: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties. Routledge.
McMahon, M. A. (1997). Aleksandr Lukashenka, president, Republic of Belarus. Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, 13(4), 129–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/13523279708415363
Potocki, R. (2011). Belarus: A Tale of Two Elections. Journal of Democracy, 22(3), 49–63. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2011.0050
‘This country will never be the same again’: Understanding the protests in Belarus. (2020, September 16). EUROPP. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2020/09/09/this-country-will-never-be-the-same-again-understanding-the-protests-in-belarus/