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Lukashenko’s Belarus: The Final Throes of Europe’s Last Totalitarian State

On August 9, 2020, Alexander Lukashenko’s seventh presidential victory was announced to the people of Belarus. The news sparked outrage and protests erupted throughout the country’s capital of Minsk with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooding the streets claiming that the reelection of the Belarusian dictator was “neither free nor fair.”

This article is dedicated to Karen Keller. You made this possible. Happy Birthday.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1994, former KGB border guard and Soviet farm boss Alexander Lukashenko seized presidential power and immediately began amending the Belarusian constitution in order to secure his presidency indefinitely. Since his election in 1994, Lukashenko has not transferred power. Although the legitimacy of the 2020 election results are severely scrutinized on an international scale, the incumbent president refuses to step down despite weeks of demonstrations. 

On August 9, 2020, Alexander Lukashenko’s seventh presidential victory was announced to the people of Belarus. The news sparked outrage and protests erupted throughout the country’s capital of Minsk with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators flooding the streets claiming that the reelection of the Belarusian dictator was “neither free nor fair.” According to Human Rights Watch and BBC, clashes between protesters and the police have resulted in over six thousand detentions and four protesters killed at the hands of police. Lukashenko’s police force has employed brutal methods of torture on the country’s jailed protesters, including mass beatings which have been reported by numerous political dissidents upon release.

In addition to the brutal attacks carried out by the police throughout his presidential career, Lukashenko’s twenty-six years in office have been characterized by the suppression of independent media outlets. The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported on Saturday, August 29th 2020, that at least seventeen journalists had their media accreditation revoked by the foreign ministry during demonstrations that day.

According to the New York Times, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has promised to assist Lukashenko if the protests get “out of control” and has assured the incumbent president that he has a police force reserved for Lukashenko’s utilization if the Belarusians double-down on their efforts to overthrow his presidency. The assistance offered by Putin references a military pact between the two countries and attempts to justify assistance on national security grounds due to Russian reliance on Belarusian fertilizer for crop production. In addition to Belarus’ potash industry, Putin’s interest in defending Lukashenko’s regime on the western border falls under the parameters of geography and geopolitics. Should Belarus make the democratic shift Westward, the buffer zone between Russia and Western Europe would likely dissolve. However, the state of affairs seems to be ramping up in spite of Putin’s promises of assistance as the struggle for free and fair democratic elections wears on in Minsk. Putin continued to express his fondness of Lukashenko by wishing the controversial leader a happy birthday. Protestors mocked these wishes and instead paraded an effigy of a cockroach outside of Lukashenko’s residence and shouted “happy birthday you rat.” 

The overabundance of human rights violations and the disputed results of the election have raised the attention of the European Union (EU), which openly rejects the election’s outcome. Consequently, government officials of the Baltic countries in the EU such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have imposed travel sanctions on thirty of Belarus’s top government officials due to their unwillingness to consider peace agreements and a smooth transfer of power.   One of the Belarusian government’s biggest critics, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the popular Belarusian opponent to incumbent Lukashenko, has been in exile since August 9, 2020, after openly renouncing the results of the election and declaring the outcome as a product of  corruption. In spite of her new status as the exiled opposition leader of the Belarusian people, Tikhanovskaya is scheduled to speak at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Friday, September 4, 2020 where she will address the United Nations Security Council regarding a transfer of power that will inevitably end the last remaining dictatorship in Europe. According to BBC News, the protesters have promised to hold weekly rallies until Lukashenko leaves office, which signals that unrest in Belarus is far from over.

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By Hannah Boyle

I'm a fourth year anthropology student at UCLA, as well as a staff writer for the Journal of World Affairs.

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