• Rose Smith

How Did Belarus Get Here?

Pictured Above: Alexander Lukashenko

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Over this past month or so, Minsk, the capital of Belarus, has been alight with protests demanding the resignation of the current sitting president, Alexander Lukashenko. Commonly referred to as Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenko has been in his position for 26 years (Atlantic Council). In the wake of the last election that extended his term (which was commonly considered to be rigged), protestors took to the streets and have continuously fought for his resignation (The Guardian). It perhaps begs the question as to how Belarus got here and what lead to the mass protests that are wracking the capital.

Alexander Lukashenko was elected in 1994 as the first president after Belarus became independent from the USSR (Encyclopedia Brittanica). Belarus had become independent from the USSR in 1991 and made a new constitution that added a position for a president in 1994. Lukashenko, formerly a director of a state-run farm, stepped up with a platform built on anticorruption and went up against the communist opposition Vyacheslav Kebic (Atlantic Council). Lukashenko won in a landslide election, gaining 80% of the vote. The election was won honestly; in fact, it was the most credible election Belarus has ever had post-independence.

However, as Lukashenko took to power, things began to change. As he took power, Lukashenko began to clamp down on political power. In 1996, in a referendum that was widely disputed as dubious, the constitution was changed such that Lukashenko received near-absolute power and a term extension (Encyclopedia Britannica). The parliamentary powers tried to oppose him, but due to the new constitution version, the parliament was closed in favor of a much weaker legislative body. He tightened his political repression and took control of mass media (Atlantic Council). In fact, due to his routine silencing of political opposition and tight grip on power, he is commonly labelled as Europe's last dictatorship. Even though he won out initially against the communist opposition, Lukashenko began to revert the economy back to how it was during the Soviet Union. The growing limited private market reforms were taken down in favor of ending privatization and stabilizing forty different Soviet-era state companies. The Belarusian economy ever since has been floundering, embroiling itself in financial crises and requiring Lukashenko to seek financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and Russia.

This past election that reinstated Lukashenko has been widely dismissed as rigged. According to official results, Lukashenko netted 80% of the votes, but the main opposition maintains that in the places where the votes were counted, the candidate rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, received 60-70% of the votes (BBC). Protesters began to take to the streets of Belarus’s capital, Minsk, calling for the president to step down (The Guardian). Despite attempts to quell protests, demonstrations have continued since early August. As of mid-August, the European Union has also refused to officially recognize Lukashenko as the sitting president of Belarus and considers him a persona non grata in the European Union (Russian News Agency). They have also called to impose individual sanctions onto those in the Belarusian government who were involved in violence against protestors or falsifying election results.

Technically, Lukashenko remains in power. While the European Union has de-recognized him as president and protesters have continued to fill the streets, Lukashenko has refused to resign. The story of Alexander Lukashenko is still developing as foreign powers wait to see what he does next. All that can be said now is that many eyes are on Belarus and its future.