Belarusian crisis More is at stake than the fate of ‘Europe’s last dictator’
As the situation continues to unfold in Belarus, economic reforms promised by Lukashenko, appear to be the only option that both the EU and Russia could encourage as a bipartisan plan
Syed Zain Abbas Rizvi
Even on the end note, the year has contained surprises enough for anyone to deem it a year of instability and chaos, given that every nook and cranny around the globe is riddled with a new crisis every day. Latest down in the tally is the country of Belarus that has hardly streamlined over at least half a decade but now is hosting up as a venue to rippling protests in almost all the districts of its capital, Minsk. The outrage has resulted from the massive rigging imputed on the Communist party in ruling for almost three decades since the break-up of the USSR in 1994. With Europe and Russia divided on this front as the protests and violence continue to rage, a revolution is emerging as a possibility.
The historical map of Belarus is nearly as complex as the geographical landscape which might only stand next to Afghanistan in terms of the intricacies faced by a landlocked country as such. Belarus is located in the Eastern European region bordered by Russia to the north-eastern perimeter. Poland borderlines the country to the West while Ukraine shares a border in the South. The NATO members, Lithuania and Latvia, outskirt the borders of Belarus in the Northwest, thus making the region a prime buffer between the Russian regime and the Western world. As Belarus stands as a junction between the European Union (EU) and Russia, the proximal nature brings about the interest of both parties in the internal affairs of Minsk. However, the nature of the bond shared among the trio is by no means a triangle since, unlike other former Soviet states, Belarus has cast its absolute loyalty to Russia since the break-up of the USSR and ultimate accession to power of President Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of the Communist Party of Belarus. Along with the alliance, however, came the unwanted dependency since over the 26-year rule of Lukashenko, he crippled the economy and the political writ of Belarus, using every last ounce of authority to subdue the opposition and the democratic mechanism of the country, earning him the nefarious title ‘Europe’s last dictator’.
The outburst of protests today stems from this very problem that is more deep-rooted than what comes across as apparent. The excessive and draconian use of power and autonomy has invalidated the independence of Belarusians and turned them haplessly at the mercy of Russian aid and support while blocking out any western support in the name of guarding national sovereignty. The ongoing surge of dissent was triggered earlier in August when the elections turned about to be absurdly rigged in favor of Alexander Lukashenka, granting him an indelible majority of 80 percent of the total vote count along with a lifetime of rule over the country despite his blatant unpopularity across the country. The accusations were further solidified when one of the popular opposing candidates, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, lodged a complaint with the authorities regarding the falsification of election results. Instead of being appeased, she was detained for seven straight hours and was even forced to go into exile in the neighboring country of Lithuania. This resulted in major tide of riots and protests erupting all across Minsk, preceding over 3000 arrests on election night.
As the situation continues to unfold in Belarus, economic reforms promised by Lukashenko, appear to be the only option that both the EU and Russia could encourage as a bipartisan plan. Despite that, with six months of protests erupting as an outrage over a tyranny of 26 years, the reform-offering might be a bit late an offer since it’s no more about the country anymore, it’s about a struggle between a liberal or a communist Belarus
On the official front, however, an aggressive stance was upheld along with a constant refusal of Lukashenko from stepping down from the long-held office or even considering a review of the polls counted despite exorbitant reports of unfair results. Heavy use of rubber bullets and tear gas was an eccentric protocol adopted by the local police force which, instead of qurlling the rioters, further ignited the protests in more districts of the capital city. The anti-government rallies, also entitled ‘March of Neighbours’ transitioned into a large-scale protest with many state employees resigning from their positions to stand upright against the corrupt regime, which had long overstayed its mandate. With the protests raging over months and the Lukashenko government getting more and more aggressive with its policies, the fear that once sparkled in the eyes of the natives is dwindling exceedingly and is turning into a cry for an outright revolution, which would be a ground-breaking one ever since the revolution of Iran back in 1979.
European countries have taken a conventional passive position in the crisis, since the EU is well aware of the Russian influence in Belarus and does not want to do anything with the probability of leading to a direct conflict with Russia. However, they did call out their protest over the rigged elections, slapping sanctions over Belarus, yet they have not accused Lukashenko directly but instead have proposed a thorough international dialogue. Russia, on the other hand, faces a complex position since the dependence of Belarus bought Moscow a base against the West, along with against regional rogues like Ukraine. However, large-scale protests and the rising chances of a full-blown revolution is hardly the choice Russian intends to opt for.