Another Eastern European country is making itself the protagonist of popular uprisings. After Poland and Hungary, it is now up to the citizens of Belarus to fight for their self-determination and political freedom. Alexander Lukashenko, president since 1994, is the author of another purported overwhelming victory, reaching 80%. However, it seems that 24 years have been enough for the population, which can now count on the new generation. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union, meanwhile, convenes an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council to examine the situation.
Last weekend, presidential elections were held in Belarus. The elections in the country were the cause of protests and riots, well before the results were in. However, the civil mobilisation during this period was not simply due to the elections, but rather to the effects of the country’s long journey towards authoritarianism. A situation similar, if not worse, to that experienced in Hungary with Orban. Unlike Orban, however, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has presided over the country for 26 years. This political continuity has been achieved thanks to a high level of censorship, repression of civil and political opposition, and the constant support for the Lukashenko government by the Russian elite.
Russia has traditionally been a supporter of the current Belarusian government. But with economic relations between the two countries now more tense than ever, the Kremlin has deprived Lukashenko of much-needed financial support at a time when he needs it most.
At the dawn of the vote, the 26-year political stranglehold seemed ready to give way, despite the continuing abuses of democracy by the Minsk government. The breaking point was almost physiological: the generation born after 1994, the year of Lukashenko’s first presidential election, has now reached the age of majority and can vote, giving voice to generational discontent. Meanwhile, the older generation (born in the 40s and 50s) that traditionally supported the current president, is slowing down or dying. Propaganda tools of hunger and devastation, based on the memory of the Second World War, once effective battle horses for Lukashenko, do not work with the new generation.
Even the generation born between 1960 and 1980, often described as the most apolitical, seems to have reached the point of exhaustion. This band, which represents a huge section of the electorate, traditionally did not vote, though their ballots were massively falsified and counted as votes for Lukashenko. Thus, the president managed to reach 83% consensus in previous polls.
Despite this, the new generations, like a wind of freedom with a more marked western mould, have not succeeded in breaking the dictatorial yoke of Lukashenko. Yet 2020 seemed to be the turning point for Belarus, and the elections were followed with trepidation from Brussels, as in the case of Poland. Once again, however, Brussels has failed to give a strong voice to these democratic concerns.
The generational change, and the resulting new political cycle, were annihilated almost a month before the elections. Around 15 July, the Belarusian Central Electoral Commission rejected the electoral registration of President Lukashenko’s main rivals, Valery Tsepkalo and Viktor Babaryko.
Following this decision, largely peaceful demonstrations were held in Minsk, Grodno, Gomel and Brest. The expression of public dissatisfaction was not appreciated by the government, which did not hesitate to suppress the civil mobilisations, along with those who were able to document them. According to the BBC, more than 35 people, including several journalists, were arrested during the protests.
Tsepkalo and Babaryko, however, are not the only victims of the authoritarian Belarusian machine. The famous blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky was unable to stand for election after being arrested in May on the pretext of assaulting a police officer. What these three people have in common is the determination of those who love and follow them — namely those who have given strength to the ongoing political struggle against Minsk.
The political opposition to the elections was represented by Maria Kolesnikova, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo. Svetlana, at the top of the group and a candidate in the elections, is the wife of Sergei. Veronika is the wife of Valery Tsepkalo, who flew to Moscow for fear of being arrested as a political opponent after his registration was rejected. Maria, finally, was involved in Babaryko’s election campaign before he was arrested and was not allowed to register, on dubious charges of corruption.
This is a wonderful story in contemporary politics, though none of it has yet been effective in terms of results. Perhaps that is precisely why Svetlana Tikhanovskaya saw her electoral registration accepted, as it does not threaten Lukashenko’s hegemony. This hypothesis is confirmed by the election results, but there are also strong suspicions about electoral fraud. In fact, as reported by the BBC, the ballots were not actually counted, with no observers present.
As reported by BelTa, the election resulted in Lukashenko’s overwhelming victory with 79.7%. Few crumbs remained for Svetlana, who led the opposition by consensus and recorded a meagre 6.8%. Immediately after the result, Tikhanovskaya decided to fly to Lithuania to protect herself and her family from any repercussions of her candidacy and her call on Lukashenko’s electoral fraud. On the other hand, the popular reaction to the election results did not wait to be heard. Citizens, especially in Minsk, have taken to the streets to protest against yet another re-election of Lukashenko. The popular mobilization was “greeted” by law enforcement with riot gear and rubber bullets, even though citizens seem to have no intention of surrendering.
The generational change, for the moment, has no possibility of winning against the mechanisms of government power and the abuse of force by local law enforcement agencies. If someone around Belarus and Europe does not raise their voice in a determined manner, Belarus will be yet another country lost in the Old Continent, as we have already seen in the case of Hungary and Poland.
It is legitimate for one to be confused, wondering how certain democratic principles, so acclaimed by the Atlantic front, are not being defended at a time of such need and demand for action. We await some positive feedback in the decision by Josep Borrell, High Representative for European politics. Borrell has decided to convene an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council on Friday afternoon, focusing on the Belarusian elections and the Lebanese disaster.
May the momentum of the Council dispel any doubts about the real existence, conviction and defense of true democratic values.
Courtesy of Babilon news & magazine (Rome, Italy). Written and translated by Luca Mazzacane.www.babilonmagazine.it/