August 9th 2020 marked the near end for Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. The country went to the polls on August 9th and unsurprisingly Lukashenko prevailed victorious, winning 70% of the vote. However, over the last couple of months, we have seen a huge rise in opposition to the Lukashenko rule and as a result of the contested elections, for almost 11 straight weeks, thousands of protesters have gathered in the streets of Minsk to protest against Lukashenko and his government. It is estimated that 100,000 people have gathered every Sunday since the disputed elections in August. This is all despite the threats of the Belarusian police to open fire on any demonstrators.
It was reported that during the protests on the 18th of October, over 200 people were arrested in relation to protesting, and that water cannons and rubber bullets were used on protesters. Opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has given Alexander Lukashenko until October 25th to resign and make way for democratic processes in Belarus. However, at the moment, this seems unlikely due to Russia’s heavy involvement in the former Soviet state. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya stated to her supporters: “We will stop only when every political prisoner walks free, when members of law enforcement begin to defend the people, and rule of law and honest elections return to Belarus.”
As of the end of October, it appears that the Lukashenko government will not be stepping down as was demanded by Tikhanovskaya and her supporters but rather, will remain president of Belarus. However, the situation in Belarus poses a possible political threat to Putin’s regime in Russia, which in itself mirrors that of Lukashenko. The uprising of a once submissive public shows the possibilities of what could happen in Russia, should the public make a huge move towards democracy. Just to show how critical the Belarus situation is to Russia and Putin, the Kremlin has placed Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on their most wanted list.
Since the date set by Tikhanovskaya has passed, the opposition has decided to implement a boycott of the ruling government. The strike/boycott is intended to isolate the income from state-run enterprises such as public universities, power plants etc. Along with the boycott of government owned enterprises, many private businesses have also closed in solidarity of the call for democracy. Some examples of the boycott have been university students walking out of class holding hands and powerplant workers leaving work early.
In the most recent protests on the 25th of October, over 100,000 people gathered in Minsk, with reports that 523 people were arrested and the majority of them still remain in custody. Another 155 people were arrested in relation to the government boycott. It is believed that there is another large scale protest planned for Monday the 2nd of November.
Therefore, we will have to remain watchful of the political situation in Belarus as the protests and demands for democracy progress, along with international support from US Presidential Candidate Joe Biden increases. This COVID-19 crisis has shown that citizens have been paying even more attention to their governments, their mismanagement, and corruption, creating more and more pressure for change.
Image source: https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-10-26/strikers-in-belarus-press-for-authoritarian-leaders-ouster