Mayhem has befallen the Eastern European nation of Belarus in the aftermath of President Alexander Lukashenko's resounding triumph in the elections on the 9th of August.Swiftly following the revelation by the country's election commission of the president's incomprehensible 80% share of the votes, protests erupted in the capital city of Minsk, as a manifestation of the people's disillusionment and discontent.
Maintaining a firm authoritarian grip since 1994, Lukashenko has led Belarusians to believe that the electoral process was rigged, thus prolonging his unfavorable reign.
The Controversial Election
Before the election, the populace was inundated with government-sanctioned polls—the only legal kind—predicting Lukashenko's overwhelming dominance over the opposition. . However, in the months leading up to the election, illicit online surveys indicated a colossal defeat for the president, starkly contradicting the official polls.
The streets became engulfed in a sea of white and red as indignant Belarusians descended in great numbers, transcending age boundaries from the elderly to young children, to voice their outrage at the undemocratic outcome of the election. Lukashenko promptly deployed the police to suppress the multitude of protestors, employing violence as an early defense strategy, meting out stun grenades and rubber bullets to quell their fervor, all while the specter of job loss loomed heavily.
Within the first four days of demonstrations, almost 7,000 individuals were detained, alongside hundreds who suffered injuries inflicted by the police.
The government has pledged to safeguard monuments, which are at risk of destruction by potential violent protestors. The Ministry of Defense has warned the public that, should heritage sites face disruption, the army will be dispatched in lieu of the police. As demonstrations persist with unyielding fervency, public outrage has only intensified in their crusade for enhanced democracy in the nation.
A Dash of Context
Belarus, formerly a Soviet Union republic, gained independence in 1991. Three years later, Lukashenko assumed power, and for 26 years, the nation has known no other leader, thereby earning him the moniker of "Europe's Last Dictator." The president has faced considerable frustration due to the state's excessive and exacerbating role in the economy, as well as criticism for straining Belarusian-Russian ties by accusing Moscow of dispatching mercenaries to destabilize the country.
The leader faced scrutiny for his inadequate response during the Covid-19 pandemic, dismissing the virus as mass "psychosis" and recommending vodka as a means to "poison the virus." Further condemnation followed Lukashenko's refusal to implement stricter safety measures to curb the virus's spread, resulting in a surge of cases within the country.
Response to Election
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the opposition, has refused to accept or acknowledge the controversial election result, despite supposedly receiving a mere 9% of the vote. The former English teacher replaced her husband, Siarheir Tsikhanouski, an anti-government blogger who was incarcerated in early 2020 for participating in unauthorized rallies against Belarusian integration with Russia.
In fear for her own safety and that of her family, Tikhanovskaya fled to neighboring Lithuania just one day after the election. The opposition leader has expressed her intention to return when circumstances permit and even expressed her willingness to engage in negotiations with President Lukashenko.
The 37-year-old firmly believes that the "Belarusian people have changed," no longer willing to accept Lukashenko's iron fist, and seeking substantial change in the country.
“They were shouting for their future, for their wish to live in a free country, against violence, for their rights,” Tikhanovskaya
Tikhanovskaya has urged Belarusians to rise above their apprehensions and scrutinize the government, despite the intimidation they may face from the authorities. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have organized rallies across the country, demanding the dismantling of Lukashenko's 26-year rule.
During a recent visit to a state food factory, Lukashenko stated that the public outrage was "my problem" and one he fully intends to resolve as his duty to the country.
‘ And believe me, in the coming days it will be resolved’
Lukashenko has made it clear that, since the elections have already taken place, he has no intention of conducting a new election to appease the people. The president has reassured the Belarusian public that 'Until you kill me, there will be no other elections'.
The Belarusian President's dismissal of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as a 'poor thing' and his assertion that 'society is not mature enough to vote for a woman' also reflects a troubling attitude towards female candidates and raises concerns about gender equality in politics.
The EU's Stance
Alongside the United States government, many European Union leaders view the president's victory as highly questionable, standing in solidarity with the protesters' demand for a second election to counter Lukashenko's triumph. To express their disapproval, the European Commission plans to impose financial sanctions on the country, diverting their allocated 53 million Euros away from the government and toward civilians.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, has declared that they will not recognize the election's result, emphasizing that the situation in Belarus is becoming "increasingly concerning," evident through public upheaval and meticulous scrutiny of the government.
Michel assured the audience at the emergency summit of EU leaders that "the EU will impose sanctions on a substantial number of individuals responsible for violence, repression, and election fraud."
“We stand firmly behind the right of Belarusian people to determine their own fate,” Charles Michel
What the Future Holds
Belarus finds itself at a pivotal moment, yearning for relief and transformation after enduring 26 years of authoritarian leadership. Recently, unexpected figures like Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Veronika Tsepkalo, and Maria Kolesnikova emerged as the opposition, galvanizing frustrated Belarusians throughout the country.
Their campaigns have ignited a wave of rallies and protests, as the population refuses to accept the declared final results of the election and instead demands significant democratic change and progress for their country.
The spirit of resilience and unwavering determination among the Belarusian people fuels their quest for a brighter future and sets the stage for a remarkable political transition.