A Possible Revolution in Belarus



On Sunday, July 3, the people of Belarus celebrated the 1944 withdrawal of Nazi forces at the hands of the Red Army; the day that is considered by the government to be Independence Day. However, rather than being marked by celebrations, nationalistic sentiment, and popular support for the government, this Independence Day brought to light deep-seated sentiments that have been subdued for 17 years, the time that President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power.



Demonstrators in Minsk responded to calls for revolution that originated on a Russian social networking site and used hand clapping and other nonviolent gestures to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the current regime. Then, in the style of the authoritarian governments of the past, Lukashenko’s troops mercilessly beat and arrested dozens of prisoners at the rally.

Since his controversial landslide reelection in December, Lukashenko has been the subject of popular animosity in Belarus; as a result, massive crackdowns and arrests have taken place. However, after the success of the 2011 revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as the possibility of success in Libya and Yemen, it is clear that around the world, autocracies are on the defensive. Things may be about to change. Welcome to the European Spring.

Alexander Lukashenko took office in 1993 following the collapse of the USSR and the creation of an independent Republic of Belarus. However, in the style of the former Soviet leaders, Lukashenko has held almost absolute power over his nation for the last seventeen years. While many areas in Eastern Europe still have yet to see democracy to this day, upon comparison with nations such as its neighbors Poland, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic, it is apparent that the government of Belarus is a holdover from the late twentieth century, a time in which dictators controlled much of Eastern Europe.

However, the main difference between Lukashenko and the men with whom he is often identified, such as Nicholae Ceausescu, is that following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, such leaders either fled the onslaught of democracy or, in the case of Ceausescu, were murdered at the hand of their own people. In the mid to late 1990s and the 2000s, Eastern Europe embarked on a transition from autocracies to democracies, from Communism to a free market, and from oppression to glasnost. But, similar to the situation in the 1990s in Serbia, the strongman seized power and refused to let go. While Lukashenko did win a supposedly free election in 1994, he has been accused of compromising the results of the next several elections, must notably in 2010, all the while ruling Belarus with, in his own words, an «authoritarian» style of government.

Lukashenko is aware of the fates of dictators similar to himself following the fall of Communism. In an Independence Day speech, he stated: «Unscrupulous scenarios of colour revolutions, drawn up in the capitals of other countries, are being imposed on us…The aim of these attacks is to sow uncertainty and worry and destroy social harmony. They want to put us on our knees and reduce our independence to zero. This will not happen!» As evidenced by his appeal to the people of Belarus that foreign meddlers, rather than himself, are the enemy, Lukashenko believes that he can rally his supposedly «loving» people around himself and overcome the current revolutionary fervor. How often has this tactic been tried and failed is unanswerable, for it may have indeed been used as far back as the Roman era. But, Lukashenko need only read the newspapers to see where this tactic has been used by a man quite similar to himself in terms of his approach to governance and his disillusionment. Alexander, meet, Muhammar. Muhammar, meet Alexander. For, though it may be unknown as of now, these two men may go down in history together.

Indeed, when examining Lukashenko’s role as a dictator over the last seventeen years, it can be argued that his position is far more comparable with those of the former leaders of Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. These states, all of whom had previously been held together through military domination and forced submission to the autocratic government, are now either in turmoil or are embarking on a new path following a popular revolution. However, those states were in the Middle East; the «Arab Spring» that has been ongoing since its origin in January and has been accepted and supported by the international community may be seen by some as another piece of the roller coaster which is the stability of the Middle East region. Could something like this happen in Europe, in the backyard of states such as Russia and Poland?

Of course, it is rather unlikely that the current unrest in Belarus will spiral into a full-out civil war as is occurring in Libya. However, one can attempt to predict the path that the unrest of the people of Belarus will take. For as long as protests occur against the government, the more force Lukashenko will use to crush the resistance and attempt to break the back of any rebels. However, brute force and mass arrests will only harden the resolve of determined opponents of the government, and as evidenced by the brutality of the Syrian government’s violent repression of all dissenters, the people will become more and more determined to push for freedom and democracy. With government repression comes human rights violations, and that brings the UN and America into the picture. Suddenly, international pressure is being put on Lukashenko to end the violence against his people or to step down from power. Then, Lukashenko becomes Bashar al-Assad. Or Muhammar Gadhafi. And the Arab Spring has spread to Europe.

Through examination of recent history both in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East, the growing trend of peoples around the world pushing for democracy after years of harsh life under brutal dictators cannot be overlooked. The Arab Spring has gained a great many supporters in Arabia and North Africa, regions that have been the subject of strife and instability over the last several decades. Now, these protests are spreading to Belarus, a former Soviet Socialist Republic. Will the people of Belarus tread the path that their contemporaries have in the Middle East? Or will repression continue and Lukashenko resume his totalitarian rule? There are many roads on which Belarus can travel, but the question remains: could a popular revolution succeed in Europe as it has in the Middle East? Or will the Western world rally to the support of a European leader? As always, only time can answer these questions. And, as in the Middle East, the fate of Lukashenko rests in the hands of the people over whom he rules.

Source: Google News

via A Possible Revolution in Belarus – Technorati Politics.

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