Belarus: too much opposition for Lukashenko?

In Belarus's presidential election on 9 August members of the opposition will for the first time have the chance to run against the country's long-ruling President Alexander Lukashenko. But after the government arrested two challengers, citizens took to the streets in several cities on the weekend, protesting with human chains and signatures in support of Lukashenko's rival candidates. Commentators are at odds over whether this will be enough to bring about a change of government.

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Svaboda (BY) /

Fair elections instead of a bloodbath

Commenting in Svaboda, Belarusian laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature Svetlana Alexievich pins her hopes on opposition candidate Viktar Babaryka:

“He is a very honest man. Besides, I have the impression that he is a bit romantic, because he has no experience in this dirty political struggle. In a conversation between Viktor Dmitrievich Babaryka and myself, we discussed this and came to the conclusion that it is those in power today that are making this a dirty struggle. ... I think that Lukashenko's time is over. ... People no longer want to live in a country where there is no choice. We must not allow bloodshed in this country. No one wants blood. We must fight for fair elections with all our strength.” (UA) /

Slippers to put things in order

The Belarusians have had enough of their "moustached cockroach", as they call Alexander Lukashenko, Maxim Yakovlev, director of the School for Politicy Analysis at Kiev University writes in NV:

“Recent events in Belarus clearly show that our neighbours' patience has finally run out. ... An interesting aspect is the format of the protests, with slippers as their symbol. After all, a moustached cockroach can be crushed with a slipper. ... Anyone following the active election campaign in Belarus will get the impression that Mr Lukashenko can feel the unpredictability of what is currently happening in the country.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

A critical mass is forming

Gazeta Wyborcza also notes a change in the neighbouring country:

“Since the election campaign started at the beginning of May, Belarusian society has changed visibly from day to day, become more and more united and more 'bourgeois'. ... The usual collection of signatures under the names of alternative presidential candidates - who are either arrested or persecuted - has led to the formation of kilometre-long queues stretching across entire cities. ... The Internet is full of petitions demanding the release of political prisoners. Famous athletes, state television journalists, musicians and actors are calling for free elections. They are ashamed of the propaganda in which they have been involved.”

Lrt (LT) /

Opposition remains divided

Without a shared vision the violent demonstrations won't lead to any tangible result, writes political theorist Gintautas Mažeikis in Lrt:

“'We are simply tired' - these are not words of hope, but of failure. ... Nevertheless this is how the overwhelming majority of Belarusians feel - who still can't be thought of as citizens or a nation as such. They have yet to develop in one. But for that you need a common spirit and song, an idea and dignity, a vision and sense of respect, independently of Moscow. And so far no one has offered them that vision, that feeling of respect and that freedom.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Proof of great courage

Rzeczpospolita admires the citizens for keeping up their resistance despite the expected harsh reaction:

“The Belarusians did not lack courage when Lukashenko's main rival Viktar Babaryka was arrested on Thursday. Not only Babaryka, but also his son Eduard ended up behind bars. Human chains several kilometres long were organised not only in the capital, but also in many other cities in a show of solidarity. Lukashenko endured it for just one night. On Friday hundreds of riot police appeared on the streets of Minsk. The people were literally thrown into armoured trucks.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Politics instead of travel abroad

Radio Kommersant FM argues that setting 8 August as the election date may have been a mistake on the part of the state:

“The official media are not publishing polls - which suggests that the approval ratings of the incumbent president are dropping rapidly. ... The timing has also proved unfortunate: At first August seemed like an ideal month for an election. Usually there is no opposition to the Batka [the little father]. The more affluent are on holiday abroad and the less affluent are doing seasonal work in Russia or Poland. But the pandemic has put a stop to all that. The Belarusians are effectively locked up in their own state - all alone with their president and the ballot box.”

Lietuvos rytas (LT) /

The West is flummoxed

The protests also reveal the West's incompetence in dealing with Minsk, Lietuvos rytas sighs:

“The protests against Lukashenko are increasingly threatening to turn into a real revolution, which the regime will then drown in blood. And maybe it will drown itself as well. ... Vilnius and other capitals on both sides of the Atlantic are looking on in bewilderment. Only recently they had plunged into a new friendship with Lukashenko, accompanied by claims that he was the key guarantor of his country's 'sovereignty'. ... Will the current situation in Belarus make the West (and Lithuania) at least think about adopting an effective policy towards the East? Or will they limit themselves to voicing concern and hoping that Lukashenko will put out the blaze again, until a new, possibly even bigger, fire starts?”