Protests and violence after Belarus elections

According to official sources Viktor Lukashenko won 80.2 percent of the vote in Belarus's presidential election on the weekend. However, opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (who officially received only 9.9 percent) rejected the results. Security forces have resorted to brutal measures to break up the ensuing mass protests. Europe's press analyses the situation and discusses how the international community should react.

Open/close all quotes
Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

A president without backing

The people have simply lost what little trust they had in Lukashenko, writes Irina Khalip, Belarus correspondent for Novaya Gazeta:

“Lukashenko can call Tikhanovskaya and her staff 'sheep herded from abroad' and claim that the Internet in Belarus is being blocked by international corporations and that demonstrators want to occupy government buildings until he goes blue in the face: nobody believes him anymore. He has shown just how incompetent, afraid, hysterical and unable to cope with today's world he is. ... On Tuesday other factories may join BMZ [Belarus Steel Works, where workers have been on strike since Monday]. And there have been no strikes in Belarus since the early 1990s. The situation is constantly changing - apparently that's possible even without the Internet.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Internet versus autocrat

The eternal ruler has lost his leadership in the polls to bloggers, writes Die Presse:

“In Belarus, a limit was reached with the coronavirus crisis. More citizens than ever before used non-state information sources because they didn't gloss over the situation but provided credible information. ... It is in this context that bloggers become respected personalities. And in which a video blogger travelling around the country by the name of Sergei Tikhanovsky set about becoming a presidential candidate. What came after that is well known: he is in prison; his wife, Svetlana, has unexpectedly become an icon of a citizens' movement. In the days leading up to the election she and her team mobilised thousands of people via Twitter. Lukashenko may remain the ruler of Belarus. But he has lost the leadership of opinion.”

Delo (SI) /

Lukashenko would have won even in fair elections

The protest pictures from Minsk are not representative for the whole country, Delo says:

“The structure of the Belarusian population is still such that Lukashenko would probably have won even in fair elections. The rural population and the provinces are on his side; it is the young and educated who have contacts with other countries that oppose him. But there are not enough of them to build up a critical mass. This is why the pious wishes of the opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who failed in the election but believes that the people no longer want Lukashenko and will soon achieve change, are premature.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

West suffering from Stockholm syndrome

Eesti Päevaleht laments the cautious reactions of the country's European neighbours:

“The West has no idea how to deal with 'Europe's last dictator'. ... Sometimes he smiles in its direction and even (!) releases political prisoners. Then 'Batka' [affectionate term for father] starts flirting with Moscow again and ruffles feathers in the West. ... There have been better times. Belarus is part of the EU's Eastern Partnership. There was hope that their 'soft power' would at least create a corridor for states that are striving for democracy. This should have included the prospect of joining the EU, but there was a lack of political will. Five years ago 'human rights' was the first keyword in talks, but recently there has been fear that too much emphasis on Western values is driving Minsk towards the Kremlin. Symptoms of Stockholm syndrome.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Carrot for Belarus, stick for Lukashenko

Europe must use all its tactical skills here, Die Welt says:

“On the one hand, it has no choice but to side with the demonstrators. ... At the same time, it's not in the EU's geostrategic interests to drive Lukashenko into Moscow's arms and endanger Belarus's sovereignty. To further both ends - opening up the country and maintaining its independence - a clever mix of deterrence and incentives is required. Firstly, the EU must threaten high-ranking Belarusian officials who help crack down on the protests, including Lukashenko and his family, with sanctions and the freezing of foreign accounts. Secondly, Europe must offer the country a way forward, including financial incentives, if it opens up to more freedom and democracy.”

Polityka (PL) /

Now or never

This is a decisive day for the country, commentator Jagienka Wilczak writes in Polityka:

“One thing is certain: Belarus has never taken such a step, its society has never been so mobilised. I don't believe anyone thinks Lukashenko won a democratic, fair fight. I think Belarus's fate will be decided today in Minsk. Will the people hold out? Do they really want the changes they are calling for? Without bloodshed, but with perseverance and solidarity? If this doesn't happen now, they will be doomed to live under Lukashenko's rule until the end of the world and longer.”

Sme (SK) /

Lukashenko just has to bring up the Maidan

Sme speculates on how difficult things could get for Lukashenko:

“Belarus is one of those countries that reporters like because they don't have to prepare two versions of their articles - one for each potential winner - before an election. Everything has been clear in Belarus for a quarter of a century, people know that Alexander Lukashenko will win. ... It's quite possible that the anger of young citizens has now reached critical levels and that Lukashenko will be subjected to bigger and more unpleasant protests. But if necessary he can still use the magic word 'Maidanisation', and confront the population with the question of whether it really wants that much freedom.”

nv.ua (UA) /

Only violence can keep him in power

Without Russia, Lukashenko's days are numbered, writes publicist Ivan Yakovyna in nv.ua:

“Instead of offering negotiations to the opposition he called on the population to prepare for the 'slaughter' on the city's streets and promised to take the harshest action. Lukashenko has therefore decided to use violence to maintain his power. ... In this situation it is most likely that he will give the security forces the order to start deliberately shooting at the people. ... And very likely they will refuse to carry out this order - and then the regime will fall on that same day. If, however, they do fire, the regime will survive for some time, but not for months. ... In that case Lukashenko can only be saved by outside intervention. For example from Russia.”

Svenska Dagbladet (SE) /

Russia watching like a hawk

Belarus is increasingly becoming a burden for the Kremlin, Svenska Dagbladet notes:

“Regardless of what happens now, the developments will lead to reactions in Moscow. ... It is quite possible that when Lukashenko realises he no longer has any control over developments he will give in to Moscow's dream: complete unity between Belarus and Russia - even though during the election campaign he attracted attention with clearly anti-Russian comments.”