What's going on in Belarus?

The fate of Belarus after its presidential election remains completely open: the protests continue but President Alexander Lukashenka has given no indication that he is willing to offer the opposition concessions, much less step down. Europe's media speculate on how things could develop in the country.

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Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Kolkhoz idyll is passé

Commenting in Echo of Moscow, political journalist Kirill Rogov concludes that Lukashenka's situation is hopeless:

“Even if the Sunday marches don't appear to be bringing the opposition any closer to a successful conclusion, they minimise Lukashenka's prospects of returning to a Lukashenkan Belarus at one point or another. With a third of the country parading through the streets every Sunday chanting 'Die, you rat!', it's hard to imagine a return to the paternalistic kolkhoz [collective farm] idyll Lukashenka successfully maintained for 20 years. It seems to me that the 'Lukashenka system' still has a large community of supporters in Belarus. But Lukashenka himself no longer appears to be capable of mobilising them.”

nv.ua (UA) /

People won't go along with annexation

Belarus will not allow itself to be taken over by Russia, Russian political scientist Andrei Piontkovsky writes in nv.ua:

“[Putin and Lukashenka] are making their calculations without factoring in the Belarusian people. They have now become self-aware, and for the first time are acting in an alert, clear way. And these people will not allow an annexation. That would be the surest way to destroy the relatively good relations between Russia and Belarus. After all, there is no historical antagonism towards Russia in Belarus like there is in Ukraine. The Russian state has committed fewer crimes against the Belarusian people than against the Ukrainian people. And the opposition's attitude towards Moscow is quite positive. But it won't be if Moscow openly carries out its 'Anschluss' operation.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Corona as a catalyst

Political scientist Dominique Moïsi comments in Les Echos on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on authoritarian regimes:

“The divide between those in power and society as a whole has simply become too great in Belarus. And the Covid-19 crisis may have helped fuel this separation process. ... [The virus] is weakening leaders who are blatantly incompetent and accelerating the people's loss of confidence in regimes that oppress them without protecting them. Lukashenka's 'Donald Trump-style statements' on 'playing hockey as the best protection against the virus' and, more importantly, the deteriorating economic situation as a result of the pandemic have renewed the desire of a majority of Belarusians to use the ballot box to put an end to an ageing and increasingly caricatural regime.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Delay tactics could work

Lukashenka received prominent support on the weekend from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Hospodářské noviny points out:

“Lavrov supported Lukashenka's proposal to repeat the presidential elections after a constitutional amendment. ... Lukashenka will try to play for time and hope that the demonstrators eventually grow tired, the enthusiasm wanes and everything gradually goes back to normal. Unless the police repression of the past week recurs, there's a good chance that the protests will fade away over time. The Belarusian opposition is either outside the country or in prison, and the new opposition body, the Coordination Council, only has the potential to negotiate as long as there are people on the street and employees on strike.”

Vedomosti (RU) /

Deceptive wishful thinking

Vedomosti explains what it believes led many commentators to make the mistake of predicting the rapid collapse of the regime a week ago:

“Lukashenka is fanatically clinging to power. By comparison: in 2014 a much more chicken-hearted, simply corrupt, non-fanatic leader only fled the country and headed south after three months of daily mass demonstrations and real street battles. ... So it was illusory to think that Lukashenka would leave within a week because he didn't like all the balloons. ... Many people can't stand Lukashenka simply because of his looks. But this abhorrence played a nasty trick on observers. ... Smart and knowledgeable people subconsciously projected their own personal antipathy onto the regime's ability to survive. As soon as it showed a few cracks they were ready to conclude that it was already on the brink of collapse.”

Webcafé (BG) /

The last resort: brute force

The Belarusian state television on the weekend showed images of Lukashenka wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a Kalashnikov-type rifle. This shows how weak the president is now, Webcafé comments:

“A Kalashnikov assault rifle in the hands of Lukashenka, who has ruled since 1994, is meant to be a sign of strength and determination against the background of ongoing protests. ... But in fact it was a sign of weakness. Lukashenka is literally and figuratively resorting to his last weapon - brute force. ... The president of Belarus has achieved the status of those dictators who can no longer control their people with words. ... Most of them have something in common: they bring themselves down.”

Blog Republica.ro (RO) /

Time to dump this dictator

Lukashenka's days as a dictator are over as far as the Belarusian youth are concerned, writes Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat, editor-in-chief of the Polish online portal strajk.eu, on baricada.ro:

“Lukashenka has ceased to be a leader who cares for his people and is now just an ordinary dictator. ... His words no longer impress the people - especially not the young, whose entire life has been spent under his leadership. ... They're ready to support anyone as long as it's not Lukashenka, even if they don't have a programme or a promise. They don't think geopolitically. And they don't believe that if it comes to a coup the country will suffer the same fate as Ukraine or some other impoverished society.”

Diena (LV) /

The sad end of a revolution

There is little hope of real change coming to Belarus, Diena laments:

“The big protests most likely marked the climax of the revolution, since they were not followed by any logical continuation such as mass strikes in state-run factories. And the demonstrators failed to shake Lukashenka's pyramid of power - no high-ranking officials have gone over to the other side. Those loyal to Lukashenka have kept their grip on the power structures, and more and more people are taking to the streets to show their support for the president. Surprisingly, it seems there are many such people in the country. ... All of this doesn't mean Lukashenka will remain in power. But it does give him the option to step down on his own terms and hand over the sceptre to a successor from the ranks of the current elite.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

How Belarus took the wrong path

The sluggish transformation of Belarus's economy after 1989 is still having a negative impact on the population, Gazeta Wyborcza is convinced:

“After Lukashenka came to power in 1994, reform efforts were discontinued. Today 80 percent of its industry is owned by the state, and foreign investment is negligible. ... The Polish workers who started the protests 40 years ago that later sparked the collapse of communism did not know that many of the companies they worked for would disappear as a result of the collapse. They suffered great losses, but thanks to them we live in a country that is not only democratic, but also more prosperous. In choosing the allegedly milder version of transformation, the Belarusians lost their chance of attaining democracy and prosperity. Today they're not much further on than they were 30 years ago.”

Ukrayinska Pravda (UA) /

Race for top positions completely open

Whoever leads the opposition now may not necessarily be the next president, concludes Serhiy Sydorenko, editor of Ukrayinska Pravda:

“It will hardly be Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who became the most important opposition candidate only by chance and who is not even attempting to lead the protests. ... We should remember recent Ukrainian history here. The most important 'political leaders' of the revolution of dignity were Yatsenyuk, Klitschko and Tyahnybok, their 'virtual leader' was Yulia Tymoshenko, but it was Petro Poroshenko who won the presidential election. The same will happen in Belarus.”

LSM (LV) /

Seeking a Lech Wałęsa

LSM cannot discern a suitable successor for Lukashenko among the current Belarusian politicians:

“Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has said she is prepared to take over leadership. But who will assist her? ... Musicians, actors and athletes are well-known in Belarus, but are they able to conduct talks with the regime's leaders, who have honed their skills for decades? Probably not. Former politicians and presidential candidates are also reminding people of their existence and their ability to talk to Lukashenko. But are these opposition members who present themselves as experts on the existing power structure the right people to lead the popular movement in Belarus?. ... No. ... They must look for a Lech Wałęsa of their own. And no doubt one will emerge in the upcoming general strikes.”

nv.ua (UA) /

Prepare for a revolution

We should already start thinking about how to support Belarus in the transitional phase after the Lukashenko era comes to an end, urges Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in nv.ua:

“Whatever is decided [at the EU emergency summit], the West must stay on the ball. If Lukashenko falls, Belarus will need an IMF programme as soon as a new government is in office. The World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development must provide the necessary support for deregulation and privatisation. The EU will also play a role. It must adopt a positive attitude to the new government, activate the Eastern Partnership for Belarus, invite Belarusian students to participate in the Erasmus Exchange Programme. The importance of such involvement of the public in containing or neutralising Russian interference must not be underestimated.”

News.bg (BG) /

A tolerable life is no longer good enough

It is not only because of repressive measures that Lukashenko has been able to stay in power for 26 years, writes news.bg in retrospect:

“There is practically no unemployment in this country of 9.5 million inhabitants. Although the average salary is just 350 US dollars per month, the cost of living is low. Utilities (electricity, heating, water etc.) usually cost less than 10% of people's salaries, and food is relatively cheap. Public places are orderly and clean, and the crime rate is within limits. In contrast to Soviet times, people can travel abroad freely, provided they don't owe taxes or social welfare contributions. ... Now the Belarusians are demanding justice and basic democratic rights, but it doesn't look like they will get them.”