A year after the protests: Belarus at an impasse?

On 9 August 2020, Belarus's long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenka had himself proclaimed the winner of the presidential election, even though according to the opposition and international observers his challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had won. Protests of an unprecedented scale followed, but Lukashenka brutally crushed them. One year on Europe's press discusses whether there is any hope of change, and if so, how.

Open/close all quotes
Polityka (PL) /

No freedom in Belarus without freedom in Russia

The weekly magazine Polityka looks into the future:

“In Poland in the 1980s, it took a whole decade before the mass protests brought about real changes. The prerequisites for this were the crisis and the atmosphere of decline both in the Soviet Union and in the communist regime - as well as active support from abroad. Similar circumstances will probably be needed for the democratisation of Belarus. Putinism will likely have to collapse or Russia will have to decide to stop treating its western neighbour as its satellite. A 'changing of the guard' also offers an opportunity, since neither Lukashenka nor Putin can escape biology. However, there is no guarantee that the two dictators will not be replaced by clones - or even worse autocrats.”

Delo (SI) /

Europe must help the opposition

The situation in Belarus is a European problem, says former diplomat Denis Mancević in a commentary for Delo:

“Lukashenka's regime is becoming increasingly ruthless and is resorting to state terror, which in itself is an international security challenge. The hijacking of a civilian passenger plane in Belarusian airspace confirms this. Therefore, the EU must do more. It must become more proactive, provide more humanitarian and social aid to Belarusian civil society and put relations with Belarus at the top of its agenda. Otherwise Belarusian civil society will continue to live in the circles of hell well into the third decade of the 21st century.”

Ukrajinska Prawda (UA) /

No one had expected such cruelty

Ukrayinska Pravda describes how much Belarus has changed in the past year:

“Both the extent of the protests and the cruelty of the authorities were unexpected. This year, official Minsk went from being an authoritarian power with which it was still possible to negotiate to being an undemocratic dictatorship that poses a threat to its own citizens as well as neighbouring countries. Now some Western states have even imposed sanctions against Lukashenka personally. ... The EU only imposes sanctions on incumbent heads of state in exceptional cases, when it believes that they have finally lost all legitimacy and that the bridges can be burned.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Like a South American dictatorship

Europe has still not grasped the situation, criticises La Stampa:

“A year ago, no one was ready for a revolution. Alexander Lukashenka, 'Europe's last dictator', was running for president for the umpteenth time and the rest of the world was preparing not to recognise his 'victory' at the ballot box, as they have done several times during his 26-year rule. ... A year later, no one is prepared for defeat and disappointment: after thousands of detained, tortured and imprisoned Belarusians, hundreds of emigrants and dozens of deaths, a Europe that was perhaps too distracted by its annus horribilis is watching in amazement as a wave of repression with the scope and intensity of a South American dictatorship in the 1970s unfolds at its very core.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Business as usual

The Frankfurter Rundschau sees the regime still firmly in the saddle for several reasons:

“Lukashenka's propaganda television continues to run commercials for chocolate bars from Mars, Nestlé and the like. When it comes to profits, Western corporations are not very conscious of injustice. For them it's business as usual and their money for the ads flows right into Lukashenka's coffers. In the meantime the EU has tightened its sanctions against Belarus, but without any noticeable impact so far. Naturally, revenues are lost when potash or oil products, for example, can no longer be exported to Europe. But much of it ends up on the world market anyway via Russia. ... Lukashenka won't be toppled so quickly. Especially not as long as Moscow is helping him out.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Resistance like that against the Soviet Union needed!

The West must do even more to support the resistance in Belarus, Dagens Nyheter urges:

“People fleeing the dictatorship must be able to count on finding refuge. Those who protest in the country must receive support, for example in court cases. All the means that were employed to aid dissidents in the Soviet Union must be used once again. Back then, a close watch was kept on what happened to these people. At the same time, sanctions against the regime must be intensified. And of course the 2020 election lacks any and all legitimacy. ... Lukashenka must go.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (RU) /

Lukashenka wants to formally move to a new post

The regime wants to and can restructure itself as it sees fit, Nezavisimaya Gazeta explains:

“As the statistics show, thanks to Russia's help the sanctions have had no impact on the economy so far. Nor will they trigger a new wave of protests, since the state has taken all the necessary measures to prevent this - and can intensify them in the run-up to the referendum on a new constitution. ... The regime wants to create a new supreme body that would be an All Belarusian People's Assembly that supervises the president as well as the parliament and the government. Lukashenka is expected to take over the leadership of the Assembly if the outcome of the referendum is positive. So the state power will not allow its reform plans to be disturbed.”