Belarus-2015: Pyrrhic victory of Lukashenka condemns the country to degradation

In 2015, the permanent President of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenka has easily won another election with the official results of 83.5%. This is a fantastic triumph despite the fact that the economy was a mess: the GDP decreased by 3.9% during the last 11 months, while the average salary in Belarus has decreased from 530 to 370 dollars in equivalent during the last 5 years.

However, the fact is the victory of Lukashenka is not nearly as “elegant” as it is shown by the government and propaganda. According to a national survey of Belarusians, conducted by IISEPS (Vilnius) in December, the current president won only 50.8% of the votes of those, who came to the polling stations during the elections on 11 October. His main opponent Tatsiana Karatkevich, according to an independent sociology, has got 22.3% instead of 4.4% reported by the Central Election Commission.

For a long time the political opponents of Lukashenka have been saying that the votes during the elections are not counted. However, it is a difficult statement to prove, because the opposition is not represented in the election commissions, the ballots are not shown to the observers.

And what is most important – the political opponents of Lukashenka can not significantly expand the influence on the masses, or pressure the regime through street actions. Although the December survey shows that the attitude of the Belarusians to the authorities deteriorated, there has been no growth of protest attitudes. On the contrary, the percentage of people willing to participate in rallies and protest actions decreased, even in comparison with 2011, when the society was pressed down by the repressions for the Ploshcha-2010.

Today the Belarusian society is primarily pressed down by fatalism. During the year the percentage of those who believe that the drastic changes in the internal and foreign policy are possible in next five years has decreased from 34.5% to 27.5%.

Actually, Lukashenka himself has publicly said after the election that the reforms will not be implemented. And in general, the president is right when he complains that he is urged to break the political system. The economic reforms will inevitably erode the system of rigid authoritarianism of personalistic kind, when the president holds all the questions, including some excise taxes on tobacco, in his hand.

Therefore, the Belarusian leadership has chosen a course on the conservation of the system in the hope of angelic patience of Belarusian people, police fist, new loans and some miracle such as a sudden jump of the oil price (its cheapness undermined the possibilities of Russia – the main sponsor of the Belarusian regime, as well as the profitability of Belarusian oil refining branch).

It should be noted that Lukashenka’s conservatism has received an unexpected boost from the Ukrainian factor. The dramatic events in the neighboring country, especially as represented in the Russian and Belarusian propaganda, spawned the fear of any revolutionary scenarios and intensified the need for stability (even if it is poor and miserable) in the electorate.

In addition, Europe did not prove itself to be a very powerful protector of Ukraine during the Crimea annexation and the massacre in Donbas . For these and other reasons, the pro-European sentiments in Belarusian society has slowed down noticeably, while the isolationism grows stronger.

Paradoxically, this happens during the diplomatic breakthrough of the official Minsk toward the west. Lukashenka has earned laurels of a peacemaker. In February 2015 the leaders of the Normandy format have gathered together in Minsk for the negotiations on Ukraine. And the host of the meeting, who was previously called the last dictator in Europe, had the opportunity to give a luxurious bouquet to the leader of democratic Germany, Angela Merkel, as well as shake hands with the president of democratic France, Francois Hollande.

After that what was left for Lukashenka to do is to pardon several people from the list of political prisoners, which was done in August. This was taken into the account, as well as the absence of repressions after the elections on 11 October (in all honesty, there was no one to repress). The EU has suspended sanctions against the Belarusian regime, and, most likely, will soon cancel them altogether, if the authorities are not doing anything messy.

There is no reason for the authorities to break down to the brutal actions. The repressions after the 2010 Ploshcha seem to have broken the backbone of a structured opposition. Anyway, there was no energy for Ploshcha 2015. In addition, during the past year the camp of political opponents of the regime broke into a new conflict – the war between the more radical wing against Karatkevich and her civil campaign “Tell the Truth”, who has chosen a strategy of peaceful changes.

This strategy was announced collaborationist, “Tell the Truth” received the label of “the regime agents”, and the real opponents of regimes were purged to ignore (the boycott is prohibited by law) the “electoral farce”.

However, this ignore strategy failed, as the turnout was quite massive. It should be noted, that according to IISEPS, only 4% of the electorate has deliberately boycotted the elections as a form of protest.

At the same time, the strategy of peaceful changes is stuck in the current Belarusian conditions. Although the authorities have, apparently, lowered the Karatkevich’s results of the elections, “Tell the Truth” is not able to challenge the official numbers by legal means, and it definitely cannot bring people to the streets. This is against the strategy and, most importantly, it is not possible: no one will follow them.

In addition, in December, the authorities have once again refused to register “Tell the Truth”. According to the analysts, is highly unlikely that even small amount of candidates from the list, formed by Karatkevich, will win a seat in the House of Representatives in the Parliamentary elections 2016.

Thus, the regime is obviously not inclined to play some democracy on the domestic political field with the participation of even “mild” part of opposition. What is more important, the European Union and the United States have reduced the demands for Minsk on the part of democracy and human rights, giving priority to the geopolitical reasons.

Moreover, Lukashenka, in spite of economic dependence on Russian subsidies, has been repeatedly distancing from Moscow in the Ukrainian question, and also opposing the intentions of Vladimir Putin’s to place the air base on the territory of Belarus.

However, the resource of this resistance is dwindling. In addition, Lukashenka cannot change the foreign policy course drastically and go for the rapprochement with the European Union. And it’s not just because of the fear of a Russian invasion a la Crimea, but also because of the nature of the regime in Belarus. The democratization, the reforms – these are the mortal danger for Lukashenka.

This is why the permanent Belarusian president is sentenced to the maneuvering in the foreign policy with the thought that he will be lucky enough to swim away a bit, if the Russian “Titanic” begins to sink.

At the same time the authorities have to implement at least some reforms, because otherwise they will have no chances of getting the IMF and the Eurasia Foundation for stabilization and development loans.

And this conditional, forced Belarusian restructuring may undermine the foundations of the system. Another thing is that the marvelous leap into the realm of freedom and prosperity is not possible for Belarusians, despite the opposition schemes, and it is particularly shown in the Ukrainian example. The path towards democracy and a stable market economy could take decades.

And the problems lies not only in the regime’s tricks, but also in the state of minds. Belarusians are still too atomized, apathetic, too awed by the state, and are not used to perceive the state apparatus as the managers hired by people. They are also not used to aggravate the relations with the authorities.

By the way, this is not strictly the Belarusian problem. In all the post-soviet autocracies there is the strong phenomenon of a “red man”, as described by the Nobel laureate 2015, Svetlana Aleksievich. Her triumph is a bright spot on a grim picture of Belarusian realities in 2015.

Klaskouski Aliaksandr, the head of analytical projects, BelaPAN.

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