By: Nick Mosher
On August 9, 2020, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, announced that he won 80% of the vote in the latest election. Belarusian citizens and the West have widely condemned this election as fraudulent, with repeated demands for a recount. Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, has been president for the past 26 years.
Outrage immediately followed Lukashenko’s most recent claim of victory as throngs of thousands gathered in the capital city, Minsk, calling on the dictator to step down. In response, Belarusian authorities cracked down on the protests and arrested thousands, with widespread reports of abuse and torture of those in custody.
Most of the opposition leadership is in exile, including Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – the popular opposition candidate claiming to be the true winner of the election – who fled to Lithuania on August 11. The Belarusian protests have no formal leadership, but formed spontaneously, with word spreading through social media.
Lukashenko, in an attempt to quell protestors, promised constitutional reforms that would be ready for a vote by the end of 2021. Critics believe this is an attempt by the dictator to delay changes until anger towards the regime has died down and his grip on the country is restored so no real changes have to be made.
Lukashenko called a soviet-style “All-Belarusian People’s Assembly” on February 11 to discuss reforms, but hopes for real changes were further weakened by Lukashenko’s remarks at the assembly, in which he called the mass demonstrations of the past six months “a blitzkrieg” that was initiated by “artificial external forces.” The event itself was widely criticized as a blatant attempt by Lukashenko to consolidate power; the majority of the 2,700 delegates at the People’s Assembly came from government-backed sectors that have consistently offered support to Lukashenko’s regime.
Although numbers have dwindled in recent months, Belarusian citizens continue to demonstrate against Lukashenko. In response to the massive number of incarcerations, protestors have opted to gather in local neighborhoods rather than on main streets in Minsk to avoid arrest and torture. With all major opposition leaders either detained or in exile, the future of Belarus is still in question as legitimate reform by Lukashenko seems doubtful.