Europe’s Last Dictator and the Belarus Opposition

Table of Contents

Events in Belarus have become the focus of attention of many world media. In the heart of Europe, thousands of protesters are once again opposing the authoritarian rule. The former Soviet Republic has repeatedly witnessed the dubious victories of President Alexander Lukashenko. However, never before has the desire for change been so tangible, and the manifestation of cruelty towards the demonstrators so ruthless. This paper analyzes the article Belarus’s Leader Vows to Crush Protests After Claiming Landslide Election Win, published in the NYTimes on August 10, 2020, which discusses the latest events in Belarus. These events can be regarded as restrictions on freedoms by a totalitarian state.

Summary of the Article

On August 9, presidential elections were held in Belarus. According to official data, Alexander Lukashenko, the incumbent head of the republic, won it with about 80% of support. His main rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won about 10% of the vote. The opposition is confident that the results may, in fact, be diametrically opposite: numerous protocols of election commissions and independent exit polls show that the majority of Belarusians could have voted for Tikhanovskaya. In their article for the NYTimes. Nechepurenko and Higgins (2020) report to the readers about the consequences of the elections in Belarus with a particular focus on the “public fury over a fraud-tainted election” (p. 4). Two critical issues of restrictions on freedoms by a totalitarian state are evident in this article: fraudulent elections and the refusal to provide conditions for rallies and demonstrations. The harshly suppressed protests over the election results show a growing tide of anger in the country.

Immediately after the publication of the first election results, mass protests began in Minsk and other Belarusian cities. Police brutally detained and beat people, dozens of people were injured, one person is officially reported dead, some other deaths are announced by reporters but denied by officials. This passage well represents the issue of crushing demonstrations and rallying: “Mr. Lukashenko first took power after an election in 1994, the last time Belarus held a poll judged reasonably free and fair by outside observers. He showed no inclination on Monday to bow to opposition demands for a recount of the votes cast on Sunday or to negotiate with rivals he mocked as “sheep” led astray by foreigners” (Nechepurenko & Higgins, p. 23). Not only does Lukashenko’s attitude show his inability and unwillingness to support democratic processes in his country, but also an utter disrespect towards Belarus citizens, their demands, and opposing views. Obviously, such massive demonstrations could not have taken place if his victory in the elections was so decisive. The article quotes Yuri Puchila, a Belorussian artist of 29 years old: “These are not arrests, these are kidnappings, random peaceful people are just grabbed off the street” (p. 10). The peaceful protests were labeled as “riots.” In doing so, the authorities prevented democratic processes take place peacefully and lawfully.

Discussion

One can suggest that the article is not neutral for two reasons. First, the NYTimes is an American source with liberal inclinations and views. Second, the authors of the article take the opposition’s side by referencing to the frauds taking place and quoting people who oppose the state. In doing so, they present events from the opposition’s side, not giving voice to the state’s supporters.

Elections are the most important element of democracy. In the Declaration of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, adopted On March 26, 1994, in Paris, democracy and its relationship to elections are defined as genuine, widespread and peaceful competition between individuals and organized groups (meaning, first of all, the parties) for the most important positions of the state power through regular, free and fair elections (Declaration, 2020). Although the notion of “fair elections” is vague, the fundamental meaning is quite apparent: elections can be considered fair if the procedure for holding them (legislation, instructions) is agreed upon by all interested parties (including, of course, the opposition) and is strictly observed by everyone.

The EU leaders rightly condemned the electoral violations. They need to be prepared to reimpose sanctions, even though they fear that this will push Lukashenko into the arms of Vladimir Putin. Failure to take decisive action will undermine the EU’s commitment to democratic values. If events develop in such a way that Lukashenko’s power is under threat, Western capitals will need to support the opposition to hold free elections.

Conclusion

Studying and understanding events in totalitarian countries are essential for democratic countries for two reasons. First, the countries are no longer isolated; globalization has made the world as interconnected as possible, and events in some countries always resonate in others. Second, freedoms and human rights must operate everywhere, and democracies can make efforts to ensure this. It is impossible to predict how events in Belarus will develop in the coming days. More important, however, is the Belarusian society’s desire to establish a system and power that will match their desire for freedom and pluralism. This is not a question of drawing Belarus into the Western “camp”, rather of the rejection of the discredited regime in the interests of the people of the country.

References

(1994). Web.

Nechepurenko, I., & Higgins, A. (2020). The New York Times. Web.

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