Protests in Belarus: A Summary

posted in: Belarus, Economics, Europe, Politics | 0
Opposition Protests on August 16

The streets are packed to the brim with angry people. Traffic is blocked off. Men and women, shoulder to shoulder, chant together for change. The root of these protests, as it is for many, is political oppression. As Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko approached his sixth term for president back in August, people were outraged. So, in order to peacefully voice their discontent with the current election system, peaceful protests began in Belarus. 

Despite the massive size and fervor of these anti-government rallies, president Lukashenko was reelected for his sixth term. According to the Belarusian government, he brought in the large majority of the popular vote, at 80.10%. However, with a landslide victory in such a heated election, it wasn’t before long that allegations of electoral fraud began to spread, especially considering that the only non-government opinion poll to be leaked showed his support at 3%. As a result, the protests have only continued. 

Lukashenko at a Hearing on August 19 | Courtesy of Andrei Stasevich/BElTA Pool Photo and AP

Now, over a month later, the people continue to protest. On election day, thousands gathered in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Since then, the protests have spread to all the major cities. As tensions continue to rise, violence ensues. Although the protests have remained relatively peaceful, the same can not be said for the methods used by law-enforcement agencies. It’s been reported that security forces have dropped grenades, as well as used tear gas, flashbangs, rubber bullets, and much more to suppress the protestors. They’ve also arrested and detained people at random, and continue to incite chaos among the people. But, the people of Belarus are not looking to give up anytime soon. As these protests are increasingly met by violence, it gives the people all the more reason to protest.

The protests have already managed to bring their fraudulent election to worldwide attention, as the United States and the entire European Union have publicly announced their refusal to accept the results of the election. The European Union has also imposed sanctions on 31 senior Belarusian officials, due to their role in actively inciting violence and for their involvement in the assumed-to-be-fraudulent election. 

However, not all nations have treated this situation in Belarus with contempt. Russia, which has a tight alliance with Belarus, has openly supported the actions taken by the government. On Thursday, August 27th, Putin released a message that warned protestors. If the protests continue to grow, as they steadily have been for the past month, they could possibly attempt to dispose of president Lukashenko. If the situation gets near this level, Putin stated that he has a special reserve force ready to restore order in Belarus.

But, the situation isn’t as easy as it looks for Putin. He has already been warned against stepping in by Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, who believes that the people have the right to peacefully protest without outside forces stepping in. If he does choose to step in, which he very well could, he might run the risk of angering other nations, who support the protests in Belarus. This could lead to sanctions, which would have a widespread negative impact on Russia. Also, stalwart loyalty among his police forces, primarily the infamous OMON, could wane as most law enforcement officials come to grips with the fact that the protests will not end anytime soon, and that if the regime is overthrown, they might face a judicial backlash.