Belarus: What You Need to Know

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In 2005, the US called Belarus Europe’s “last outpost of tyranny.” Their reasoning? The government of Alexander Lukashenko. Since 1994, Lukashenko’s government has reigned over the former Soviet state.

Following the Cold War, Belarus was one of the more relatively prosperous former Soviet states. However, Lukashenko took power and began opposing efforts to privatize business interests in the country.

In the intervening years, the country has begun to rely heavily on Russia for its supplies. Ostensibly, Lukashenko is the president. However, whenever an opposition party gets any momentum, their candidates are either imprisoned or made to vanish in some way.

In August of 2020, Lukashenko’s latest grab for official control of the government was opposed by widespread protests.

History

Belarus was ravaged by war during World War II. The country’s current borders are a result of that conflict. The country suffered a heavy loss of life at the hands of German invaders during the war.

Most of the country’s once-sizable population of Jews were killed by the Nazi army. Following this dark chapter of their history, the country was swept up into the USSR.

During the Cold War, Belarus was one of many Soviet states. The country was run as a Communist, market-controlled state. Throughout the span of the Cold War, the country fell on harsh times.

By the fall of the USSR, the country was facing dire economic straits. This is the backdrop under which Lukashenko was originally elected to power in 1994.

Lukashenko’s political ascendency came following his time as a state farm director. After an impressive run on an anti-corruption board, he rode a wave of populist support to the highest office in the country. Since then, he has made aggressive moves to consolidate power and silence opposition parties.

Protests

On August 9, 2020, the most recent presidential election in the country went in Lukashenko’s favor. However, neither the EU nor the US accepted these election results, arguing that Lukashenko’s government didn’t allow for a fair election.

Protests have erupted throughout the country in the intervening weeks. The capital city of Minsk has seen unprecedented civic unrest. Opposition leaders and protest organizers have been jailed.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko has promised to increase the intensity of his regime. He has vowed to restore order in any way necessary. This has led to unease in the EU, with most parts of the free world condemning Lukashenko’s treatment of the protesters. For now, the country is in the grips of a crisis of governmental legitimacy.