Europe’s Last Dictatorship - U.S. Democratization Efforts in Belarus

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In , Lukashenko held a referendum to amend the constitution, successfully ending the limitation of the number of possible presidential terms. As with all elections in Belarus, the results of the vote were widely contested. Lukashenko remains unlikely to leave office, recently promising, "I have only you, the people of Belarus, and I will serve to the last of my days. It takes some time to clarify how exactly the Rada, outside of Belarus since , is working to oust Lukashenko.

The Rada's current mission, Packajeu says, is to support opposition parties in Belarus. So its overall purpose So our practical tasks are to support and promote any activity that would lead to Belarus having such a government. But the pro-democracy parties created before Lukashenko came to power have been excluded from public life for 20 years.

Other parties remain unofficial, unable to register in Belarus's restrictive political environment. He is clear about the challenges the Rada faces, animatedly detailing the disastrous state of Belarusian politics.

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But the problem is greater than simply the high personal cost of revolution. So the result is that people are simply losing interest.

Europe’s Last Dictatorship

After two decades of no political change, it is not just voters that have become disillusioned. Recent Russian nationalism, however, has put Lukashenko in a difficult position. Belarus is economically reliant on Russia, its primary trading partner. As the Kremlin pushes to expand its territory, Lukashenko has come under pressure to allow new air bases for the Russian military. In order to counterbalance Russian influence, Lukashenko has reached out to the EU. The EU has, in turn, suspended sanctions after Belarus's relatively uneventful recent elections.

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Packajeu is skeptical about Lukashenko's willingness to change as well as the overall stability of the regime. When they blow up they actually blow up. Looking around the small room with its dated decoration, it's difficult to imagine that this organization, housed in a lonely suburb of London, will prove instrumental in unseating one of Europe's longest serving leaders.

Decorated with pictures of dead leaders and old territory, history is certainly present in the Rada's London outpost. What is less clear is its place in the future.


At the moment, there is little political will within the EU to foster opposition in Belarus. On the edges of Europe, economically marginal, and dwarfed by Russia, the country is all too easy to dismiss. The Rada's continued existence in is part of the tragedy of Belarusian politics, an anachronistic byproduct of Europe's last dictatorship. Until recently, a fifth of Russian gas exports and two fifths of its oil exports to Europe passed through Belarus.

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The country has also been able to profit by refining Russian oil at its Soviet-era Mazyr facility. But Minsk also benefits considerably from trade with the EU and the willingness of western financial institutions to protect it from wholesale Russian domination, as well as Kremlin loans and subsidies designed to prevent it from straying too far in the other direction.

The Belarus Dilemma: Fighting Europe's Last Dictatorship

Unemployment was almost twice as high in as it was in The Belarusian ruble has lost half of its value against the U. The National Bank of Belarus has eased foreign exchange restrictions, and employment in the largest industrial factories has been reduced. The government has also reduced financial support to state-owned firms, and some of the most unprofitable industrial enterprises have been liquidated altogether.

In April, Minsk implemented a politically sensitive decision to raise the state pension age for both men and women by three years, and in June it hosted an IMF delegation for a round of talks on further structural reforms. Most senior officials we have met with recognize the need for further, deep institutional and structural reforms. This willingness to countenance reform has raised hopes among Belarusian free-marketeers that their time has come, generating a sense of optimism they have not felt since the early s, before Lukashenko came to power.

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When the crisis started, the system had nothing to offer. The Belarusian public appears to accept the need for changes, according to Andrei Vardomatski of the Belarusian Analytical Workroom, an independent polling company based in Warsaw. Vardomatski conducted a poll in December in which 66 percent of respondents expressed support for economic reforms, with 44 percent saying that they should be gradual and 22 percent in favor of a rapid transition to a market economy.

Rapid reform remains unlikely, not least because of the fear held by many Belarusians of the rise of a Russian or Ukrainian-style oligarchy — a concern shared by the free marketeers. Then people who are closer to power will simply create an oligarchic system. Aware that a loosening of the economic reins would also pose a threat to his grip on power, Lukashenko is likely to share these concerns, if only for self-interested reasons. Reformers were demoralized in July by the removal of Kiryl Rudy, a key presidential advisor who earlier this year published a candid book on the state of the economy, from his role close to the president.

Unfortunately for the Belarusian leader, his artful maneuvering may no longer cut the mustard.

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With the status quo of the past two decades looking increasingly unsustainable, some regard his predicament as unenviably similar to that of Mikhail Gorbachev in the s — he is aware that reform is unavoidable, but fearful of its potential consequences. For some, this fear means that the president will remain reluctant to embrace change. Meanwhile, Jon Basil Utley retains his faith in his free-market worldview.

Lukashenko will be hoping to prove him wrong. admin