Belarus: living in the past

20th anniversary of Lukashenka’s dictatorship

This week, it is 23 years since Belarus re-gained independence from the Soviet Union. This year there is another, rather dubious, anniversary that the Belarusian nation is marking with grief and silence. 20 years ago Alaksandr Lukashenka came to power, establishing the current authoritarian and undemocratic regime, usually referred as Europe’s last dictatorship.

Police violence had no limits during the peaceful protest in the capital Minsk against election falsifications in Belarus in 2010

Police violence had no limits during the peaceful protest in the capital Minsk against election falsifications in Belarus in 2010

In August 1991, when decades of Soviet repressions, social and political terror had finally come to an end, the Parliament of the then Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus unanimously voted for independence and restoration of the country’s sovereignty. As well as in all the other 15 republics of the collapsed USSR – a new era had come to Belarus finally letting the Belarusian nation to choose its path and future after so many years of ethnic, political and economic oppression by Moscow.

The Belarusian Popular Front Party (BPF Party), member of the International Democrat Union (IDU), is the party that in the 1980s became the first and the main political force that for the first time in centuries mobilised and organised thousands of people against the Soviet authorities.

Therefore, as the main democratic, political force – the party had no illusions of what was laying ahead. The politicians from the BPF Party realised the magnitude of their task as soon as in 1990 their demands had been met by the authorities and the country’s first, largely free and transparent, parliamentary election was held. 37 MPs (out of 360) from the BPF Party were elected to the Parliament that still mainly consisted of old communists.

Nevertheless, like in many other post-communist countries, 70 years of the Soviet communism have left a devastating mark on Belarusian society, peoples’ values and mentality. Consequently, the majority chose Alaksandr Lukashenka for less freedom and democracy but populist policies for economic stability over the BPF party’s plan to democratise, reform and develop Belarus into a vibrant free-market economy.

The situation in Belarus is not just horrifically unique but very much shocking. Just 3 hours away from London or 2 hours away from Stockholm – there is a country where people get imprisoned for their opinions and beliefs; the only country where over quarter of a million citizens are banned from going abroad; Europe’s only country with capital punishment without the rule of law, and thousands of young peoples’ everyday life is based on fears, intimidation and control by the authorities.

Belarus is currently one of the worst places for journalists. In the early years of Alaksandr Lukashenka’s presidency, the most well-known oppositional reporter Zmicier Zavadski got kidnapped and his fate is still unknown. Hundreds of independent newspapers have been banned or shut down after Lukashenka came to power. Nowadays, there are only two independent national newspapers which for the most of them time had worked underground.

Baroness Thatcher, former British Conservative Prime Minister, once said

– “Communist regimes were not some unfortunate aberration, some historical deviation from a socialist ideal. They were the ultimate expression, unconstrained by democratic and electoral pressures, of what socialism is all about. … In short, the state [is] everything and the individual nothing.

This is perhaps a very relevant quote that reflects the tragic consequences of communism in Belarus.

The communist governments intentionally destroyed peoples’ social liberties, pride, self-belief and strength – since an individual has always been a threat to the socialist ideas of controlling peoples’ lives. When electing Alaksandr Lukashenka as Belarus’ president in the first and the last free and fair election in 1994, the Belarusians did not willingly elect a future dictator. The Belarusian nation no longer knew that there is a bright alternative and prosperous future outside socialism.

I therefore strongly believe that as the world’s largest youth alliance, the IYDU has undoubtedly got some of the strongest instruments to fight anti-democratic regimes – whether it is in Cuba, Venezuela or Belarus. Education, knowledge about democracy and power of the economic liberalism are some of the things that people in Belarus have repeatedly been denied by the government.

And one of the purposes of the IYDU is to promote the values of democracy, free-market economy and strong human and civil rights. Spreading the valuable information that there is an alternative besides state-control, political monopolies and authoritarianism is a powerful weapon that nobody can ever stop.

The IYDU is utterly committed and devoted to an uncompromising fight for economic and political freedoms across the globe as the future belongs to free and strong democracies. The world will never fully be free unless we hear about political prisoners and persecutions in Belarus, China or elsewhere.

Juraś Stankievič, IYDU Vice-Chairman
Belarusian Popular Front (Belarus)