“No. there is no one there? ” Alexander Lukashenko asked the question timidly and pointed to the square behind his administrative palace.
In a video filmed a week ago, the Belarusian leader was walking in a bulletproof vest with a gun in his hand, but still seemed afraid of peaceful protesters.
For years, Lukashenko’s subjects have been afraid. Now the Belarusians have boldly filled the streets of Minsk, demanding fair elections.
Vin early Russia, no political freedoms or human rights are known, but in some ways the country has been the Lord’s Purse, if the term can be used in the context of the former Soviet republics.
It has had a sheltered economy based on cheap Russian oil and gas, as well as a Soviet-heritage industry that has endured to this day.
The social development index in Belarus is the best in the former Soviet Union when the Baltics are not taken into account. Corruption is lowest in Georgia. GDP per capita is still 80 percent higher than in Ukraine, although the gap has narrowed.
There are still reasons for dissatisfaction other than electoral fraud. The economic situation has deteriorated as Russia has raised energy prices. The coronavirus situation revealed the helplessness of the state. A new generation has grown up in the country, tired of the invisibility.
In five there has been a democratic revolution in the former Soviet Union: Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004 and 2014, Kyrgyzstan in 2005 and 2010, Moldova in 2016 and Armenia in 2018.
Yet democracy in these countries is still fragile and the power struggle is ripping.
For example, it is difficult to consider Ukraine a success story. In terms of corruption, it is only slightly ahead of Russia, and in economic crises the country has dived deeper than the former Soviet republics. However, Ukraine’s undeniable achievement is a change of power in free presidential elections last year. President with an acting background Volodymyr Zelenskyi has been able to unite a divided people.
“Civil society in Ukraine has developed strong. People believe they can influence politics, ”says a sociologist with a Ukrainian background working in Helsinki Arseniy Svynarenko.
Svynarenko sees the movement in Belarus as inevitably strengthening civil society, no matter what the struggle was this time. Once awakened, the people no longer bother to sleep.
Russians are also more dissatisfied with their own rulers than before, but dissatisfied are divided between those who believe in the possibility of political change and those who do not.
In June, I asked my Russian fellow friends if they were going to vote on the country’s new constitution, which removed Vladimir Putin restrictions on presidencies. Most respondents said they would remain “in protest at home”.
Unlike the Russians, the Belarusians did not stay home and were not satisfied with the results given. Now their example affects the Russians.
“Putin is losing his power just like Lukashenko,” a friend of mine from St. Petersburg recently opened in a soma. “The whole authoritarian-totalitarian system will lead to a crisis in both countries. There is no other way than to fight evil. Change in Russia has already begun. Khabarovsk is fighting against Moscow for another month, ”he referred to the protests that had been going on for weeks in the Far East.
What was surprising about my friend opening up was that I hadn’t noticed he had been interested in politics before.
Even an authoritarian system is based on a social contract. A ruler is allowed to rule if he offers his subjects real or imagined benefits. British researchers Samuel Greenen and Graeme Robertsonin according to people stand behind the ruler if they assume others to do the same. If opposition to those in power becomes socially acceptable, the system could collapse quickly.
That is why Belarus sets a dangerous precedent for the Kremlin.
Armenia’s uprising in 2018 has been seen as an example that Moscow can also accept a change of power in free elections if its geopolitical interests are not threatened. Democracy in a culturally and geographically close Belarus would still be a completely different matter.
When Ukraine broke free from its shackles, Russia decided that the neighboring country should not become a successful example. It had to be destroyed by occupation and war.
From a dictatorship despite this, Belarusians are accustomed to living in a state whose affairs are decided in Minsk and not in Moscow. Last year, less than four percent in the poll supported the country’s accession to Russia.
The country is still connected to its eastern neighbor by a thick chain. The countries have a state union and a common defense. For Belarus to be free to choose, Russia would have to change first.
The Russian propaganda mill is not yet running at full capacity. The Kremlin may be tempted to let Lukashenko do the dirty work for him.
Russia’s eternal foreign minister Sergei Lavrov already commenting coldly:
“Whatever way the Belarussian leadership chooses to engage in dialogue with its people, we accept it.”