Europe's Last Dictator Holds On to Power

In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko wins reelection amid violence

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In Belarus, the man known as "Europe's last dictator" secured reelection amid police crackdowns, sweeping arrests of opposition figures, and charges of election fraud. President Alexander Lukashenko looks like he will remain in power after 16 years of rocky and occasionally violent rule. At a news conference, Lukashenko responded to international condemnations of his handling of the election by saying "there won't be any more muddle-headed democracy in the country." The New York Times' Michael Schwirtz reports that, over the weekend, " thousands of people converged on Independence Square here in the capital, heeding opposition leaders who called the election a farce and accused Mr. Lukashenko of keeping the post-Soviet country locked in dictatorship." They were "quickly overwhelmed" by "armored riot troops," however, and even beaten by "packs of plainclothes officers."

How has the situation in Belarus remained this bad? And where will it go from here?

  • What Comes Next?  Reuters's Lidia Kelly warns that rigging the election and suppressing protesters was the easy part for Lukashenko. "Bulging external deficits threaten the economic basis of Lukashenko's 16-year-old grip on power, but he won a pre-election reprieve by patching up ties with former colonial master Moscow and winning a sweetheart deal on energy imports," she writes. "Even if Lukashenko reckons he can get by without the European Union opening its checkbook, he has no choice but to open up Belarus's Soviet-style command economy to sustain his rule."
  • How Belarus Got Us to Go Soft  "Why has the West gone soft on Lukashenko?" The New Republic's James Kirchick asks. "The answer, in fact, lies to the east: Belarus has increasingly become a pawn between Russia and Europe and the United States. And the winner of this geostrategic chess match has been the Belarusian dictator himself." Kirchick tells the story of how Belarus went from heavily sanctioned pariah to tolerated chess pawn.
  • A Blight on Europe  "Lukashenko's continuing grip on power makes Belarus one of the last relics of Soviet-style dictatorship," the Associated Press's Yuras Karmanau and Maria Danilova write. "The country's continuing repression has been an embarassment to the European Union, which offered 3 billion euros ($3.9 billion) in aid to Belarus if the elections were judged to be free and fair."
  • Can Belarus Follow the China Model?  The Guardian's Andrej Dynko says Lukashenko is trying. "The country itself has changed a lot in 15 years, despite the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko. Its economy has grown at twice the rate of neighbouring Ukraine's. This is a Chinese, or rather a Singaporean model--and Lukashenko is convinced it is the one best suited to the Belarusian mentality and geopolitical situation. Not everyone agrees with him, however. A parallel society has grown up: rock music, samizdat and discussion clubs are all flourishing."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.