Wednesday

25th Apr 2018

Opinion

Belarus: A nation with no politics

  • The post-election crackdown in 2010 sent most of the real opposition into exile (Photo: EPA)

Last week, Belarus held parliamentary elections - an event which usually carries a substantial weight with a state's future. But here it doesn’t matters. Elections to the House of Representatives have no real significance vis-a-vis Belarus' political direction.

Five parties managed to win seats in parliament including one mandate for an opposition United Civil Party - an incident that has not occurred in the past 12 years.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Other groupings in the new political composition are either openly pro-government or considered a constructive opposition, which gets along with the regime. Nearly 90 percent of the elected deputies however have run as independent candidates - an oxymoron that in Belarus customarily means supporting the stronger and remaining low-profile.

The parliament itself acts only as a rubber stamp machine, which has an inexhaustible supply of ink. In the 2012-2016 term of office only three out of over 400 passed laws were initiated by its members. The rest were put forward by president Aleksandr Lukashenko, who is the one and only power in the country since 1994.

Mentality equals stability

Lukashenko likes to think of himself as a gendarme of stability. He skillfuly convinces people that it is him that provides peace.

This buzz marketing resonates well with the politically passive Belarusian society. Everyone toes the line in fear of being detained, prosecuted, and sentenced. Not always in that order. The stability narrative was particularly effective after the Ukrainian-Russian war broke out in 2014.

Over the years, Lukashenko was able to create a parallel structure of power, which performs efficiently without parliament's interference. For more than two decades he has been Belarus' political oracle.

His decisions are neither contested nor deeply analysed by the army of officials. One can only believe in them.

Lukashenko determines not only the issues of strategic importance like an unshakable partnership with Russia. Similarly to every dictator he also solves more mundane problems.

In the past - at the request of his son Nikolai, who wished to ski - snow was brought to the president's residence in Lyaskovichi from throughout the country.

Under the illusion

According to polls, there is constant support for democracy in Belarus, at the level of 20 percent. It however does not translate into political representation.

After the 2010 presidential election the opposition was severely weakened. Today many of those who demonstrated six years ago live abroad. Lukashenko would not allow for another controlled liberalisation, which can result in domestic protests and international outcry. He keeps his cards close to chest.

Due to economic perturbations and geopolitical situation in the region, Belarus' room for manoeuvre has lately become limited, however.

The country's GDP dropped by 3.9 percent last year. In the first six months of 2016 it declined another 2.5 percent. The national financial reserves are dangerously low. And approximately half of the society feels that their economic well-being is threatened.

For these reasons, Lukashenko started to flirt with the West again. In exchange for releasing political prisoners in 2015, the European Union has partly lifted sanctions imposed on Belarus after the 2010 events.

Change not welcome

Lukashenko, for his part, is only mimicking change when in fact all he aims at is preserving status quo. Moscow is helping a great deal in this regard. It provides an unconditional access to easy money, but also sets a ‘good’ example regarding electoral standards and parliamentary practices.

Elections to the Russian Duma, which took place on 18 September, also saw a stunning victory of the government party, United Russia party.

As in Belarus, the new Russian parliament comprises only those loyal to the system. Limited fundamental freedoms, denied political rights, and fully controlled media - these are the key components of the political landscapes in both countries.

President Lukashenko will not be a Belarusian version of Russia's Gorbachev. He will not propose perestroika.

Systemic changes are sacrificed at the altar of a day-to-day survival. Belarusian elites are not interested in any painful and costly corrective actions. Problems are not solved but brushed under the carpet.

This state of inertia cannot last forever. Unproductive government enterprises will eventually have to be closed or privatised. The authorities will have to stop subsidising housing and communal services. And the economy, which is dependent on revenues from exporting oil products, will have to be reformed.

The question is when will the system be finally discredited?

In Belarus the public acquiesces in the pretence that multiparty politics exists. Everyone seems to close their eyes to the truth - without a meaningful debate inside Belarus people outside will not change their opinion about the country.

Michal Romanowski is an analyst with the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

Belarus elections: invisible, but not trivial

The surprise elevation of two opposition candidates to parliament is designed to win friends in the West, but if the EU and US reciprocate, they'll be playing into Lukashenko's hands.

Analysis

Lukashenka: End of an era?

The political spring in Belarus ended just as the actual season began, but greater changes loom after 23 years of dictatorship.

MEPs call for reset in relations with Belarus

A group of 72 euro-deputies have written to EU leaders, asking them to stop funding Europe's last dictatorship and increase their support for democracy activists instead.

How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?

Russian domestic television - the only source of foreign news for most Russians - consistently shows Europe over-run by immigrants, beset by terrorist atrocities, and on strike. This has serious consequences.

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

News in Brief

  1. Far-right attack migrants on Greek island
  2. Merkel defends accepting UN refugees
  3. EU commissioner plans Malta 'money laundering' inspection
  4. Survey: Half of high polluting farms receive CAP subsidies
  5. Commission will 'not shy away' from Malta killing repercussions
  6. EU Commission opens probe on Alitalia state loan
  7. Paris suspect given 20-year sentence for Brussels shoot-out
  8. Merkel and Pena Nieto praise EU-Mexico trade agreement

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  3. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  4. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  6. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  7. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  8. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight

Latest News

  1. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  2. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ
  3. How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?
  4. MEPs tell Chinese ambassador of concerns on trade
  5. Greenland votes with eye on independence
  6. EU court delivers blow to anti-abortion activists
  7. Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack
  8. European Commission proposes whistleblower protection law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  3. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  7. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  8. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  9. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  10. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  11. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations