Tuesday

6th Dec 2022

Opinion

The beginning of the end for Europe's last dictator

  • Ever since 1994, president Aleksandr Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist (Photo: Twitter)

Since 1989, developments in most of Europe have been characterised by democratisation, freedom and prosperity. Still, one clear exception exists. Ever since 1994, president Aleksandr Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist.

From August, and yet another illegitimate election, widespread democratic protests have been going on, continuing now into the new year.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In one way or another, the public uprising, strength and determination by the Belarusian people hopefully marks the beginning of the end for Europe's last dictator.

The European Union has a moral obligation to keep acting in support of the democratic movement in Belarus.

So far, the Union's response has been fairly well balanced, albeit with signs of indecisiveness and lack of speed. After a slow start, which highlights the need to re-initiate the discussion on how to reform the decision-making process in EU foreign affairs, the decision to implement sanctions finally came through in the Council.

From the European Parliament's side, the spotlight has, on numerous occasions, focused on the opposition's struggle and need of support.

As a Swede and chairman of the European Parliament's development committee, I am also pleased that Sweden is one of the EU countries that has withdrawn aid for several projects in the country with links to the regime.

However, the different approach among member states yet again highlights the need for a more coherent EU policy response on these matters.

The Union is the world's largest aid donor and thus has great opportunities to use the development policy as a means of putting pressure on regimes worldwide. Furthermore, while supporting a democratic regime change in Belarus, the EU also needs to start preparing for what might happen when Lukashenko is no longer in power.

I hope that the change of power will take place in a peaceful manner, but still, there is much at stake.

Therefore, it is important that the EU does not act naively. The Union should hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Remembering the Arab Spring, the EU must be prepared to act, if developments in Belarus take unexpected turns in the wrong direction.

For example, it is unlikely that the Kremlin will refrain from interfering during a change of power in Belarus.

Minsk and Moscow

It is well known that Vladimir Putin has for a long time been deeply dissatisfied with Lukashenko. I consider it highly unlikely, though, that Putin will accept a democratic revolution in a neighbouring country.

What is more likely is that Moscow will go quite far in its efforts to guarantee a regime in Minsk that is loyal to Russia. That has happened before and may very well happen again.

Similar to the Russian warfare in eastern Ukraine, a worst-case scenario would be 'little green men' appearing on the streets of Minsk, seizing control of key state functions.

However, with the new American administration now in place, the expectations from the international community is that the United States will once again assume its responsibilities for freedom and democracy in the world.

This means, in a best-case scenario, that president Joe Biden will choose to set an early example by shielding the democratic opposition in Belarus from Russian interference and aggression.

In any future scenario, the EU will probably not play a key role when it comes to military security policy in Belarus. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The US and Nato military strengths can act as a deterrent to Russia, while the EU is using its economic muscle to ensure that the situation develops in the right direction.

Potentially, one approach could be for the EU to deal with a free Belarus in the same way that West Germany dealt with the GDR during the reunification; namely, investing significant political and economic resources to help get a free Belarus back on its feet.

We know that legitimate institutions, transparency, good governance, and a functioning economy are necessary for a successful transition to democracy. The EU certainly has both the financial means and the instruments necessary to support such efforts.

Peaceful and astonishingly brave democratic protesters are still facing violence and abuse in the streets of Minsk. Lukashenko still clings to power, despite the opposition's tireless efforts.

While August 2020 will go down in history as the beginning of the end for Lukashenko's regime, there is much work to be done before Europe's last dictator falls.

Author bio

Tomas Tobé is a Swedish MEP from the Moderate Party, sitting with the European People's Party, and chair of the European Parliament's development committee.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Interview

Belarus threatens to kill two UK dissidents

British citizenship and international awards are not enough to make Belarusian dissident Natalia Kaliada feel safe after a high-profile death threat.

Investigation

Exclusive: Lukashenko plotted murders in Germany

Belarus president authorised political murders in Germany in recent years, according to a sensational recording of his former spy-chief obtained by EUobserver.

Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals

This global tax rate for multinationals could yield up to €64bn annually. Yet, the Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán has been blocking it for months. The impotency of the EU to strike a deal is irresponsible and incomprehensible.

EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals

This global tax rate for multinationals could yield up to €64bn annually. Yet, the Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán has been blocking it for months. The impotency of the EU to strike a deal is irresponsible and incomprehensible.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU countries struggle to crack Hungary's vetos
  2. Frontex expanding migrant route-busting mission in Balkans
  3. EU ministers in fresh battle on joint debt, after Biden subsidies
  4. EU: 'We'll see' if Moscow actually stops selling oil over price-cap
  5. Bad Karma
  6. Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia
  7. Hungary's funds showdown in focus This WEEK
  8. EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us