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  • Writer's pictureLaci Felker

Belarus: Europe's Last Dictatorship

Originally published August 1, 2021, with Muses Nest, a defunct online human and woman's magazine.

President Alexander Lukashenko has been referred to widely in the media as “Europe’s Last Dictator,” and he has certainly lived up to the title. Belarus first declared itself independent of the Soviet Union in 1991 and in 1994 Lukashenko won in a run-off election. However, during his time in office, the term limit that was set for the president (with five years being the max term limit and the president only being able to serve two terms) has been removed, and a few elections have raised questions about the legitimacy of the result. There are concerns across the world about Belarus failing to meet requirements for what is considered a democratically fair trial, and with some of Lukashenko’s recent actions, it’s easy to understand why.

In past weeks, attacks against reporters have escalated, and the media has been restricted, which comes after a rigged presidential election in August 2020, sparking controversy throughout the country. One of the most recent accusations against President Lukashenko is that he is the reason why more immigrants are flocking to the country.

The migrant/refugee crisis has been a topic of concern in Europe since 2014, when many people were escaping the terror happening in the Middle East. Now Belarus is seeing an influx of migrants close to twenty times its usual number of undocumented people that cross its borders. As a result, an accusation has been made against President Lukashenko, claiming that he is why more migrants are crossing into the country.

Belarus has seen restrictions on its economy due to the human rights violations occurring in the country, such as the rigged presidential election, the crackdown on the media, the beating and arrest of people peacefully protesting, and the attack on the educated. So, with the influx of migrants, it is thought that the President of Belarus is behind it as a way to get back at the EU for posing restrictions on its economy. However, with Russia being an ally to Belarus and Lukashenko and Putin being reasonably close, what is next for the small country?

Belarus is scarcely the size of the state of Kansas in the United States, but with a president like Lukashenko and its powerful allies, there is much to consider when it comes to Europe’s small country. The president has posed antisemitic comments and pushed hundreds of migrants to the Lithuanian border, even though the president claims it’s due to relaxed COVID restrictions. Belarus has also been seen transporting anti-aircraft missiles. But is a stance against Belarus by the other countries in the EU enough to keep them from advancing their resistance?

Despite the fact that Belarus declared independence from the Soviet Union, they have the support of Russia, who may be more inclined to give them money, but how far will Russia go to continue its support of its diplomatic ally? Russia also makes up for most of Belarus’ trading. If the country’s other trading partners pull out or enforce tariffs that would hinder Belarus’ failing economy, it would only force the small country to turn to Russia for more aid. Could the country also withstand more resistance from its people?

Many activists are fighting against the increasing control over the freedom of the press, peaceful protests, and the arrests of those who speak out against President Lukashenko and his authoritarian government, with a Belarusian Olympic sprinter seeking political asylum to keep from being forced back to Belarus. It has been proved in the past that unrest within a country can ultimately lead to more issues or even the government being overthrown, and the overthrowing of the Belarusian government is not a terrible idea, given the atrocities that are happening within its borders. Many coup d'états have happened for lesser reasons; who is to say Belarus won’t be next? Between the people in its country trying to rise against their oppressive government and the call for more European countries to exercise restrictions against it, Belarus has a difficult decision to make: continue the path it’s going down, or give up its thought of being the last dictatorship in Europe.

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