Darkness or Dawn in Belarus?

Belarus has taken a turn for the worse since President Aleksander Lukashenko violently suppressed post-election demonstrations in December and imprisoned seven of the nine candidates who stood against him. But Lukashenko now knows that his quasi-Soviet social model has failed, and the West should use that fact to its fullest advantage.

WASHINGTON, DC – As pro-democracy protests sweep the Arab world, Belarus, Europe’s grim quasi-Soviet redoubt, has taken a turn for the worse since President Aleksander Lukashenko violently suppressed post-election demonstrations in December and imprisoned seven of the nine candidates who stood against him. But, as Western governments – and European Union government, in particular – respond, they should view Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown as a major turning point: the moment when the regime could no longer claim popular support and was forced to confront the failure of its antediluvian socioeconomic model.

Lukashenko’s regime has rested on three pillars: a social contract that promises national independence and a guaranteed low income in exchange for tacit consent to dictatorial rule; a propaganda machine that reinforces the value and necessity of this deal; and a massive security apparatus to enforce it.

For many years after Lukashenko was first elected, in 1994 (he has ruled without interruption ever since), most Belarusians did perhaps tolerate the regime, because they believed that it protected them from the worst excesses of neighboring Russia’s “Wild East” capitalism: corrupt privatization, job losses, and mafia rule. But, over time, and with more Belarusians traveling to the West, belief in Lukashenko’s leadership has become unsustainable.

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