10,000 Applaud to Overthrow ‘Europe’s Last Dictator’
Since 1994 Belarus has had the same President, Alexander Lukashenko. Under Lukashenko's rule, Belarus has emerged to be viewed as a state whose conduct is out of line with international law and whose regime is considered to grossly violate human rights. Described by many as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship,' this rule has resulted in continuous economic hardship and political humiliation for the country’s citizens in the push for a Soviet idealized society.
This ‘political humiliation’ is best described by the outcome of the December 2010 elections, which handed Lukashenko a third term. On election day, many of the nine opposition leaders hoping to earn the presidency were attacked and abducted. Leading up to this day, most of them had been intimidated to refrain from running against Lukashenko, and since then three remain in jail. When he kept his seat for his third term with over 79% of the votes, there were national and international calls of foul play from the citizens of Belarus, the EU leadership and the U.S. Department of State.
There had been growing unrest amongst the Belarusian people under the rule of Lukashenko, culminating in 10,000 people taking the streets to protest on the day the results were announced in 2010 demanding change in the way that their State was run, and calling for an end to the authoritarian rule. Young activists in the Soviet republic have been the driving force behind this growing physical presence of discontent across the country.
Tools and Tactics
Using Facebook and Twitter, these young activists have spread the word on locations and forms of protests across the country. The first mass turnout from this activism was on the election day in December, where 10,000 protesters took to the streets across 30 Belarusian cities to physically object to the states results. The form of this protest was unique: each attendee clapped as government officials carried out their formal business. This clapping was for the protesters themselves, applauding their bravery to stand up against the authorities known to have been violent with any opposing forces. They were met with violence themselves, with numerous arrests and beatings. This became known as the ‘crackdown,' which was the beginning of the government’s bombastic reaction to the growing unrest and discontent in the country. Since then similar protests have occurred, using such tactics as protesters setting their cell phone alarms to go off at exactly the same time during a protest.
The Stumbling Blocks
Since the first major protests across Belarus in 2010, the ‘crackdown’ of the Lukashenko-driven government has been both online and offline. The secret police, still called the KGB, has targeted protest organizers by obtaining information about them from the popular social networking site V Kontakte, after detaining the site's administrator and forcing him to turn over user passwords. Other sites have been subjected to denial of service attacks, and police have sent messages on Twitter warning people to stay home. During the latest protest on June 22, riot police in central Minsk fanned out to arrest some 200 people.
All of these top-down efforts to thwart any future uprisings are damaging to this campaign, as they would be any that leans on social media outlets to mobilize its supporters, but the movement against Lukashenko is growing despite this due to an ever worsening economic crisis that is adding to the discontent of the Belarusian people.
The way that the national economic and social issues that the country faces have and are being dealt with by Lukashenko’s government is weakening their position day by day. The country is losing economic support from international sources such as the International Monetary Fund due to irresponsible national fiscal policies, as well as political support from the United States and the EU as a result of human rights violations and questionable political tactics. The situation is becoming less and less tenable, and the citizens are suffering. This is providing a growing impetus for change, and an increasing impatience for this change to happen quickly from the grass-roots. The result is a larger online presence of discontent which is rapidly being mobilized into offline protests and acts of no confidence in the Belarusian leadership.
Although censorship in such discontent is rife in the country, the numbers are growing along with the technological capacity to out-pace such censorship. Some are hoping the crisis that's prompting such desperate moves will spark an Arab Awakening-style revolution in Belarus. Opposition leader Viktar Ivashkevich said the protests were an important step in that direction, saying that "they stoke the flames of protest and inoculate people against fear. They give people the opportunity to stand up to officials who are willing to suffocate anything that breathes." As new social media technology is embraced and the movement advertised across the world, the online and offline numbers are sure to continue to grow, posing an ever growing threat to Lukashenko’s tenuous governance. Could this be the next setting for a revolution?blog comments powered by Disqus