Lukashenko's future and the fate of Belarus: what experts say
11 August , 09:51
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Photo: https://antikor.com.ua/foto/articles_foto/2020/03/13/364754.jpg
After Sunday's presidential elections Belarus is doomed to be the headliner of the news agenda. What will happen next, why a social explosion has taken place in quiet Belarus, and what does political tradition have to do with it?

Novye Izvestia discussed it together with the political scientists Andrey Suzdalsky, Dmitry Oreshkin and Ilya Grashchenkov.

Minsk-2020: not Maidan

This is not the first time Minsk has faced street demonstrations. In December 2010, people were already taking to the streets after Alexander Lukashenko won the elections with 72.03%. Then, according to various estimates, from 5 to 40 thousand people gathered on Oktyabrskaya Square in Minsk, exit polls were announced with support for Lukashenko at the level of 40%. It even got to the point that several dozen people tried to storm the Government House. But then the violent suppression of the demonstrators followed, and after a few days everything calmed down. It looks like a rehearsal of recent events, in which Lukashenko worked out the tactics of consistent forceful suppression of riots. But experts note that in addition to similar external signs, these events have a lot of differences.

Andrey Suzdalsky is quite sure that it is incorrect to compare the demonstrations of 2010 and 2020.

- Then (in 2010) there was an attempt at a color revolution. People came out demanding to reconsider the vote count. And in this situation, the people do not demand a recount, they demand Lukashenko's resignation from the presidency. The people did not recognize the results announced by the CEC. People reacted very sharply - they were chasing riot police, there were women with children and strollers. I've never seen this before.

The differences, although not so radical, are also pointed out by Dmitry Oreshkin:

- This time there is a certain new component. Lukashenko has now demonstratively shown who is the boss in the house and that the figures will be the right ones. But earlier, a significant part of the population traditionally voted for power, and it made up about half of the population, but now there is a clearly expressed majority against Lukashenko. The novelty lies in the fact that these elections formalized the “divorce” between Lukashenko and Belarus. He remains the master, but in the eyes of the majority of the inhabitants his power is illegitimate, he is a usurper. And there is no getting away from it.

And in general, the current protests do not look like the Maidan, they have a completely different character. The Belarusian authorities scared the Maidan, the Russian authorities scared the Maidan, all people have firmly learned that the Maidan is the worst thing that can happen in the country. Chaos in Ukraine is a convenient "evil babayka" who is used to scare an unreasonable child (this is exactly what, according to experts, the level of consciousness of the Belarusian people is seen by President Lukashenko).

Dmitry Oreshkin:

- For the Maidan, more necessary conditions are needed: the hostility of the majority of the population (we definitely have it) and a pronounced split in the ruling class (this is not). It's like Yushchenko and Tymoshenko against Kuchma - it is not clear who will win, and the security forces are taking a wait and see attitude. Babariko's attempt to present himself as such an alternative statesman was quickly suppressed and destroyed. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is an emotional leader of the protest, but she does not understand how the bureaucratic machine works, she has no connections. The security forces are not ready to swear allegiance to her. If she had won, she would have faced nomenklatura sabotage.

Andrey Suzdalsky:

- This is not at all the Maidan, with which Lukashenko successfully frightened Russia. Maidan is a serious event, it has a customer, it costs a lot of money, it cost up to a million dollars a day. It was a seizure of territory with militants who needed accommodation, food, rotation. In Minsk, no one seized anything, they did not set up tents. And this is not a velvet revolution: people not only demanded the resignation of the government, but also came into conflict with the OMON.

"The Golden Horde of Belarus and the entire post-Soviet space"

Ilya Grashchenkov extremely impartially characterizes what is happening now in Belarus: “The North Korean result with 80% support and Lukashenko’s statement that the elections were held like a holiday are just mockery and quiet hysteria. He is trying to make a pretty face in a bad game . " No matter how long people are brainwashed with the need to behave with restraint and work hard in the field on potatoes and the production of BelAZ, such an attitude cannot go unnoticed and pass without a trace.

Was what is happening in Minsk and other cities of Belarus a surprise? It would be too naive to think so. The post-Soviet countries have a number of common features: in many, especially in Central Asia, the leaders try to stay at the helm until the very end. Physical. And many faced upheavals: the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Now Belarus. You do not need to guess on the coffee grounds to find out what will happen if the leader of the country grabs his chair with all his hands and feet. But the same Lukashenko, like his colleagues of the overwhelming part of the post-Soviet countries who have lost their posts, continues to march across the field with a rake with enviable persistence. But with funny songs.

Ilya Grashchenkov identifies three main reasons for this persistence:

- Firstly, the power is delaying. Secondly, it is scary not to save regalia, money and even life. Fear pushes you to sit to the end. Thirdly, the perception comes that the people are stupid and that there is no democracy. In the post-Soviet space, a conceptual format based on agreements prevails. Laws are not the main thing here.

And Andrey Suzdalsky notes that at a certain stage of state development, authoritarian regimes are even useful. Only not everyone succeeds in stopping in time and moving on to the next stage of development:

- At some stage it was beneficial - when normal democratic systems had not yet formed, when there were no political parties, when there was no stable economic situation, but there were national conflicts. In this situation, the people in control of the situation aroused Moscow's respect and support. But then it became clear that such leaders hinder economic development. They are numb. Authoritarian leaders get bogged down in corruption, family ties, and simply can't leave.

There is also another path of development - the path of Poland and the Baltic states, which have chosen working democratic institutions and the change of government, based largely on American principles, as a foundation for development.

Andrey Suzdalsky:

- The American Constitution sets a 2-term limit. And this is very correct. This does not allow the presidents to go deep into corruption, to get carried away by repression, because they know that they will leave tomorrow. And the first term is spent on confirming that they cannot manage the state, and in the second term they carry out reforms . Otherwise, the head of state gets bogged down in corruption, brings a lot of relatives closer, gets his own yard. This turns into a nightmare for the people.

So Lukashenko chose not the Western model of post-Soviet development, but the path of “Asian despotism” in the terminology of Dmitry Oreshkin. At this rate, the President of Belarus can only have two friends: Kim Jong-un in North Korea, and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov from Turkmenistan. Not the funniest company ... But even in Central Asia there is another example: Nursultan Nazarbayev, who simply did not nominate himself for the next elections. As Andrey Suzdalsky says, Lukashenko also had this option:

- Nursultan Nazarbayev no longer pulled - he was ill, it was hard for him. He was preparing to leave the presidency, retaining power: he left his daughter in parliament, he left himself a power bloc. This is a variant of puppeteering. But Nazarbayev did not succeed - after the elections he was thrown out of power. Lukashenko also tried to create such an option, he also planned to transfer power to the former head of the administration Natalya Kochanova. But I realized that it would not work to control it from behind. Lukashenko has no successors, and therefore it is planned to change the constitution so that there would appear the transfer of power by inheritance.

Alas, as practice shows, those who have lingered in power for too long have practically no chance of going into the shadows, retaining their influence. And the President of Kazakhstan is a confirmation of this. “Nazarbayev planned to keep the power, but the last elections did not allow doing it. Nazarbayev of the post-Soviet leaders understood better than others how to use bureaucratic methods to boost the economy. He had enough intelligence and willpower to give up power. Even if he was counting on some exchange”, - explains Ilya Grashchenkov.

Andrey Suzdalsky is also sure that it is hardly possible to retain power in this format after leaving the presidency:

- Kazakhstan is the same “Golden Horde” with its rules. If the khan left the yurt, then the khan is not, another comes to his place.

The troops of that very real Golden Horde reached the Czech Kingdom and the Austrian Duchy and, judging by Lukashenko, for a long time left their rules of government.

No alternative reality

Let's imagine that Lukashenko did not mirror the independent exit poll results that show support for Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, but simply showed the minimum support necessary for a confident victory. Maybe, if it were not for the overwhelming "80/20", everything would have been all right and the paddy wagons would not enter the crowd? And there would be no wounded?

According to Ilya Grashchenkov, in an alternative reality, everything could be much more optimistic:

- If there was a smaller result, even if it would ensure victory in the first round, it would not have created the impression of a spit in the face. Power harms itself by drawing a result that will not convince anyone. It's a shot in the foot. Europe could support Lukashenko with a more or less acceptable result and provided there is no harsh dispersal of the demonstrators.

Dmitry Oreshkin believes that serious unrest could have been avoided:

- If Lukashenko had acted more modestly and would have drawn the balance of forces in the elections in the proportions of 60:40, then such mass protests would probably not have happened. But Lukashenko cannot show a decline in support. For him, the symbol of control is electoral numbers. And if they draw big numbers, then everyone is walking on a thread.

Percents are percentages, but no matter how you draw, no matter how you juggle numbers, this is not enough for a convincing victory and, most importantly, legitimacy. Even a more moderate victorious result, according to Andrey Suzdalsky, would not have saved the situation, because socio-economic problems lie at the heart, and politics for the people is secondary:

- If everything was fine in the country, there would be a stable socio-economic situation, then everyone would walk around and rejoice that Lukashenko has so many residences that he has an aircraft fleet comparable to that of the US President and billions of dollars abroad. But people live very poorly, more than 700 thousand Belarusians work in Russia alone. It has always been said in Belarus that the results are dishonest, that elections are held without voters. This time they clearly saw. Earlier, when the subsidy system worked, when Belarus received up to 10 thousand dollars per person just from Russia, everyone was happy and put up with it. And now people saw that they were left alone, that Lukashenko did not pull out the fight against the coronavirus, literally "sending" Russia, which offered help.

For Lukashenko, the situation is further complicated by the proximity and accessibility of Europe - people see an alternative, understand that it is possible to do without oil. This is indicated by Ilya Grashchenkov:

- Belarusians see the example of Poland and Germany. Poland 30 years ago was also quite poor, and today some regions of Poland are comparable to the entire economy of Ukraine. Therefore, the youth took the lead in the protest. In the eyes of the people, he is a usurper of power who is ready to enter into a coalition with anyone, including China, for the sake of maintaining and retaining power.

In Poland in the 1st quarter. In 2020, the average salary was PLN 5331 - approximately $ 1426, in Estonia - 1472 euros, in Latvia - 1100 euros, in Lithuania - 1360 euros. In Belarus, in June, the average salary increased in June to 1227.9 Belarusian rubles, which is just over 450 euros. At the same time, European countries do not receive Russian oil for processing and re-export on special terms. That's all there is to know about the benefits of the change of government to ordinary people.

Long life and prosperity

I don't think that street protests will be able to overturn this regime. There will be an Asian despotism that can exist for a long time, like North Korea or Albania. Under Lukashenko, orders will be carried out - streets will be swept and lawns mowed, but there will be no investments, no innovations, no growth of the average salary to the coveted $ 500 ”- Dmitry Oreshkin outlines such a future for our brotherly country. Not a bloody civil war, not a palace coup, but years of stagnation, in which people will not feel any connection with the authorities: no one owes anything to anyone, no one owes anything to anyone.

But Ilya Grashchenkov is not so sure about the stability of the regime. In addition to the lack of support from the people, Alexander Lukashenko cannot decide who he should be with: a union state with Russia does not work out, the West may turn its back after such a demarche, and only the experience of communicating with the crowd was obtained from China:

- The turn towards China is making itself felt. Tiananmen was dispersed in China, Minsk was dispersed last Sunday. Lukashenko just sent everything to hell and burned all the bridges. And how long he can hold on to power is a question. There is no need to talk about any dynastic powers with the transfer of power to sons.

To send everything to hell and do what only you want is very pleasant, and sometimes even useful. But not if you are an authoritarian leader of the state, and the lives of 9,413,446 people depend on your will. In this case, it is better to restrain your emotions, otherwise there is a chance to be among the former rulers, after whom the streets will definitely not be named. And those who depend on the lives of 146,750,100 people already have enough illustrative examples of how not to do it... right next door - on the territory of the former USSR.