Belarus is sometimes referred to as Europe’s last dictatorship. Since 1994 it has been ruled by just one man — Alexander Lukashenko, and he has ruled the country with an iron fist.
Still, in order to maintain the patina of legitimacy, regular elections are held in Belarus — but they are neither free nor fair. Such was the case in early August when Belarusians went to the polls for presidential elections. Lukashenko subsequently announced that he secured another five year term with 80% of the vote.
This time though, Belarusians were not prepared to accept that result. They took to the streets in record numbers in massive protests across the country. Protests in major cities like Minsk were unprecedented in their size, as were protests in smaller towns across Belarus.
Government security forces predictably cracked down on protesters — and violently so. The internet was even shut off across the country to prevent protesters from organizing.
Meanwhile, the main opposition candidate, a woman named Svetlana Tikhanovskaya went to the government election office to officially protest the result. When her husband, an opposition candidate was arrested earlier this year, she took the helm. Other opposition candidates rallied behind her in what as an unprecedented show of unity against Lukashenko.
But when Tikhanovskaya entered the election commission office in Minsk, it was the last time she was seen in person in Belarus. The next day, she was in neighboring Lithuania after having released a video calling for an end to protests that was by all appearances recorded under profound duress.
On the line to provide some context for understanding these recent events in Belarus is Stephen Nix. He is the regional director for Eurasia at the International Republican Institute and a longtime policy hand focusing on former Soviet Republics. We kick off discussing Lukashenko’s background and how he was able to stay in power for so long. We then discuss this chaotic moment in Belarus and what is at stake for the Belarusian people and the broader geo-political consequences of a political shakeup in Belarus, including the role of Russia, the European Union and the United States.
If you have twenty minutes and want to understand the situation in Belarus right now, have a listen.