A "Different" Regime in Eastern Europe

Gulay Kilic

The life seems to return to normal again in Belarus after the presidential elections which were held on December 19, 2010. During the election period, Lukashenka, who had agreed to accept a limited number of foreign journalists and press members in Belarus conditionally, hosted tens of foreign observers coming from all parts of the world in the country. However, the results announced by OSCE with respect to the elections and the critics of the West regarding this matter clearly revealed that Belarus had been unsuccessful. How was the real situation in the country?

In accordance with the election system in the country, the early voting process started on December 15. The voters of Belarus took advantage of the early voting right until the election date during the work hours. After the elections, the uprising attempt of the reacting candidates of the opposition and their supporters that gathered in Minsk was suppressed by Lukashenka who was blamed with using unbalanced force. As a result, the colorful revolution which was expected by the West did not realize/could not be realized.

The reason for the failure of the colorful revolution that may seem to be attractive also for the supporters of the opposition which represent certain part of the society was the social structure and Lukashenkas administration. When we checked the socio-economic conditions of Belarus, we can observe that the country is not prepared for the Western concepts (i.e. human rights, democracy) yet. This situation is not specific only to Belarus; it is a common feature for the countries which have split from the Soviet Union. Today, almost all of the newly independent states face several political, economic and social problems rooted from the residues of the old regime, the communist past.

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, in 1996, Belarus was the first country that managed to recover its economy. This economic recovery was realized by virtue of the operation of the kolkhozes (collective farms) in the country. After Lukashenka came into power, they worked with full capacity as the way that they did during the Soviet Union era.

The Beloved "Dictator"

Lukashenka who was loved by his people came into power in 1994, and continued his presidential duties after being reelected in the years 2001 and 2006. But according to the OSCE reports published during this period, the elections were not meeting the international standards. In 2010, the election results were not different from the previous ones. However, in this context there was an important matter which was being ignored: the public dynamism. Since the people of Belarus did not experience rapid changes as expected, at the elections they cannot think outside the box. At this point, there is another important factor which must be considered. Lukashenkas administrative model is the basic factor that shuts out the social dynamism from the changes. One of the most important social policies adopted by Lukashenka is the provision of the education, health and housing services to the public with the state support. A state and a government which meets the basic needs of the public will naturally be loved and supported by the society. And especially when a society springing from the Soviet era is in question, such consequence will be inevitable.

For these reasons, expecting changes in the choices of the society and a revolution in Belarus as a result of an external imposition will not be a realistic approach.

View from EU and Russia

The Eastern Europe located between West and Russia is a very important region. This region cannot be sacrificed for the European Union (EU) as a defender of certain values such as democracy, human rights and rule of law. As a matter of fact, along with the policy adopted by the EU with respect to its closest neighbors (especially the eastern and southern regions), the EU is obliged to carry out its social, political and economic relationships with these countries at an advanced level. Within this framework, in 2009, Belarus was accepted to the EUs Eastern Partnership in addition to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Besides being a neighbor country to the EU, Belarus also carries a strategic importance with regards to the development of the relationship between EU and Russia. EU strengthening its relationships with the most loyal ally of Russia, will bring it to a closer place to Russia. On the other hand, from time to time Belarus has faced the opposition of Russia during its attempts to get closer to the West. For example, when Belarus abstained from giving support to Russias South Ossetia and Abkhazia policies, this approach increased the tension between the two countries.

From Russian perspective, as a country, which can be lumped together with Ukraine and Moldova, Belarus was founded in the 19th century upon the consent of Russia. The objective of this foundation was to constitute a buffer zone between Europe and Russia. In this regard, Belarus still protects its importance. Therefore, when compared with the other Eastern European countries, the most prominent difference turns out to be the fact that it Belarus is ruled by a government which aims at keeping the Soviet Union as vivid supporter.

The discontent of Europe following the elections can be clearly understood from the critical messages sent one after the other. What is the reason of Europes displeasure? In Belarus, the colorful revolution could not be performed and the expectations of Europe were not met. In such scenario of the revolution was made, EU would be able to promulgate its own values more easily and any limitations regarding its economic relationships would not be in question.

On the other hand, Russias reaction was manifested upon the call made by Medvedev to Lukashenka. Despite the critics published in the Russian media Russia did not disappoint its loyal ally Belarus. While the European countries closed their doors one after another, as expected, Russia left its door open.

Obviously, Russia is also very important for Belarus. Besides the historical bonds between the two countries, Russia is the most important economic partner of Belarus. The economy of Belarus is under the states control and it exports most its food products to Russia. Belarus and Russia complement each other both in the economic and political fields. In spite of the disputes between the two countries about certain subjects (especially the natural gas prices), they have always given support to each other for the matters with respect to the international policy.

After the Elections

The elections are over and it is obvious that the EU is not happy with the reelection of Lukashenka who is being described as dictator. The European countries have severely criticized and reprimanded Lukashenka for the suppression of the demonstrators by means of violence. However, the same situation is not in question for Russia. In the future, it will not be difficult to guess how Lukashenka will move. The leader, who has forced his limits at the West, now has to take his chances to the east, to Russia. However, there is no doubt that he will act more cautiously regarding relationships with the Western countries which aim to bring a revolution in Belarus by reason of the provocations made indirectly by external forces.

In January, Belarussian police searches performed in the offices of the United Civic Party (AHP) and Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) in the Western town Hronda. Moreover Milana Mikhalevich, wife of a president candidate, has been blocked from traveling to Europe by the police. These and other news coming from Belarus are the signs which demonstrate that Lukashenka government will gradually get stricter. One might expect Belarus to maintain its structure which resembles Russia for some more time.

Today, parallel to the events in Middle East, news claiming Lukashenkas support for authoritarian leaders took place in the agenda. The difference of Belarus from these countries is that, the respects of the generation experiencing the early transition period, for their leaders still continue. Thus the country, on the grounds of authority can be compared to the Middle East but, a comparisons rightfulness should be questioned when the dynamics of the people are considered.


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