Weakness in strength, or Lukashenka and his regime one year after the elections
Photo: Stringer TASS via Getty Images
Within a year of the rigged presidential elections, Alyaksandr Lukashenka almost destroyed the independent media, diminished the role of the already underdeveloped NGOs, and drove Belarus into international isolation. However, it still remains in power, mainly thanks to the support of Russia. In this situation, it is miraculously able to retain some independence from Moscow.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka prepared himself for last year’s presidential elections on 9 August, clearing the field of potential competitors in advance. Among those who were ready to compete with him were the banker Wiktar Babaryka and the blogger Siarhei Cichanouski. Unofficial polls (since 2016 they can only be carried out with the consent of the authorities, and these are outsourced only to pro-regime studios) indicated that the former had the best chance of winning and could get up to half of the votes in the first round. The former head of Biełgazprombank had the support of the Nobel Prize winner Swiatlana Aleksijewicz.
A record number of Belarusians – 425,000 – signed the lists to be submitted to the Central Election Commission. However, the CEC, headed by Lidziya Jarmoshin, who is loyal to Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has not accepted the documents. She argued that Babaryka had not declared all his assets. In June 2020, Babaryka was arrested, accused in a political trial of tax evasion and bribery. In July of that year, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Lukashenka also neutralized another dangerous potential candidate – Siarhei Cichanouski. The CEC did not accept his documents because they lacked a handwritten signature. Cichanouski could not sign himself because he was stopped by the police when he was returning from one of the meetings. Therefore, his wife Swiatłana took part in the election. After being released from detention, he helped her collect signatures and during a rally in Grodno – as a result of a police provocation – was arrested again. He has been behind bars since then. In March, he was accused of using force to overthrow the Belarusian authorities. The case is pending. He faces 15 years in prison.
The first clash: elections
Alyaksandr Lukashenka could therefore be convinced that all his potential competitors had been removed from the battlefield. Swiatłana Cichanouska, who acted as a common candidate for the real, not the façade opposition, was not a serious opponent in his view. First of all, because in the eyes of Lukashenka, a woman cannot compete with him as an equal. He even said that he saw no point in any public debate with Cichanouska.
– I am always ready to talk to everyone, but on my part it would even be rude. (…) She just fried a tasty cutlet, maybe she fed the children, the smell of this cutlet is still pleasant, and here you have to debate some difficult issues – he explained.
Swiatłana Cichanouska, an English and German philologist by education, and recently indeed a housewife, was for Belarusians primarily a collective substitute candidate for whom they voted because the regime prevented her husband and Wiktar Babaryce from running in the elections. Thousands of people attended its rallies, which was a sensation in Belarus, which had been stuck in political lethargy for years.
Read without limits
Access this article and other special content. For free