In most European nations – including the UK for all its imperfections and faults – we are fortunate to live in democracies where at the very least there a modicum of individual freedom, free expression, a free press and a willingness to not repress ideas opposed to the government of the day. Sadly, under the leadership of Alexander Lukashenka since 1994, Belarusians have had to live under an old style authoritarian Soviet style dictatorship. Belarus is now Europe’s last dictatorship.
This is hardly surprising when you consider that when Lukashenka first entered politics he was the sole deputy to vote against the independence of Belarus from the Soviet Union. Indeed, for many Belarus seems stuck in a Soviet era time warp, with opposition activists closely watched by the secret police – still called the KGB. Lukashenka has presided over a system which has rooted out the marketplace of ideas and replaced it with a dictatorship that censors ideas and thoughts. This started as soon as he came into power, with one particular example of his leadership being when in 1996 he disbanded Parliament after it sought to challenge his authority by impeaching him and at the same time used this as a pretext to undermine an independent judiciary by strengthening his vice like grip over the legal system.
Thanks to this the Belarusian Parliament now contains lapdogs who fawn over Lukashenka like a star struck teenage lover. ‘Europe’s last dictator’ is running for his fourth term of office as President for the elections to be held on October 11 2015. It’s not an election as we know it, with opposition candidates repressed, fawning media coverage from state run television channels, and fraud on an epic scale. You see the idea that Lukashenka could actually lose a free and fair election is something Belarusians cannot contemplate and if they do try and bring about, they could end up in jail, beaten up or killed. Due to this, most of Lukashenka’s opponents have boycotted the elections, quite rightly not looking to give these sham elections any legitimacy.
Only one opposition candidate did make it on the ballot and many believe this is just to give the appearance of a contest. To get a semblance of just how dangerous it is to be an opposition activist in Belarus you only have to listen to some of Lukashenka’s quotes, with one of the most blood curdling being when he stated “anyone joining an opposition protest will be treated like a terrorist. We will wring their necks, as one might a duck.” One of Lukashenka’s most important weapons is the media, with Belarusian television breathlessly praising the President, smearing his opponents, whilst pretending Belarus is a democracy and as its election year pretending that there is a vibrant free election going on.
In this way Belarus is like George Orwell’s 1984, only this was meant to be a warning, not a guidebook on how to run a country. A good article on how this propaganda works can be found here. It is shameful that in the 21st century in Europe despite the scars of the Soviet Union, millions of people in Belarus are enslaved by a brutal dictatorship. For those, who would like everyone to revel in being allowed to experience true freedom, we must shine a light on what is going on in Belarus. It also means supporting brave opposition movements like the Belarus Free Theatre which you can read about here, who through artistic expression seek to be a thorn in the side of the Soviet style dictatorship, hopefully leading to its collapse, just like the Soviet Union itself.