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Belarus Modern History

Belarus (Belarus) became an independent nation in connection with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Independence was followed by an economic downturn, which contributed to the Russian-friendly former communist pump Aleksandr Lukashenko winning the presidential elections in 1994. He quickly gathered all power to his person and silenced the opposition through hard oppression. Lukashenko has since won all presidential elections, but they have completely lacked democratic credibility.

The country's reconstruction after World War II became laborious. Moscow carried out a comprehensive refresher program and many Russians were commanded to Belarus to work. Soviet leader Josef Stalin also initiated rapid industrialization, which transformed the Soviet Republic into one of the most modernized parts of the Soviet Union.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Belarus. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

In the 1960s and 1970s, some dissidents and writers tried to resist the shock. Among the most famous are the author Vasil Bękaŭ, historian Mykola Prashkovich and the worker Michail Kukabaka, whose fate has been portrayed in a documentary entitled "The Dissident".

Economically, Belarus became one of the Soviet Union's most prosperous republics. It may explain that the Belarusian Communist Party initially managed to counteract the reform policy initiated by Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the second half of the 1980s. Gradually, however, openness also increased in Belarus and criticism grew against the Communist Party. Contributors also made the accident in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Southern Belarus was severely affected by radioactive fallout after the accident, something that authorities have long feared. In addition, there was a debate among intellectuals about the endangered Belarusian culture and the weak position of the Belarusian language. This led to a national awakening.

Contemporary History of BelarusThe Soviet Union is dissolved

In the fall of 1988, a democracy movement was formed, which in Sweden became known as the Belarusian people front. It came to play an important role in the following years, although it was difficult to operate openly. The front, however, was honored for its demand to promote the Belarusian language, which in 1990 became the official language of the Republic. The reform groups also managed to get the Communists to agree to a Belarussian declaration of sovereignty in July 1990. Moscow had obviously given a clear sign to this.

Thereafter, the disintegration of state formation accelerated the Soviet Union and the communist power monopoly was increasingly challenged. Belarus was shaken in April 1991 by strikes and demonstrations. After the coup attempt in Moscow in August of the same year, progress was rapid. The Belarussian leadership did not clearly distance itself from the coup makers who tried to stop the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As a result, Belarus's supreme sovereign (parliament) at an extra session banned the Communist Party from engaging in politics while investigating its role in the coup.

On August 26, 1991, Parliament declared Belarus financially and politically independent, and the 1990 sovereignty declaration was granted constitutional status. The new nation was renamed the Republic of Belarus. Physicist Stanislau Shushkevich, a respected center politician, was elected president and thus head of state.

On December 8, 1991, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus decided to dissolve the Soviet Union and instead formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) based in Minsk.

Lukashenko relaxes the grip

The first time after independence became relatively calm. But in 1993 the political divide increased. The opposition and President Shushchevich, among other things, turned against the government's Russia-friendly policy and the slow pace of reform. At the same time, the financial problems worsened. Support increased for the Communist Party, which during the year was given the right to resume its activities.

The power poll between reform friends and opponents led to the announcement of presidential elections in June 1994. Six candidates were running for the election, including Shushchevich, People's Party leader Zenon Poznjak and conservative Communist populist Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Many voters were disappointed with the old politicians. The opposition was associated with far-reaching market reforms and Belarusian nationalism, which frightened many Russian-speaking residents. It favored Lukashenko, who went to the elections on a rather contradictory political program for the fight against corruption, reduced the pace of reform and closer ties with Russia. The then 39-year-old Lukashenko successfully managed to capture the protest votes and won by far in the second round with over 80 percent of the vote. The election was considered essentially democratic.

Lukashenko soon came to gather more power in his own hands. Step by step, the opposition was silenced. In connection with the 1995 parliamentary elections, Lukashenko called for a referendum in which a large majority voted to give the president increased power, establish closer economic ties with Russia and reintroduce Russian as an official language, as well as Belarusian. However, the result was questioned: both foreign observers and the opposition felt that the election was characterized by censorship and irregularities.

Hard oppression against dissimilar thinking

Opponents of the regime protested and gathered for large demonstrations in Minsk. Several of the protests were brutally defeated. A number of well-known opposition politicians were imprisoned. Some disappeared without a trace while others managed to escape abroad.

Both the Constitutional Court and Parliament tried to stop Lukashenko and declared that his way of governing was illegal. Then Lukashenko organized a new referendum, in November 1996, and brought about constitutional changes that greatly increased his power. The result was declared invalid by both the Constitutional Court and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but it did not change anything.

Thereafter, the president continued to rule Belarus on his own head and the opposition became increasingly difficult to act. In 1999 and 2000, several notable cases occurred where high-ranking government opponents disappeared without a trace. Others were arrested, fined or otherwise harassed.

Both the parliamentary elections for the new parliamentary elections in 2000 and the presidential elections in 2001 lacked democratic credibility, according to the opposition and foreign organizations such as the EU, OSCE and the Council of Europe. Lukashenko-loyal candidates, the majority without party affiliation, entered parliament and Lukashenko himself remained.

Criticized elections, protests are turned down

The opposition, which largely boycotted the parliamentary elections in 2000, tried to invite opposition in the 2004 elections. But many regime critics were prevented from even registering as candidates and the opposition became completely unrepresented in parliament. In connection with the election, Lukashenko called for another referendum to abolish the rule that a president may only sit for two terms. Voters also had to answer whether they wanted Lukashenko to stand in the 2006 presidential election. They wanted it, according to the official result.

In the spring of 2005, two well-known opposition politicians were sentenced to labor camps for demonstrating against the constitutional changes. The regime obviously wanted to warn the opposition to challenge power.

In the presidential elections held in March 2006, according to the official figures, Lukashenko received 83 percent of the vote. The opposition's main candidate, physicist Aljaksandr Milinkevitj, received 6 percent. The election was judged undemocratic by the OSCE, which pointed, among other things, to the lack of freedom of speech and assembly, harassment of government opponents and irregularities in the voting process itself. But opinion polls before the election showed that Lukashenko would probably have won a free election as well.

Milinkevich accused the authorities of widespread electoral fraud and on election night, thousands of opposition supporters gathered at the October Square in Minsk, despite a demonstration ban. Several demonstrations followed, and parallels were drawn to the events in Georgia and Ukraine, where repeated mass meetings forced crucial political changes. But the number of participants declined rapidly in Belarus, where Lukashenko threatened to crush all open resistance. After a few days, the riot police seized just over a hundred who were left in the square. Then the public protests ceased.

Short-term thunderstorms

Of a total of several hundred people arrested, most were sentenced to prison for up to 15 days. A smaller number received longer penalties. Among them were former presidential candidate Aljaksandr Kazulin, who received five and a half years in prison for organizing the protests. Milinkevich was arrested several times during the year and in any case sentenced to 15 days in prison for participating in a demonstration.

Several demonstrations were held in 2007, and Zmitser Dasjkevich was one of several leading youth activists arrested during the fall. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for belonging to a political organization that had not been approved by the authorities.

Dajkevich was unexpectedly released at the beginning of 2008 and during the year all other persons whom the EU and the US designated as political prisoners were released. Opposition leader Kazulin was also released after serving two years of his sentence. It was seen as an attempt by Lukashenko to improve relations with the western countries.

In addition, in the parliamentary elections in September of the same year, more than 70 opposition candidates were allowed to participate, significantly more than in previous elections. The regime also admitted an unusual number of election observers from the OSCE. No opposition candidate succeeded in getting into parliament. The OSCE, among other things, rejected the vote, which often took place without transparency.

Opposition to the opposition

Nevertheless, after the elections, the EU imposed sanctions on Belarus introduced after the 2006 presidential election (see Foreign Policy and Defense). The purpose was to encourage democratization. It gave little dividends; in December, a human rights activist was sentenced to one year of limited house arrest, just months after all former political prisoners were released.

In 2009, there were protests against deteriorating living conditions. In September, opposition activists and politicians were arrested at a demonstration in Minsk. Kravall police abused participants, while President Lukashenko visited Lithuania.

Also in the spring of 2010, the regime struck against opposition movements, when employees were arrested and equipment seized. In May, an activist was sentenced to a multi-year prison sentence. In September, opposition journalist Aleh Byabenin (Oleg Bebenin) was found hanged. According to the police, it was suicide, but the circle around him suspected crimes, as his website was subjected to pressure from the regime.

In September, presidential elections were announced in early December. Several EU leaders visited Belarus and attracted assistance if the elections were conducted under democratic forms. Lukashenko talked about a freer political climate. Opposition candidates were surprisingly given some space in state TV. However, the former most prominent opposition leaders, Milinkevich and Kazulin, did not stand.

Electoral-related violence in 2010

After the presidential election, all hope of liberalizing the political system was effectively extinguished. When the Election Commission stated that Lukashenko won a devastating victory, the opposition claimed that electoral fraud had occurred and called for protests. Already on Election Day, riot police fought violence against protesters and several hundred people were arrested.

According to the Election Commission, Lukashenko received close to 80 percent of the vote and the main opposition candidate, Andrei Sannikau (in Russian Sannikov), received only 2.5 percent. The turnout was reported to have been 90 percent. The OSCE judged the election characterized by irregularities.

After the election, 30,000 people gathered for a peaceful demonstration. However, a small group of men must have caused concern and over 700 people were arrested. Most were sentenced to up to 15 days in prison. Among the arrested were seven of the nine opposition candidates. Sannikau was arrested along with his wife, the journalist Irina Chalip. The poet and presidential candidate Uladzimir Njakljajeu (in Russian Vladimir Nekliyev) was arrested in a hospital, where he was taken for care for head injuries caused by police brutality.

The attacks against the opposition continued in 2011 with mass arrests and raids. Human rights activists, dissidents and journalists were persecuted. In addition to prison sentences, house arrest or travel bans were sentenced in several cases. In total, 29 people were charged during the year for participating in the protests following the presidential election, according to the human rights organization Amnesty International. Among them were six of the presidential candidates, three of whom were sentenced to between five and six years in prison. One of them, Dmitry Uss, was released after six months. Sannikau was pardoned after a year and granted political asylum in the UK in 2012. The third, Mikola (Nikolaj) Statkevich, was imprisoned until 2015 when he was pardoned by Lukashenko.

Two executions after terrorist acts

In April 2011, Minsk was shaken by a terrorist attack in the subway, when an explosive charge killed 15 people and injured at least 200. Soon, two men were arrested and in November sentenced to death. Critics felt the evidence against them was weak and prosecutors never explained what motives the men should have had, more than a desire to "harm society". Despite appeals from, among others, the European Commission to spare the lives of men, it was announced in March 2012 that they had been executed. As a result of the judgments, the EU decided to extend its sanctions against Belarus (see Foreign Policy and Defense).

During the year, thousands of people gathered each week in so-called silent demonstrations, organized via social media calls to protest Lukashenko's handling of the country's crisis economy. The police went back hard on the protesters. In July, around 2,000 people were estimated to have been arrested in connection with the protests, of which around 500 were sentenced to short prison sentences. Leading human rights activist Aljaksandr (Ales) Bjaljatski was sentenced to four and a half years in prison at the end of the year, but released in 2014. He was formally convicted of tax offenses.

In September 2012, parliamentary elections were held again. Some opposition parties boycotted the elections and a number of political activists were arrested and sentenced to short prison sentences for calling for boycotts. Just as in previous elections, Lukashenko faithful candidates took home all seats. Of the 110 seats that were at stake, all but one were ready already in the first round, which means that the victorious candidates received at least 50 percent of the vote. Only in one case did it become relevant with a second round of elections.

 
 

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