The Belarusian Government has seen its fair share of controversies and scandals over its 30 year lifespan. However, the year of 2020 saw a culmination of civil unrest, political instability, and total governmental crack down over its presidential election.
The Belarus government had its subsequent Presidential election with the incumbent (and, technically, the first president in the Belarus government since the fall of the USSR) President Alexander Lukashenko, serving since 1994 going against the opposition party with its chosen leader named Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya at the helm.
Svitlana’s husband, Sergei Leonidovich Tikhanovsky (a blogger and internet oppositional commentator), actually ran before her, even announcing his run in May of that year, but was arrested by the Belarusian Government for allegedly assaulting a police officer. Tsikhanouskaya’s initial response was one of serious fear but she later responded with, in a large crowd in the Belarusian capital of Minsk during her rally: “I don’t need power, but my husband is behind bars. I had to hide my children. I’m sick of putting up with it, keeping quiet, and being afraid.” From what she said in the interview, her lack of fear seems to cause her to run, for the sake of what has been lost to her.
Leading up to the election, Mrs. Tsikhanouskaya had a massive appeal by the populous and attracted a strong following in her rallies leading up to the election that was to take place in August. From being an English school teacher to now being the face of the biggest opposition party in all of Belarusian history, Tsikhanouskaya seemed to be a suitable runner in the election.
However, in an election that everyone expected the opposition to win, incumbent Alexander Lukashenko won, but the win was not ordinary. Lukashenko not only won the race but he super performed, winning with an impressive 80% of the popular vote. Once the result was reported, it was met with much skepticism and anger by the general populous, especially by those who supported the opposition as they did their own score keeping and predicted that Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya actually won with 60-70% of the popular vote, and Svitlana refused to accept the results. Tsikhanouskaya’s spokeswoman, Anna Krasulina, elaborated the disputed results from the official campaign team, stating: “The election results announced by the Central Electoral Commission do not correspond to reality and completely contradict common sense.”
In any case, many were mad and many demanded answers. Protests over the disputed election subsequently broke out with many blaming the incumbent government over tampering with the results to keep Lukashenko in power. As more time passed, so did the number of people who joined the protests against the Election. As the number of protesters grew and grew, this caused even the international community to take notice as many news outlets were reporting on the disputed election and even countries began to see the protests for what they were. Countries such as the United States, Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and more, began to recognize the disputed election and failed to acknowledge incumbent Lukashenko as the actual winner, causing more tension and dispute within the country. However, almost at the same time, countries such as China and Russia congratulated Lukashenko for his win, showing international tensions on who is declared the winner, even with the mounted national tension.
Tikhanovsky and other opposition figures began to convene and form a committee to be representative of the people of Belarus. This council was made of prominent opposition figures, artists, ex-government employees and officials, and generally those who were concerned with the integrity of the election.
As a result of all of the blowback, Lukashenko took action against the protesters by issuing government crackdowns. The crackdowns resulted in protesters being confronted violently by the Belarusian military, arrests being made, and places that they suspected to be housing dissidents to be raided. He vowed to: “…. not allow the country to be torn apart.”
The crackdowns got so severe that even many who were on the council were forced to flee out of the fear of being captured and many seeked refuge in other European nations, including Tikhanovsky who was forced to flee to Lithuania with her children days after the results were initially announced.
Since then, protests have quelled down a little, with Lukashenko promising constitutional reform as a way to help remedy the situation, which responded badly as the opposition now just wants another election to clear any distrust in the government, with Tikhanovsky at the helm of this announcement.
The international community not only responded with a declaration by not acknowledging Lukashenko the winner, but with written pieces of legislation to take action, with the United States being the most prominent.
Introduced in late September by Congressional House Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ-4), the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020 is meant to expand the President of the United State’s power to impose sanctions on Belarus in response to their 2020 election, but also grants assistance to the country.
For the first part, the President would introduce “Visa-blocking sanctions” on foreign entities who: “(1) is a member of the Central Election Commission of Belarus or assisted in the manipulation of the August 9, 2020, presidential election, (2) is a government official responsible for the crackdown on independent media, (3) is an official of the Union State (an international organization consisting of Belarus and Russia), or (4) is a Russian individual who has significantly participated in the crackdown on the press or human rights abuses related to political repression in Belarus. (The President already has authority to impose such sanctions on certain aliens, such as senior leaders in the government of Belarus.)”
The second part includes an introduction into the US giving aid to Belarus by: “(1) counter internet censorship and surveillance technology, (2) support the work of women advocating for freedom and human rights, and (3) support political refugees fleeing the crackdown in Belarus.”
The act was passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. The latest of any update in terms of this act was in November where the Congressional Senate received notice of the act and is thoroughly reviewing it, it is currently in the Committee of Foreign Affairs.
Representative Christopher Smith remarked on this bill stating: “By passing this bill Congress is recognizing what the struggling, courageous people of Belarus have been fighting since August 9 with their massive rallies: the recent election was clearly fraudulent, and has no credibility in the international community with anyone except Lukashenka himself, and perhaps Russia.”
- Seddon, Max. “Support surges for wife of jailed Belarus YouTuber fighting Lukashenko’s grip.” Financial Times, The Financial Times, 31st July 2020, Accessed 15 January 2021.
- Karmanau, Yuras. “Her husband jailed, her kids sent away, a 37-year-old ex-teacher is running for president. She’s trying to beat ‘Europe’s last dictator.’” Chicago Tribune, 4th August 2020, https://www-chicagotribune-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.chicagotribune.com/nation-world/ct-nw-belarus-presidential-election-20200804-advwrcyifbaivlpkgbqos26sua-story.html?amp_js_v=a6&_gsa=1&outputType=amp&usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D#aoh=16106985683896&ref. Accessed 15th January 2021.
- Bergmann, Max. “Belarus’ Fight for a Democratic Future.” Center for American Progress, 3rd September 2020, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2020/09/03/490001/belarus-fight-democratic-future/. Accessed 15th January 2021.
- British Broadcasting Company. “Belarus election: Second night of clashes over disputed poll.” BBC, 11th August 2020, https://www-bbc-com.cdn.ampproject.org. Accessed 15th January 2021.
- Makhovsky, Andrei. “Belarusian’s unlikely journey from home life to opposition hero.” Reuters, 21st August 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-belarus-election-opposition-journey-n/belarusians-unlikely-journey-from-home-life-to-opposition-hero-idUSKBN25H1UH. Accessed 15th January 2021.
- Nippon. “Belarus Opposition Leader Seeks Support for Redo of Presidential Election.” Nippon, 27th August 2020, https://www-nippon-com.cdn.ampproject.org. Accessed 15th January 20201.
- Sagnip, Jeff. “Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2020 to head to White House.” Christopher H. Smith House of Representatives Website, 22nd December 2020, https://chrissmith.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=409090. Accessed 15th January 2021.