August 20, 2020
Belarus (once known as “White Russia;” capital Minsk) is a European former Soviet republic becoming independent with the USSR’s 1991 collapse. In 1994, Alexander Lukashenko was elected president. Has since ruled as a repressive dictator, with at least enough grudging popular support. But that has run out.
In the August 9 election, a chief opponent, a leading “vlogger,” was jailed to prevent his running. His wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, registered her substitute candidacy. Lukashenko dismissed her as a “poor little thing.” But her rallies attracted gigantic crowds.
Lukashenko won with 80% of the vote. Or so the regime announced. A more credible estimate, had the vote and count been fair, was 70% for Tikhanovskaya. She went to the electoral authority to complain. After hours of interrogation by the security forces, she made a hostage video (her husband still jailed, remember) conceding the election. Then they expelled her to Lithuania.
Massive protests erupted. Lukashenko’s goon squads responded with massive brutality. One might wonder why anyone would defend such a vile regime. But there are always guys who enjoy beating people up. And also people courageous enough to risk their lives.
Tikhanovskaya has returned. Lukashenko, defiant, refuses to give in and has ramped up the repression. Can he stick it out?
Some years ago I might have said no. In Egypt’s 2011 revolution, I predicted Mubarak’s fall — telling my daughter* “there is a tide in the affairs of men.” But what then seemed a democratic tide has since reversed. And Mubarak was not as vicious as Lukashenko.
Though I’d love to see Lukashenko get the Ceausescu treatment.
Next door to Belarus is Russia. Putin and Lukashenko have had a dicey relationship. But Putin of course hates revolutions against dictators.** Might his military help be invited? Or — might Putin send in troops uninvited, seizing an opportunity to declare Belarus in chaos and invading to “restore order.” But actually, of course, to annex Belarus. (His popularity bump from the 2014 Crimea grab having dissipated.)
This could thus become a very nasty explosive situation. So far, the U.S. has been sickeningly quiet about Belarus. What if Russia does invade?
Trump might see this as his own opportunity, to posture as tough and forceful, for our own election. But that assumes sanity. And forgets Trump’s being in Putin’s pocket.
* Riveted by the Egyptian drama. This contributed to her winding up with a career in the Middle East.
** We’ve just learned that Putin’s chief critic, Alexei Navalny, is in intensive care, after what seems obviously another murder attempt. The list of murdered Putin opponents is very long.