When the Soviet Union collapsed, Belarus’ neighbors, such as Poland, seemed to continue on the path of modernization and prosper over the years, having managed to grow strong ties with organizations such as the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Belarus on the other hand saw rampant inflation, organized crime and corruption under its first and only president since gaining independence from Russia. This has drawn attention to addressing the fragility and rule of law in Belarus.
Often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko has served as Belarus’ president since 1994. During Lukashenko’s election and subsequent early years in power, many in Belarus believed he was the man to return the nation to normality and prosperity. However, many of his pledges did not come to fruition after nearly three decades in charge and several suspected human rights violations, rigged elections and suppression of free speech.
According to Amnesty International, regarding Belarus in 2021: “the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remained severely restricted.” The justice system in Belarus seems to continually suppress dissent, with protests in the nation often resulting in the arrest and torture of key dissenters.
Major critics of the Belarussian regime often end up prosecuted and imprisoned. Major websites and national and international media outlets often face bans due to ‘extremist’ views. Trends like this suggest that there is little room for freedom of expression in Belarus.
Limited freedom of association appears to be another issue in Belarus. People’s Embassies of Belarus suggest that there has been an escalation of measures that serve to repress independent trade union activities. The measures often involve intimidation and outright violence. There has been an effective ban on Freedom of assembly in Belarus. Protest participants usually have to pay hefty fines and face detention of up to 15 days.
The Right of Peaceful Assembly indicates that whereas there has been a change in the law toward a process for assemblies, law enforcement in Belarus still systematically prevents peaceful protests concerning the fragility and rule of law in Belarus with excessive force.
Torture and ill-treatment remain widely used measures to limit dissent in Belarus. Those who commit such dissent-related crimes have been on the receiving end of total impunity by Lukashenko’s government. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Belarussian security forces have methodically imperiled hundreds to torture. HRW reported on the brutality of the Belarussian police force.
The state of refugees’ and migrants’ rights in Belarus has attracted condemnation from critics. The European Commission has accused Belarus of luring migrants to the nation with a false promise that they would have entry to the EU. As a result, thousands of migrants became stranded along the border between Poland and Belarus. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) suggested that some migrants received clearance from Belarusian soldiers to move into neighboring country Poland. These soldiers cut through border fencing at night to allow migrants to cross.
In Belarus’ last election, Alexander Lukashenko appeared to win 80% of the vote. However, due to a lack of observers present and a landslide victory for Lukashenko, many claim the elections were rigged.
Considering “the election was held amid growing frustration at Lukashenko’s leadership” and questions regarding the fragility and rule of law in Belarus with rallies for opposition parties attracting large audiences around Belarus, it may have surprised some to see an overwhelming majority vote for the current government.
Miss Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya), the main opposition to Lukashenko, actually entered the election in place of her husband who had been previously jailed. The election has been heavily criticized by much of the West, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent in congratulatory messages. Ties between Belarus and Russia have grown considerably due to the isolation of Belarus by Western Europe.
When the USSR collapsed, Belarus was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Around half of the population lived below the poverty line during this period. However, in 2013, less than 1% of people lived in poverty, representing a 60% drop from 2000.
Belarus went through a period of significant economic growth from 2005 to 2011, outpacing many in Europe. This time happened to be during the financial crisis when many other nations suffered hardship. This progress suggested that Belarus can be resilient during tough global economic times. Unemployment has also significantly dropped since the 90s. Belarus’ unemployment sat at 4.7% in 2021 compared to 24.4% in 1996.
Poverty still exists in Belarus. However, the situation seems to have steadily improved in comparison to when Belarus first gained independence. While it appears there may not be a clear end in sight to the present regime in Belarus, NGO Explorer states that there are still up to 152 NGOs working in the nation.
– Josef Whitehead