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An Examination of President Lukashenko and Belarus' Turmoil

Sabrina Artusa

Posted on June 15, 2021 05:04

1 user

Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, grows increasingly dictator-like. On May 20th, his control reached new heights as he forced a commercial airplane to land in order to detain a dissident journalist.

President Lukashenko has had control over Belarus since 1994. A former Soviet farm boss and opponent of the December 1991 agreement to dissolve the Soviet Union, Lukashenko has been integrating communist ideals into Belarus’s government for more than 25 years.

This past election in 2020 exemplified Lukashenko’s authoritarian tendencies. It is speculated that he took the presidency wrongly, and that his adversary, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, actually won. The people of Belarus, angry at his blatant disregard for the vote and obvious ineptitude, erupted into protests. Hundreds of thousands of people showed up at the capital, Minsk, to express their opposition to Lukashenko’s "victory," to no avail. 

Lukashenko responded by jailing or exiling dissidents, as he did to Svetlana and her husband Sergei Tikhanovskaya, and by spreading false excuses. Lukashenko employs spies (or as he calls them “curators”) to gather information on his citizens. 

Since the election, Lukashenko continues his attempts of turning Belarus’s presidential republic into something resembling a communist society. For his past 25 years in power, Lukashenko has made significant changes to Belarusian policies: eliminating the term limit, ruling by decree, and, most recently, stopping an airplane mid-flight to detain a dissident journalist. 

On Sunday May 20th, President Lukashenko forced a commercial flight to land because journalist Roman Protasevich was on board. Protasevich is a co-founder of a popular opposition telegram channel NEXTA, and as such, has been living in exile in Lithuania out of fear for his life. 

The flight was landed, and Protasevich and his girlfriend were arrested. Later, the Belarusian government released a video of Protasevich. Protasevich looked discombobulated and shaken, claiming that he was not hurt by the police. He then stated that he was “giving a confession on organizing mass protests in Minsk.” The formality with which he spoke and his disheveled appearance suggests that this confession was coerced. 

This event signifies the intensification of Lukashenko’s control and communist policies. Lukashenko has been able to expertly control his citizens for the past 25 years, but stopping a commercial airplane mid-flight was a first. This shows how desperately Lukashenko wants to eliminate voices of opposition. Protasevich’s video serves as a warning to Lukashenko’s adversaries, or any citizen with differing opinions, saying “this is what will happen to you if you oppose me.”

President Biden promised to explore options “to hold accountable those responsible” and the EU is instituting sanctions. But, one has to question the sincerity of these promises. It has been 3 weeks, yet media awareness of the event seems to be fleeting. Hopefully, the initial outrage persists and action is taken, for the sake of the Belarusian citizens.

Journalists continue to be jailed or exiled. Belarusian citizens live in fear, unable to voice their opinions. Journalists, dissidents, and unsolicited media sources, are getting picked off one by one. What happened on May 20th was shocking. Hopefully it shocked the world into action. 

Sabrina Artusa

Posted on June 15, 2021 05:04

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