The country of Belarus, located in Eastern Europe, gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has since been run by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, often described as “Europe’s last dictator.”
Leading up to the country’s presidential elections, the people of Belarus have been objecting to Lukashenko and the government, demanding a new democratic nation.
Protests began prior to presidential elections held on August 9, 2020 and continued more furiously after Lukashenko’s contradicting win. The results were rejected by Belarusians, who claimed the results were rigged.
The protests involved many women dressed in white and carrying flowers and people linking arms and marching through the streets. Opponents of Lukashenko have faced violent and inhumane persecution and hundreds of demonstrators have been imprisoned.
During his presidency, Lukashenko took control of legislators that could impeach him, and term limits were eliminated. The president’s orders had superiority over legislative laws, which gave him unchallenged control of the government and its people. Under Lukashenko’s rule, censorship and human rights violations were rampant.
Freedom of the press was restricted, journalists were frequently jailed, and state media were submissive to the president. In addition to those regulations, protests required permits, certain religious publications were prohibited, and the Belarusian Orthodox Church was given precedence.
Despite the public uproar, in this year’s election, Lukashenko still ended up winning his sixth term. He won 80% of the vote against his four opponents, even though his first two opponents were well known in the country. His first three opponents were barred from running against him. The first opponent was imprisoned for money laundering, but claims have been made that this was a political move by the president.
The second opponent was ineligible because he could not get 100,000 signatures to run against him. The third opponent was a YouTuber who was known for opposing Lukashenko and the government. He was also barred from running, but then his spouse, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya decided to run in his place.
Tsikhanouskaya had support from the other candidates, and the public was in favor of someone who did not have any prior involvement with the government. Since the elections, she has had to flee the country, but she is still demanding a new democratic leadership and economic reform in Belarus.
The Russian government has been supporting Lukashenko, but Belarusians have been receiving international support and foreigners have condemned the police brutality against protestors.