Belarus: Could Lukashenko Turn To Repression As He ‘Has Nothing To Lose?’ – OpEd

Confronted by a rising tide of public protest and no longer constrained from using violence in the hopes that he will get an infusion of help from the West, Alyaksandr Lukashenka may turn to repression in the hopes that a massive show of force will stabilize his position.

But that raises a question: does he have enough force at his disposal to drive Belarusians back into passivity? Or would any display of repression be like fighting a grease fire with water, something that unless the amount of “water” is truly massive only has the effect of making the situation still worse?

The answer to those questions are likely to be found in the streets of Belarusian cities and villages in the near term, but Pavel Usov, a Belarusian political scientist, provides a useful guide to what may be going through Lukashenka’s mind given his approach to rule in the past (camarade.biz/node/25428).

According to Usov, “the time of the political thaw is approaching its end” and “Belarus has returned to the past with all its repressive ‘jokes,’ the lies of the militia, the impotence of officials and the threats of political opponents.” He says we have seen this all be before but that Lukashenka’s regime is quite creative in coming up with new ways to “tighten the screws.”

Lukashenka, the political analyst says, routinely goes through a five-stage process in dealing with anger among Belarusians. The first involves allowing people to express their dissatisfaction even to the point of going into the streets and coming to believe that change is possible. The second involves decapitating the movement by arresting the leaders.

In the third stage, he says, Lukashenka comes down so hard on his opponents that everyone comes to believe that his “regime is as before strong and that the authorities do not fear anyone,” despite the appearance of such fears when the demonstrations are taking place. During it, the opposition hopes for concessions but has no strategy for what to do in their absence.

The fourth stage involves the gradual wrapping up of demonstrations and the return of disappointment and apathy among the population. And in the fifth, Usov says, “the powers that be intensify their pressure and continue to conduct their absurd policy” thus making a new cycle of this kind likely.

“As a result,” he says, “the authorities become stronger and society weaker. Such a situation will continue as long as the powers that be will be in a position to carry out repressions and society is not in one to respond to force with force.” In some ways, society is to blame for this situation because it “naively” believes “this regime may be changed for the better.”

“We ourselves very quickly convince ourselves in ‘liberalization’ (a political virus) and have begun to belive in the possibility of ‘a round table’ and in the weakness and disorder of the regime.” And even we come to believe, Usov says, that “the Lukashenka of 2017 is not the Lukashenka of 2010.”

Belarusians in so many cases, he says, “hope for the reasonableness of the rulers, for their good sense, that we very quickly forget about what we in fact are dealing with. The current regime was and remains harsh and brutal and will remain the same as long as it exists.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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