Belarus is on the precipice of something big. Formerly a part of the United Soviet Socialist Republic, Belarus has a history of communist rule, but a liberal population. A shady, dysphoric, and terrifying turn of events involving Belarus’s authoritarian rule.
Upon the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, something that the entire population denies contributing to, protests have spread across the country. These protests have lead to widespread internet outages, impacting those looking to assemble or compare notes in the aftermath of Belarus’s presidential election.
The Recent Election in Belarus
The Belarusian election, which took place on August 9 of 2020, seems to have been the final straw for many Belarusian citizens. While Alexander Lukashenko was again named president, as he has been the only president Belarus has ever had since the establishment of the presidency in 1994, the population started asking an important question.
That question was part of a simple, yet revealing dialogue. “I didn’t vote for that guy. Did you vote for that guy?” “No. I don’t know anyone who did.” “Well then, how did he get 80% of the vote?”
Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Belarusians were eager to see Lukashenko leave office this election, the population has been told that he won the election by a landslide. The public knows that this isn’t possible, and they’re beginning to question what they’ve been told by the media and the state.
The Belarusian government maintains a close relationship with the Russian government. Belarus relies on Russia for energy, making their relationship highly significant and pressingly necessary. Lukashenko is seen as a loyalist to Putin, and many Belarusians believe that the Russian government plays a significant role in keeping Lukashenko installed.
The Tortured History of the United Civic Party of Belarus
Lukashenko was opposed by candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, representing the United Civic Party of Belarus. The party has yet to see a candidate seated as president, and no one besides Lukashenko has ever been allowed to be president of Belarus. There is huge mortal risk for politicians who choose to become involved with the opposing party. It’s not unheard of for politicians who oppose Lukashenko to be abducted and killed or to die under mysterious circumstances.
Hiendaz Kaprienka, an inventor and member of the United Civic Party of Belarus, lead a motion to impeach Lukashenko in 1996. The movement failed to gain traction. In 1999, Kaprienka was rushed to a hospital with a mysterious cerebral hemorrhage lacking any substantial cause, and he died in surgery with little information being released to the public. A month after that, Jury Zacharanka, a party member, colleague, and close friend of Kaprienka was abducted and believed to be murdered. A few months after that, Kaprienka’s second closest associate, Viktar Hanchar was also abducted and believed to be murdered.
It is not unheard of for those who oppose Lukashenko to pay for their opposition with their lives. Although the majority of Belarusians seem to support the United Civic Party of Belarus by voting for them, Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule always supersedes the will of the people at whatever cost necessary.
Workers to Lukashenko: “LEAVE!”
It’s not difficult to imagine how tired of Lukashenko the people of Belarus must be. They cannot oust their authoritarian leader through conventional means, because elections don’t actually carry any significance in Belarus.
Vast numbers of Belarusians have taken to the streets, largely crying for Lukashenko’s resignation and outright screaming the word “LEAVE!” at every speaking engagement he attends. He still maintains control over all security and military forces in the country, although some reports suggest that security and military personnel under his control have refused to adhere to his orders or recognize his authority.
Reports show that at least 7,000 protesters have been arrested since the election, while two protesters have died as a direct result of injuries sustained during the protest. Approximately a quarter of a million Belarusians took to the streets in Minsk alone, and people aren’t through.
Lukashenko: “There Will Be No New Election Until You Kill Me”
So far, Lukashenko has outright denied and any all requests to relinquish control. He claims he will not bow down to the wishes of protesters. Putin and Lukashenko have worked to create a narrative that external forces are driving the protests, although the people of Belarus seem to be adamant that they know what they want and aren’t looking to be told that they want something else.
Lukashenko boldly stated that there would be no new election until protestors kill him. Lukashenko should perhaps revisit Libya’s relationship with former leader Muammar Gaddafi, or stop by the museum of his death to watch the looped video of the people killing their leader who refused to leave. There is a historical precedent for disenfranchised populations killing authoritarian leaders who refused to relinquish control. As of yet, the Belarusian government has not reported any credible threats or attempts on Lukashenko’s life.
Internet Blocks in Belarus
In an effort to prevent people from mobilizing or sharing notes, the Belarusian government seems to be intermittently activating an internet killswitch, shutting down all virtual avenues of communication for the population through DNS blockades. The government is attempting to keep a tight hold on the conversation to prevent the protests from becoming a legitimate revolution.
Citizens of Belarus have no way to access the news. In some cases, they have no way of contacting medical help when a protester is injured. Communication is completely throttled at the whims of the Belarusian government, and they’ve not stated if or when they plan to reinstate consistent service for internet users in the country.
The People of Belarus Need Privacy
When the internet is working, the Belarusian government is monitoring contact between citizens. The only way to prevent the government from reading their messages is the use of a VPN like TorGuard that would provide end to end encryption for every user. Private services without backdoors accessible by governments are the only things that provide true freedom of speech in countries like Belarus where people are continuously oppressed by authoritarian leaders.