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Belarusian Liberalization against a background of Euromaidan 32

13:47, Andrei Sannikov — Politics

Belarusian Liberalization against a background of Euromaidan

These notes were written a year ago, more for personal use than for publication. Now I've decided to publish them practically with no changes.

The situation in Ukraine looks very much like the events in Belarus in 2010. They differ by the level of toughness of the regime.

Democratic changes under anti-democratic regimes naturally happen with the help of street actions. No single candidate is needed for that. Street actions make possible a peaceful transfer of power. All attempts of Europe to negotiate democratic transformations with non-democratic leaders are useless. Autocrats and dictators would use any provocations to justify use of force against peaceful demonstrations. They would not negotiate, striving to preserve their power by all means.

European factor is becoming more important in internal politics of Ukraine and Belarus and EU position has a strong impact on the events during a political crisis.

A bit of history

There are things that defined my attitude to presidential campaign, but I never discussed them in public. From my point of view, they were so obvious that did not warrant any special attention. It looks now that I have to mention them. I did not think that the situation would turn back so quickly to the worst times for Belarus to cynical lobbying of dictatorship on international arena. It is happening in spite of the fact that the dictator is crippling is opponents in prisons, openly supporting all dictatorial regimes, ignoring international law and executing innocent people.

Why I was against scenario of the single candidate from opposition?

I remember very well what was happening in 2001 and 2006, when opposition had single candidates. Besides, in 2001 single candidate was nominated by Coordinating council of democratic forces (CCDF), in establishing of which I took a most active part. Perhaps, it was the only effectively acting center of opposition so far. CCDF carried out successful campaign of boycotting parliamentary elections of 2000. However, by the period of nominating single candidate CCDF was substantially weakened because of its artificial expansion which included among others trade-union parties and because of creation of an alternative Consultation council of political parties (CCPP) under the aegis of OSCE, which also included pro-government Liberal-democratic party. Probably, weakening of CCDF was one of aims for creating CCPP.

One way or another, CCDF had ceased to act as a decision-making center for all opposition forces. Decision about single candidate-2001 was made by several candidates of different weight and nominating Uladzimer Hancharyk became a result of multiple compromises.

Nominating of the single candidate in 2006 was carried out according to a different scenario: through Congress of democratic forces. It seemed that procedure was democratic and preliminary agreements on supporting any elected candidate were reached, but behavior of both single candidates was the same in 2001 and 2006. After their nomination both single candidates have withdrawn into the shadows for a long period. Their campaign was not carried out, headquarters were suspicious and rejected new managers and civil society leaders instead of attracting them.

There was an impression that getting status of the single one was the main aim of both U.Hancharyk and A.Milinkevich. Probably it was like that indeed, because in both cases groups of Western analysts and foundations were assuring that the main activity must evolve after the elections, when the single candidte would be able to base his activity on his electorate support that would be defined during the elections. This message is fundamentally wrong in a situation when there is an absence of elections and opportunities for legal oppositional political activity.

I am sure that both in 2001, when U.Hancharyk was the single candidate, and in 2006, with the single A.Milinkevich, Lukashenko was not getting 50% of the votes if not lost the elections entirely. However both single candidates did not aspire to challenge results of voting, though both in 2001 and 2006 it was still possible to refer both to exit-polls and results of independent observation.

Moreover, both single candidates quite quickly withdrew from further fight and, in fact, recognized Lukashenka's victory and did not even try to consolidate their status and increased quantity of opposition supporters. U.Hancharyk withdrew into shadows right after the elections as well as Milinkevich, who started to create his NGO Movement for freedom only about a year after.

During electoral campaigns of 2001 and 2006 it was obvious that the regime knew what was happening in headquarters' of candidates very well, especially in 2001. It looked like in 2006 the regime was well informed about what would be happening on the election day, including protest activities. And after preventive threatening it was almost abstaining from massively using special forces on the election day.

Crackdown on protesters and mass detentions happened on March 25, one week after the elections after majority of foreign media and international observers left Belarus. In 2006 special services of the regime were most successful in doing their job. They allowed protesters to stay on the square for one week and install tents, secretly arresting tens of activists away from media. Detentions of activists were carried out without touching leaders, and then the mass demonstration was dispersed violently. Hundreds of protesters were arrested for short terms, presidential candidate A.Kazulin was arrested, criminaly persecuted and jailed.

Thereby the regime first demonstrated to the West its ability to refrain from using force and then carried out threatening operation with brutal arrest of hundreds of people and imprisonment of a presidential candidate.

Why 2010 scenario proved to be effective

After two attempts to realize scenario of the single it became more than obvious that dictatorship is ready for such scenario and controls the situation perfectly in such case.

Though the factor of a single candidate was making campaigning easier to some extend, it didn't lead to synergy of all opposition forces. The parties were unwilling to work for not their candidate. It also didn't attract additional financial resources for the campaign.

Presidential campaign in Belarus is like walking on the mine field without sappers, special equipment and maps, but with plenty of spectators both domestic and foreign. At the same time presidential elections is the only relatively legal chance to challenge the dictatorship.

In terms of such elections it is possible to forecast only negative factors with high degree of certainty: repressions against a candidate, his team, campaigns of defamation and intimidation, refusal in registration, non allocation of places to meet with voters well tested methods of liquidation of oppositional candidates.

And, of course, there was not a shadow of illusion concerning the vote count. Mechanism of falsifications during pre-voting, outside voting and vote count have been worked out perfectly within last years.

In my opinion, participation of number of alternative candidate was the most effective scenario in such conditions. Such scenario allowed to reach several goals:

1) The most important it was possible to demonstrate inevitability of the second round outwardly. Even candidates-outsiders had their constituencies. Some of them were taking votes away from Lukashenka. After active electoral campaign and growing support of the people it was not possible for Lukashenka to gain necessary 50%. For the first time during many years support of opposition and absence of support of dictator was clearly visible in the street.

2) Large number of candidates allowed to involve much more activists and new people than earlier. Every candidate needed at least several hundred activists for collecting signatures, central and regional headquarters, distributors of printed materials, campaigners etc

3) Large number of candidates allowed to deliver any agreed message more effectively (via different segments). It happened in 2010, when all candidates promoted idea about necessity of changes and promoted their views on future developing of the state. Most of the candidates called to protest on the square. Unity of the candidates was effectively demonstrated during TV-debates, when only one candidate A.Lukashenka didn't show up .

Odds against

Campaign of 2010 became the best poilitical campaign of Belarusian opposition which, among other things demonstrated unity on the basic issues changing power - and normal democratic competition of alternative candidates.

But even in situation, when opposition created real window of opportunities for changing the situation inside Belarus, no serious allies emerged in democratic countries and international organizations, who would support democratic movement in a proper way.

I am not even speaking about financing. It was so scanty that, for instance, our team used only small part of its potential. Lack of financing adversly affected even basic things, namely production of the campaign materials.

It must be said here, that unlike in other post-Soviet states, even authoritarian ones, dictatorship in Belarus shut down all possibilities for serious domestic fundrising.

But financial issue was not the main one. Majority of analysts from Belarus, pollsters, Western experts and strategists of key foundations (with very few noble exceptions) were just denying possibility of changes, were making fun of the opposition, and preparing political leadership of Europe and USA as well as public opinion to legitimizing Lukashenka. During the period of campaign I didn't find a single article that would emphasize a chance of power change and necessity of adequate assistance to Belarusian opposition. At the same time there was enough materials humiliating opposition and promoting dictatorial propaganda in Western media.

It is astonishing, but on the eve of the voting, when there was feeling in the air that the majority is against Lukashenka, when people were hopeful for changes, analytical materials, denying the obvious were published in the Western press.

Authors of such analyses were giving helping hand to the dictator as if they would be scared with possible success of the opposition.

Just few examples

European director of National endowment for democracy Rodger Potocki demonstrated open disregard to opposition and alternative candidates in his article Enemies of Themselves. (Transitions Online, December 6, 2010). His analysis is far from reality and is an insult for the opposition. Explicit support is shown only to A.Milinkevich, who did not take part in the elections and discredited himself with promotion of dialogue with dictatorship. Potocki distributes lies about support of some segments of opposition by Russia and gives convenient quotations of like-minded persons about elections - theater of absurd A.Klaskouski (, second-rate comedy Y.Maksimiuk (Radio Liberty), and leaves no doubts in dictator's victory.

Besides Potocki makes arrogant and insulting for Belarusian opposition confessions: in the past, foreign diplomats, donors, and groups active in Belarus have played a key role in smoothing over the divisions within democratic forces. In 2001, Western diplomats had to intercede and help negotiate the selection of Uladzimir Hancharyk as the common opposition candidate. Foreign groups worked closely with the opposition in brokering coalitions in 2004-2007, selection of a single opposition candidate in 2006, development of common opposition platforms, and creation of a common candidate list in 2008

Further he states that, no unified opposition or single candidate is likely to emerge in Belarus without Western assistance.

One more article was published three days before elections in influential review Eurasia Daily Monitor. Author of the article, V.Sokor, was a part of group of American analysts, who were meeting with Lukashenka on the eve of elections. Sokor scrupulously copies dictator's propaganda about high popularity of Lukashenka and doesn't even feel uncomfortable with his references to well-known repressive body of the regime called Operative-analytical center (OAC), threatens West with henchman of Kremlin instead of Lukashenka, repeats lies about pro-Kremlin opposition politicians in Belarus and criticizes USA for sanctions.

Literally several hours before crackdown British The Guardian, published article of editor of Nasha Niva newspaper A.Dynko, advertising Lukashenka as a politician, who is able to change, repeating lies about pro-Russian candidates, comparing Lukashenka's economy with Singapore. A.Dynko's opinion as editor of independent Belarusian-language edition is regarded as a view of supporter of democratic opposition from inside. Dynko has no doubts in Lukashenka's victory and promotes the dictator's promises of new freedoms in Belarus.

Missed chances

On the eve of elections European politicians also accepted as unavoidable that Lukashenka would remain for another term and didn't even try to contemplate other scenarios. There were ritual statements about necessity of democratization and free and fair elections, but indeed European politicians were ready to have dealings with Lukashenka, hopingh that elections would not bring any serious incidents. At the same time everybody had understanding, that falsification would be on the same scale.

By December 19, 2010 joined efforts of opposition allowed to carry out the most active political campaign for many years, ensured high level of mobilization of voters (turnout exceeded 90%), demonstrated during collecting of signatures and electoral campaign, that Lukashenka doesn't have support, declared by official propaganda.

On December 19, 2010 the biggest protest action against falsification of election for last 10 years took place in Minsk. Special forces were thrown against peaceful demonstrators. Thousands were beaten, hundreds arrested. Arrests lasted for several months.

Active electoral campaign of opposition involved all layers of the society in Belarus into activity. People started to believe in changes. High turnout showed that people were voting for the alternative and against the dictator. Sacrifice of opposition activists and citizens, who came to the square to support their candidates, confirmed sentiment of the society. All this created unique window of opportunities and provided parameters that should have been used both by the opposition and Europe after the election day.

Position of Russia after elections also provided window of opportunities. Shock in the world after events of December 19 limited Russia's willingness to support Lukashenka openly. Even his victory was recognized by Kremlin only after certain time and in a very discreet manner. Besides, minister of foreign affairs of Russia S.Lavrov twice in February and March of 2011 was directly speaking about human right violations in Belarus. Leader of LDPR Vladimir Zhyrinovskiy, who is often called mouthpiece of Kremlin, said that Lukashenka lost elections and must resign and appoint new elections.

Russia have been keeping distance in relations with dictator for eight months and only in August of 2011 made a decision to save Lukashenka from economical wreckage for another time.

Situation of real public expectations caused by inadequate using of force and following deep economic crisis provided opportunities to undertake brave and non-standard decisions for realization of any plans concerning Belarus. But key players were not ready for that, in high extent it was the consequence of expert community, that prepared them to passivity. None was able to offer plan of actions.

Possible options

1. Opposition

Opposition should have started campaign to demand the second round of election, gathering at the same time as many witnesses as possible to support such demand. But the opposition was literally in ruines. It is out of fear of such scenario Lukashenka thad hrown an unprecedented number of opposition leaders to prisons, used tortures against them.

2. International and national observation

It was well-known about falsification, this falsifications were described and documented by national and foreign observers many times during all kinds of elections and referenda. Nevertheless, the main task of observation, according to observers, is registration of violations for further legal protests, which is totally useless. The main efforts should have been directed on revealing real results of voting. Deriving real results of voting from all possible ballot stations should have become at the center of planning, brainstorming, non-standard decisions and implementation of innovative methods. Real picture of voting was possible to reveal with active behavior of observers. OSCE observation missions should not have been declaring previous results of voting the next day. Seven presidential candidates and members of their teams were arrested as well as hundreds of demonstrators. This gave a reason for resolute demarche of observers, not for formalization of elections. Arrest of presidential candidates before the end of vote count could have become the argument for recognizing elections non-valid. Announcement of preliminary results of elections, included, besides, positive estimations of some stages of electoral campaign became a specific element of recognition of the elections.

3.European Union

Had EU considered different options of events in Belarus after presidential elections, not just believing its own prognoses of liberalization in Belarus, it could have prepared other line of behavior during the crisis. Mass beatings and arrests were a sufficient ground for urgent high level visit by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. I am sure that even statement with demand of such a visit would have changed the dynamics of the situation completely. EU could have demanded to carry out the second round or a new elections. Accompanied by quick and hard sanctions this steps could have changed the logic of the situation and moved it from the dead end. On December 24, 2010 four ministers of foreign affairs R.Sikorski, G.Westerwelle, K.Bildt and K.Schwarzenberg in article in International Herald Tribune stated that Lukashenka did not gain necessary 50% of votes.

EU should have built its policy on that point.


On December 19, 2010 Belarusian dictatorship suffered a heavy blow, from which it can not recover until today. But Belarusian experts, specialists and bureaucrats of EU are more and more persistent in turning back to fatal policy of cooperation with dictatorship. More and more materials defacing events of 2010, discrediting opposition, calling to cooperation with dictatorship are published in Belarusian independent press, and in the West. Notably, authors of these analytics are the same experts, who were spreading lies about forthcoming liberalization in Belarus in 2010.

There is an opportunity to change the situation in Belarus. Chance to use this opportunity can emerge in the nearest future. An effort should be made to prevent the advocates of the dictatorship to close a new window of opportunities.

Andrei Sannikov, coordinator of the Civil campaign European Belarus

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