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Embroidery by Prague-based Belarusian artist Rufina Bazlova, depicting a standoff between riot police and protesters in her home country. Image (c): Rufina Bazlova. Used with permission.

Belarus is undergoing perhaps its most serious political crisis since independence. This eastern European country of nearly 10 million has been ruled by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka since 1994. The former collective farm manager is a great survivor. For over 20 years he has outmanoeuvred political opponents, playing off Russia against the European Union and cracking down on dissent with ruthless efficiency. In the international press, he is known as Europe’s last dictator. Meanwhile, he has held absolute power over Belarus, and expected his rule to continue.

Only one election in Belarus has ever been judged free and fair by international observers. Lukashenka appeared committed to continuing that tradition, breezing through elections in August 2020 to secure a sixth consecutive term as president. One by one, his most promising challengers were ejected from the race. The popular blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski was detained at the end of May 2020 on suspicion of being a foreign agent. The businessman Viktar Babaryka, whose candidacy was rejected, was detained in mid-June. In late July, the entrepreneur Valery Tsepkalo, whose candidacy was likewise rejected, fled to Russia fearing political persecution. Sporadic street protests began to be held in June. The protesters were arrested and Lukashenka reacted as expected — by deriding them as the paid lackeys of undefined foreign powers.

But when Tsikhanouski’s wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, registered as a presidential candidate in his place, the opposition to Lukashenka was able to unite around a new figure. Tsikhanouskaya’s goal was simple: to resign after six months, by which time free and fair elections would be held. But when the official results were announced on the morning of August 10, Belarusians found them implausible. Lukashenka had allegedly received 80 percent of the vote compared to just ten percent for Tsikhanouskaya.

The situation has since deteriorated. Tsikhanouskaya has fled to neighbouring Lithuania. Thousands of Belarusians have been protesting across the entire country, which has seen internet shutdowns, labour unrest, a crackdown on independent journalists, and credible accounts by detained protesters of torture at the hands of the security services. Several protesters are reported to have been killed in clashes with riot police, and at least one has died in prison. Many observers now believe that whatever goodwill there once was towards Lukashenka has evaporated. If he rules, he will depend on fear to a degree unprecedented by Belarusian standards. His opponents are all too aware of that prospect.

With growing pressure and sanctions from Western powers, compromise looks improbable, as protesters and the opposition now demand nothing less than a full recount of the results and Lukashenka’s resignation as president of Belarus.

Stories about Belarus In Turmoil

In Belarus, subscribing to Telegram channels branded as ‘extremist’ may now get users in trouble

While it's not clear whether the Belarusian police will actually be able to dispense prison terms, "nobody can be sure" they won't be criminally charged for subscribing to Telegram channels.

Belarusian authorities rule to liquidate domestic violence shelter

The liquidation of Radislava is part of an ongoing crackdown on NGOs, independent media, and activists in Belarus that intensified this summer following a year of protests against fraudulent elections.

‘If you thirst for freedom, seize it!’: The songs of the Belarusian uprising

The songs of protest that have become some the most vital symbols of the 2020 Belarusian revolution are varied in their origins and surprising in their complexity.

Georgian-Belarusian security cooperation deal worries political emigres in Georgia

A year after disputed presidential elections in Belarus, a Georgian-Belarusian security cooperation agreement has come into force. Critics fear the treaty could help Minsk target political dissidents residing in Georgia.

Belarus court labels independent media outlets Tut.by, Zerkalo.io as ‘extremist’

The ruling applies to every single piece of content on the Tut.by and Zerkalo.io websites, as well as to all content posted on their social media channels.

Missing Belarusian activist found dead in Ukraine

Shyshou, who left Belarus in the autumn of 2020 fearing state persecution, founded the Belarusian House in Ukraine, an organisation supporting Belarusian citizens fleeing regime persecution.

Belarusian sprinter sent home from Olympics by Belarusian officials says she will ask for asylum

24-year-old Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she was not worried about being kicked off the national team, but was afraid she would be imprisoned once she arrived in Belarus.

State escalates attacks on media freedom and civil society in Belarus

Since the start of July, dozens of civil society organisations and independent media outlets in Belarus have faced law enforcement raids, searches and staff detentions.

Top Belarusian media website removes social media posts to protect employees

Tut.by editors removed virtually all of the content published on most of their social media channels in 2020 and the first half of 2021, at the height of the post-election...

Belarus bans foreign travel for citizens, EU closes airspace to Belarusian flights

Most Belarusians, including many foreign residency permit holders, have been temporarily banned from going abroad, while new EU air space restrictions further narrow travel options to and from Belarus.

Belarus grounds Ryanair flight, detains independent journalist amid regime's crackdown on media

Pratasevich was formerly an administrator of NEXTA-Live, the Telegram channel covering the anti-government protests in Belarus. He is currently editor-in-chief of Belarus Golovnogo Mozga, another independent media outlet.

Israeli phone hacking firm stops sales to Belarus and Russia

Cellebrite, an Israeli software company known for making tools used to extract data from smartphones, has announced it will halt sales to Russian and Belarus state bodies and law enforcement.

Bloggers, journalists and creatives in the crosshairs of the Belarusian state

As the space for free expression in Belarus narrows, many journalists and artists who covered the protests are awaiting trial.

In Belarus, Lukashenka's rule endures 2020 — can it survive 2021?

Belarus faces a stalemate: protesters cannot take power by force, the authorities cannot disperse them by force. But in the long term, Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rule looks precarious.

In Belarus, a new civic culture is born out of recycled historical symbols in urban yards

As Belarusans continue to fill the streets in protests against Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a hyper-local movement is forming a new civic culture.

How global tech companies enable the Belarusian regime — and the Belarusian revolution

Belarus has globalised enough for its rulers to be undermined if western technology becomes less accessible, but also globalised enough to reorient itself to larger markets in the East

Join us LIVE on December 14 for ‘Belarus 2020: Still Uploading’

Join us and three guest speakers to revisit the events that erupted in Belarus following the August presidential elections. This free event will be streamed live on Zoom and Facebook.

Belarusians mourn the death of young opposition supporter

The 31-year-old Roman Bondarenka was the fourth person killed since protests began over the results of August's presidential election. As they mourn, Belarusians fear that they could share his fate.

In the heat of political crisis, Belarus launches first nuclear power plant

Next month, the Astravets nuclear power plant commences operation with fanfare. But in a country which suffered greatly from the Chernobyl disaster, not everybody shares the government's optimism.

From Belarus to Thailand, Hong Kong’s spirit of resistance is nurturing grassroots protests elsewhere

While Hong Kong protests have influenced organisational and protest tactics in anti-authoritarian movements abroad, the current wave of grassroots uprisings, in turn, prompts Hongkongers to develop a transnational solidarity.

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