Any analysis, predictions or assessments of the situation in Belarus, processes related to the 2015 elections and strategies of the opposition and the government must take the political impact of the revolution and the military conflict in Ukraine into account. The developments in the neighbouring country have already considerably affected Belarusian domestic politics, the government, the opposition, and the public. This will be acrucial factor during the 2015 presidential elections in Belarus. This article presents an analysis of the negative

and positive effects of Ukrainian events on the activities and strategies of key political actors.

  1. The Government

Undoubtedly, the Belarusian authorities have enjoyed the maximum in terms of political dividends because of events in Ukraine. They actively exploit the topic of bloodshed in the neighbourhood for their own ideological and propaganda purposes; the topic will be central to Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s electoral campaign. The primary idea is to stress the correctness and effectiveness of the Belarusian model and its current focus on the struggle against

corruption, and on peace and stability to avoid bloody clashes. Lukashenka’s electoral rating

has already reached 45 per cent, according to IISEPS findings. (≪Электоральная стабильность на фоне роста доверия≫, 05.07.2014 НИСЕПИ, http://iiseps.org/analitica/585, 10.09.2014).

The propaganda will refer to the Ukrainian experience and emphasize the threat of a revolution for society as well as the opposition’s inability to ensure the country’s security. In its turn, the Belarusian regime will make every effort to suppress anything resembling

a protest during the elections. To do so, the security services will have to:

  • step up repressions and control;

  • maintain and strengthen divisions in the opposition;

  • neutralize radical political groups at the earliest stage possible.

The experience of 19 December 2010 will also influence the style of the 2015 elections.

The minimal liberalization of 2010 led to spontaneous mobilization and growing activism of the population, resulting in the Square protests on 19 December in Minsk.

To prevent such scenarios, the Belarusian authorities are going to refuse practices of even facade democratization during the electoral campaign. They will only register candidates who have neither moral authority nor the will for strong actions.

Therefore, the factor of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the 2010 Belarusian Square will determine the strategy of the Belarusian government for the 2015 elections. In my view, the strategy will include intensification of repressions, pressure on the opposition and society, and minimization of space for the opposition.

In fact, the regime will face no obstacles in eliminating the opposition. The opposition has lost its key function of indirect legitimization of the political processes and the Belarusian government. Now, Ukraine plays this role. Maidan has given Lukashenka a significant ideological resource, turning him into a symbol of Belarusian stability.

The only reason to keep the opposition on stage is Lukashenka’s unwillingness to lose his ties with the West and his realization of Russia as a real threat. This is why the opposition is just a mechanism for building relations with the West. Its participation in elections is an element of that mechanism. However, even the West, especially the EU, prefers the stable authoritarian rule in Belarus to an unstable democracy.

  1. The opposition

The opposition’s key problem is that it has failed to overcome its internal systemic crisis, amplified by massive repressions after December 2010 and reinforced by the revolution and war in Ukraine. Until recently, the opposition’s crisis was structural, caused by the need for internal renewal in parties, consolidation, a common strategy, and a single leader. After the revolution in Ukraine, an ideological crisis has supplemented the structural one. Revolution had been a key conceptual element of opposing the regime. All electoral campaigns and opposition participation in elections were only seen as a prelude to revolution. Even the 2010 Square protest and massive repressions did not force them to drop the idea of overthrowing the regime one day. The Arab spring gave this idea a new lease of life, something that sparked a new form of protests in Belarus: the “revolution via social media” in 2011. Maidan has deprived the Belarusian opposition of its traditional revolutionary appeal for at least the next few years; revolution is no longer seen as a peaceful or effective tool with which to fight Lukashenka’s authoritarianism. Along with the regime’s readiness to be tough against any manifestations of rebellion, the key reason is the extreme unpopularity of the idea of a revolution in Belarus, a fact reinforced by the Ukrainian events. If opponents of the regime tried to call for open protests in the Square, Belarusians would reject and condemn both the idea and the opposition as a whole. As a result, the opposition movement is trapped in an ideological limbo, since it has no backup mobilizing ideas and is hardly going to embrace them in the nearest future. The described ideological crisis completely changes their approach to a single strategy and a single candidate. The whole model of the opposition’s participation in elections is changing.

In the old model, a single candidate had to work as a catalyst for revolutionary process, public mobilization and the Square. “No Single Candidate means no Revolution”; this was an axiom for everyone in the opposition, since they realized that only open pressure against the regime could help them to defend their victory and achieve political transformation.

Consolidation was a crucial precondition for finding a single candidate and agreeing on a common revolutionary strategy. The formula was simple:

А. Opposition Consolidation + В. Single Candidate +

С. Society Mobilization = D. Revolution.

Renouncement of a revolution as a tool for political and ideological struggle makes it pointless to join efforts and nominate a common candidate. No Revolution means no Single Candidate. The issue of a single candidate is a minor one. In general, having a common candidate is pointless if no one knows how to use him or her. With the current opposition and in the situation we have in Belarus, the only point of participating in elections is to promote someone’s personality, rather than to fight for power. It does not matter then how many candidates we might have in this promotion campaign, one or ten. The lack of a clear understanding about how to run the political struggle in Belarus in the light of current developments is freezing the opposition in its status of splits. It also empowers certain political figures to act according to their personal rather than political motives. In terms of the number of candidates, the above-mentioned arguments suggest that the opposition’s participation in the 2015 elections will resemble the 2010 elections. The difference is that the opposition will have fewer resources and opportunities for political mobilization, while the level of political influence and experience of new ‘candidates’ will be much lower than those of Lukashenka’s contestants during previous elections.

Challengers will fall into one of two categories: self-nominated and party-nominated. Certain statements suggest that the first category will include Volha Karach and Valer Fralou; both seek to organize a financial self-promotion campaign to consolidate (in the case of Karach) or to re-establish (Fralov) their role as political players as seen by the rest of the opposition or donors. The campaign might be limited to “election-related noise” for the purpose of fundraising without actually running.

The second category should include candidates nominated either by parties, or coalitions, e.g. Talaka or People’s Referendum, or bodies like the Council of Belarusian Intellectuals.

The campaign will aim at raising funds, selfpromotion, claiming a role in Belarusian oppositional politics, and weakening or marginalizing competitors inside the opposition. Running in elections has effectively transformed into their only chance of staying visible as the opposition. Many indications suggest that preparation and participation in the 2015 elections will boil down to a struggle among opposition actors.

III. Society

The political change in Ukraine has affected Belarusian society by strengthening conservative trends and fostering support for Lukashenka. Obviously and rather logically, Belarusians prefer the security of peace and order under authoritarianism to a domestic conflict and war.

Therefore, the opposition has nothing to offer to society today. Along with its general internal crisis, the primary reason is the lack of a success story of political and economic transformations in neighboring states like Ukraine, Russia or Moldova.

Pavel Usov

(Published in “The Bell”, Issue 5 (47), 2014)