The world’s news programmes depict the elections and protests in Belarus in a completely contradictory way. While the Spanish TV links the electoral fraud to Russia, the BBC recalls the background of recent clashes between the two regimes and the German TV highlights the joint statement of Poland and Lithuania lukewarmly calling for further talks. What lies beneath the political crisis in Belarus?
Belarus as a piece in dispute between U.S. and Russia
For decades, Lukashenko -the Belarusian president- had been the bogeyman of British and American diplomacy, always shocked by repression and routine electoral fraud and called him ““Europe’s last dictator“. But everything is relative on the European chessboard. After the Ukrainian Maidan and the annexation of Crimea, Lukashenko began to fear that Russia, his main ally, would choose to reduce risks by sponsoring his replacement or by forcing the development of the unification of the two countries signed in 1997 and never fully implemented. When the Russian army organized on its soil in 2017 the biggest military maneuvers since the fall of the USSR, the Americans and the British understood them as the preparation of an annexation and began to look at Lukashenko as a possible asset. In reality, Putin’s strategy proved to be more insidious: he began cutting energy subsidies and cheap credits, making aid increasingly conditional on progress in the unification negotiations.
Lukashenko and his bureaucrats, experts in immobility, stood by with an iron butt one round after another of talks and negotiations causing more and more dissatisfaction in their Russian sponsors. Two years later, in 2019, the tension was unbearable and Lukashenko’s political apparatus was organizing popular demonstrations against reunification, inciting the nationalism of his followers. A final meeting in Sochi, Putin’s veritable court, showed the extent to which the situation was untenable. Aware of the dangers involved, Lukashenko turned the tables and received then Trump advisor John Bolton and began a surprising European tour in which Austrian Prime Minister Kurz played the role of godfather.
From then on, everything focused on the elections. If until then the Belarusian elections had been a succession of failed attempts at colour revolution with the US trying to unify the opposition and Russia acting as a buffer for president Lukashenko, now the battle was completely reversed. Russia was the one promoting the unification of the opposition around the only candidate who had not been disqualified and imprisoned by the regime. Meanwhile, Lukashenko began his election campaign by accusing Russia of attempting a coup during the elections and of trying to cause a massacre in Minsk.
The rest is in all the news and newspapers today: Lukashenko declared himself the winner with more than 80% of the votes, the opposition did not accept the results, tens of thousands took to the streets to protest and the subsequent repression left one dead and several dozen wounded. In other words, a Lukashenko style election in which there was no lack of detail. This morning the EU’s traditional condemnation of violence was already underway, and the German foreign minister called for sanctions.
What about the workers?
If the repression of the electoral opposition in Belarus follows the pattern of the authoritarian regimes in the East, the repression of strikes and workers’ struggles follows the brutal pattern of Russia and its satellites that we have seen recently in the Donbass. All wrapped up in an almost total media silence. Something that the political crisis helps to crack even partially. In mid-July the Russian press published a strike call in the OJSC Grodno Azot of Grodno which would hardly have made it to the press otherwise. It is obviously not an innocent move. The opposition wants to move towards a general strike and is going to try to shed light on and take over any ongoing struggle… and if it can lead it back to its ground.
Because in reality, since the end of the month, the strikes that were being organized and put out through Telegram channels, such as that of the Soligorsk miners, were raising class demands outside of the imperialist and electoral fights and divisions. Even the strikes that have been reported today – the Soligorsk miners, the siderurgical BMZ in Zhlobin or the automotive BelAz– and that are being suppressed at the moment, can hardly be claimed by the opposition. Another thing is that in the spiral of struggles and repression the opposition bloc or parts of it are able to establish a political leadership that incorporates, for example, the removal of Lukashenko from the table of demands. It remains to be seen.