The power of democracy is on display in Belarus. In the recent presidential election, groups and individuals have challenged the Belarusian government under President Alexander Lukashenko, who the challengers consider to be a dictator. To discuss the movement and current climate, the World Affairs Council of Houston set up a Cabinet Round Table to discuss Belarus and its road to democracy with its members.
The webinar begins with an overview from Galena, a native Belarusian. She starts by telling everyone that she is an immigrant who moved from Belarus to Houston, Texas 15 years ago. Galena provides some background to the situation in Belarus by explaining that Alexander Lukashenko, has been president ever since Belarus annexed and gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He is widely reported in the media as the last European dictator. Galena continues by explaining Lukashenko’s upbringing and how he was groomed from the very beginning to be the President of Belarus. Now, Lukashenko has been president for 26 years and is the antagonist of the story for the people of Belarus, who are out and about protesting his regime.
The question one could ask is why now? Why, after years of being under his dictatorship, have people started to turn against him? Well, Galena believes that people have finally woken up and that the generation has changed from the one Lukashenko took over in. Young people in Belarus have been able to travel the rest of the world and get a foreign education so when they return home, they can realize how dire the situation is in their country. The other issue, from Lukashenko’s point of view, was the increase of educated people but also unhappy people as there was a lack of employment, business opportunities, and business laws that disallowed
investors to maintain deals with Belarusians. Over time, as the price of food, fuel, and accommodation increased, the salary of Belarusians did not, making it difficult to live a decent life for the average, everyday Belarusian. The handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was the last straw for many Belarusians as Lukashenko would make ill-fated jokes and remarks about the virus, going as far as to say that the virus did not exist in Belarus and even if it did, it will go away with some vodka. If there was ever something that would light a fuel under the already progressive democratic movement in Belarus, this was it. Therefore, in last year’s elections, there were more candidates than ever before challenging Lukashenko. However, for either unknown reasons or false accusations, they were all put into jail. One of the candidate’s wives decided to stand in place for him and she is ridiculed by Lukashenko who doesn’t believe a woman can win an election. He went one further when he told a group of people that Belarus’ constitution is not designed for women and that the people in the country are not mature enough to vote for a woman.
To see more of the discussion, check the full video and the responses from the rest of the council by clicking