Over the past quarter of a century, Belarus has experienced the entrenchment of authoritarianism. Since 1994, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ruled the country, famously described as “the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe” by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The durability of the repressive political regime hinged on a configuration of political and socioeconomic factors, including the government’s rigid control over economy, a behemoth coercive apparatus, and crackdown on civil society. Furthermore, the strongman secured political and economic backing of the Russian government to consolidate his rule.
For many years, the regime seemed to be immune to political change. However, the 2020 presidential elections signified a tectonic change in Belarusian society. Contrary to the incumbent’s expectations, tens of thousands of people across the country defied the threat of state repression and took to the streets to challenge the results of fraudulent elections and demand Lukashenka’s resignation.
This roundtable discusses prospects for the resilience of authoritarianism in contemporary Belarus. What explains an unprecedented level of mass mobilization against the regime? Is it possible to bring down an autocrat with the help of nonviolent action? What is the impact of sanctions on the survival of authoritarianism in Belarus? How will energy dependency on Russia affect political developments in the former Soviet republic? The roundtable addresses these questions, drawing on social science literature and analysis of contentious politics in Belarus.
Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.
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