Reconsidering the Resilience of Authoritarianism in Belarus

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - 12:30pm to 1:30pm

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.

Margarita Balmaceda is Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University and a Center Associate at the Davis Center. A specialist on the comparative energy politics of the post-Soviet states, Balmaceda has done extensive research on the complex web of interconnections between Russian oil and gas producers, post-Soviet transit states, and European consumers. She is the author of Living the High Life in Minsk: Russian Energy Rents, Domestic Populism and Belarus’ Impending Crisis (Central European University Press, 2014) and The Politics of Energy Dependency: Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania Between Domestic Oligarchs and Russian Pressure (University of Toronto Press, 2013). 

Volha Charnysh is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on comparative politics and historical political economy. Her book project, Migration, Diversity, and Economic Development, examines the long-run effects of forced migration in the aftermath of World War II in Eastern Europe. The book is based on her PhD dissertation, awarded the 2018 Ernst B. Haas Best Dissertation prize by the APSA European Politics and Society Section as well as the Best Dissertation Prize by the APSA Migration & Citizenship Section. She  received her PhD in Government from Harvard University in May 2017 and was a fellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University in 2017-2018.

Olena Nikolayenko is Professor of Political Science at Fordham University and a Center Associate at the Davis Center. Her research interests include comparative democratization, contentious politics, political behavior, women's activism, and youth, with a regional focus on Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. She  has published articles in Comparative Politics, Europe-Asia Studies, International Political Science Review, Slavic Review, Social Movement Studies, and other journals. Her recent book, Youth Movements and Elections in Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2017), examines interactions between nonviolent youth movements and incumbent governments in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Serbia, and Ukraine.


Margarita Balmaceda,Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University; Center Associate, Davis Center
Volha Charnysh, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Olena Nikolayenko, Professor, Political Science, Fordham University; Center Associate, Davis Center
Moderator: Alexandra Vacroux, Executive Director, Davis Center; Lecturer on Government, Harvard University

Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

For more information, please call 617-495-4037.


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