The authoritarian nature of the political regime in Belarus will not change in 2016, Nations in Transit 2016, the 21st edition of Freedom House’s annual report on democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Eurasia, says.
“Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine had an important psychological impact on Belarusian authorities, Freedom House states. The government is increasingly concerned by Russian actions in Ukraine and is trying to distance itself from its eastern neighbor. Belarus is also suffering from the effects of Russia’s economic downturn. In an attempt to improve relations with the West and offset the influence of an increasingly assertive Russia, the Belarusian administration released all political prisoners in August 2015,” the report states.
After the presidential election, most international observers praised the nonviolent treatment of political opponents, minor improvements in the election legislation, and opportunities for the opposition to campaign. In October 2015, following the prisoner release and peaceful election, the European Union (EU) suspended restrictive measures against hundreds of Belarusian officials and other individuals seen as linked to human rights violations. However, nothing changed at the fundamental level, the document says stressing that the Belarusian authorities continued to abuse their monopoly on television during the campaign period; used administrative resources to increase the turnout of voters, particularly by coercing people to participate in early voting; and failed to conduct a transparent vote count, among other election irregularities.
“The executive branch, with President Lukashenka at the top, will avoid implementation of significant reforms, though economic modernization is likely to continue without much fanfare. That would be in part a result of the gradual replacement of Soviet-minded conservatives with a new generation of officials, but also a response to major problems in Russia, the country’s main financial supporter. Economic and political pressures from an increasingly assertive Kremlin will lead to more attempts by Belarus to improve its relations with the West. The authorities can be expected to continue treating the political opposition and media without unnecessary brutality, while denying them the freedom necessary to change the political status quo,” the report concludes.
Nations in Transit has been tracking democracy in the formerly Communist countries of Europe and Eurasia since 1995. Weighted for population, the average Democracy Score in these 29 countries has declined every year since 2004—12 years in a row, including 2015.