Almost exactly 25 years ago, on July 10, 1994, Alyaksandr Lukashenka triumphantly won the second round of the first presidential elections in Belarus. An MP from the countryside with the image of a Belarusian Robin Hood defeated Vyachaslau Kebich, a nomenklaturist the masses became tired of.
Lukashenka promised to curb the nomenklatura mafia, to defeat corruption, to lead the country away from the economic abyss and, by and large, to return the Soviet order. With the collapse of the economy and overall unstable mindset at that time, many were nostalgic for the “bright past” with a guaranteed job and sausage for 2.20 rubles. This led to the rise of the former state farm director and political worker.
The second trick of Lukashenka was the idea of “brotherly integration” with Russia, which promised cheap energy resources without “robbery reforms”.
But today, a quarter of a century later, the electorate is disappointed. The image of the permanent (and irreplaceable!) president has faded, and his rating has become a kind of state secret.
Former Robin Hood is traveling in a new armored Mercedes, which is worth, as the media have estimated, at least 1.4 million euros, while most people’s lives are very difficult and the country has practically stopped developing.
It was never possible to return the “bright past”. Yes, for some time, the economy of Belarus was growing quite well on the Russian resources and the Soviet industrial base. The earnings did so, too. But gradually the monsters of the social industry ran out of steam, became uncompetitive, and the slightly shimmering collective farm system in the countryside turned out not to be so effective. Support for zombie enterprises began to eat more and more budget money.
In addition, Moscow got tired of giving resources at “brotherly” prices. It demanded “deep integration”, meaning a soft takeover. And for the partner not to push too hard, it began to cut back on financial and economic support.
In recent years, when the “Belarusian model” stalled, Lukashenka was forced to give up paternalism and reduce social obligations of the state. He raised the retirement age before Vladimir Putin did it in Russia. Time after time, he has been telling the electorate to hustle more.
But after saying “a,” the president failed to say “b.” He continues to hold on to a huge inefficient public sector, as he sees the threat to his power in the wide privatization, the emergence of a strong independent business and a stratum of citizens who do not make a religion out of the state.
For the same reason, political protests are being severely suppressed in the country. The opposition and civil society activists have been pushed into a marginal niche.
Yes, the political field has been cleared up, and there are expected no real rivals for Lukashenka in the 2020 elections yet. The subordinates are ready to provide the leader with another high official result (independent sociology recorded other figures, which is why it was strangled).
But this victory of Lukashenka over the country looks hollow today. He became a hostage of his stereotypes and phobias. Belarus is in a dead end, it seems to have fallen out of time.
The authoritative international experts unanimously say that without reforms, the economic growth will not exceed one and a half to two percent per year (and if Russia presses hard, there will not be anything at all). This means that Belarus will continue to lag behind even the neighboring, not the richest, EU countries. In Poland and the Baltic States, the earnings are already 2.5-3 times higher than those of the Belarusians.
At one time Lukashenka offered the people a tacit agreement: I provide you with basic food and drink (it was a symbol of well-being for the common people), and you do not get involved in politics. And the masses, alas, quite easily exchanged democracy for satiety. But in the end, the Belarusians fell into the trap. Now many people are dissatisfied with the authorities, but changing it is not as easy as it may seem!
Of course, sooner or later the changes will make their way. However, the scenario may turn out to be very dramatic. In addition, the games with the empire put the sword of Damocles over the Belarusian sovereignty.
The era of Lukashenka, who started so effectively, can enter textbooks as a typical example of rotting, degradation of authoritarian power, no matter how charismatic the leader may be.
Story by political observer Alyaksandr Klaskouski for belsat.eu
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