Some call it Belarus – Introduction

[In our new series ‘Some call it Belarus’, we take a look on the oft-forgotten case of  Belarus and highlight some of the issues why we think the country deserves more attention.]

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Young People displaying Belarusian Flags in Minsk

Season I Episode I – Introduction

Looking at it as an outsider, Belarus is both a very odd place in many ways and in other ways not at all.

When I grew up, I was probably one of the very few kids raised in ‘the West’ for whom ‘Belarus’ was a topic that was always kind of ‘there’, a mythical place not too far away, where a strange man was very good at doing bad things and no one seemed to care; a fact that hasn’t much changed since the 1990s. This strange man seems to have successfully created a way to a stable situation in this mythical country, where change is not likely in the short term and long term strategies are too tedious for modern day attention spans. One additional factor for this lack of interest and knowledge can however be seen in the language barrier between the English language internet and that in the Russian/Belarusian language, a gap that we aim to bridge with these articles (although the author speaks exactly four words of Russian and even less of Belarusian).

This series of articles is aimed at providing an introduction to current day Belarus in the form of interlinked articles that showcase some general and outstanding aspects of the country’s situation and the likelihood of change within it. In this first ‘season’, some more general aspects of the current status quo of and in the country will be highlighted such as the legal, political, and economic situation as well as the strength of its independent sphere and the impact that the Ukrainian Crisis has had on the country. Potential following ‘seasons’ of the series could then target specific points in time, such as the country’s transfer into independence in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s fortification and consolidation of power in the mid-1990s, the political protests of 2006 and 2010, or the subsequent ‘Decemberist trials’, to name but a few. Additionally, we have some interviews that were conducted with Belarusian activists earlier this year lined up to be published as podcasts.

So, for now Season 1 of ‘Some call it Belarus’ will look as follows:

  • Episode 1: Introduction
  • Episode 2: The Politics of Belarus
  • Episode 3: The Economic situation in Belarus
  • Episode 4: The legal system of Belarus and its independence
  • Episode 5: The Belarusian independent Sphere and its issues
  • Episode 6: Crimea and Beyond
  • Making of: Different concepts of Belarusianness

The series is based in my personal interest in and work on the topic of Belarus as a subject of potential change, that lead to a master’s thesis titled ‘Case Study Belarus – Civil Society on the Grindstone’. This series has thus to be seen as written and coordinated by an outsider with a distinct bias towards the pro-change independent sphere in Belarus. Not withstanding however, the voicing of personal opinion will be avoided as much as possible and labelled appropriately in case of need.

On Belarus

Belarus in its current state is an oft forgotten place, located in the dead angle of public perception as a country and potential issue when perceived in its own right.

Especially when referring to democratic citizenship – and the development thereof – Belarus is facing challenges unlike most contemporary states. Throughout the history of what is now called Belarus, there scarcely was a political entity that was sovereign from foreign dominance. Coming out of the middle-ages, most of it was part of the Grand-Duchy of Lithuania, later its union with the Polish Commonwealth and succeeding that: Russia. Only during two brief windows of time, an independent, democratic Belarus existed: the first of which was the Byelorusian Peoples’ Republic of 1918 that was to be ‘integrated’ into Bolshewik forces only one year later and be part of the USSR until 1991. The next window of opportunity was then to reveal itself just after the fall of and independence from the Soviet Union. Only in the four years between the beginning of its independence and Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s success in the 1994 elections, was there a chance for democratic values to freely develop.

Since his meteoritic rise during the 1994 electoral race and consequently swearing-in as President of the Republic of Belarus, Lukashenka’s government has been highly efficient at limiting political rights and independent political thought and activities in the country. Having been repeatedly labelled ‘Europe’s last tyrant’, the development of the state under Lukashenka’s rule has been a seemingly stable one with open public dissent only occurring during elections and both protests and protestors being reliably ‘taken care of’ by the policing state agencies. Stable times. Good times?

Next week: Episode 2 – The Politics of Belarus

 

Picture by Ilya Kuzniatsou

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