By Jakob Stein
Over the past week, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Belarus in response to the disputed 2020 election in which incumbent Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory. In the wake of the mass protests, US imperialism, along with biggest imperialists in the European Union, namely Germany and France, have sought to co-opt the largely leaderless protest movement in the interest of combating Russian influence in the country.
In office since 1994, Lukashenko is set to begin his sixth term as President after his administration repealed the two-term limit on the office before the 2006 election. He has a reputation for brutally cracking down on anti-government protests, regularly employing teargas, rubber bullets, and riot police. Over the course of the recent protests, over 7,000 have been arrested and at least six protesters have been killed; reports also indicate that imprisoned protesters have been subjected to torture.
Protesters have denounced the election results as fraudulent, as Lukashenko supposedly won over 80% of the vote. In the wake of the election and subsequent protests, the European Union has pushed for sanctions against the Belarusian government.
While the US has not announced sanctions of its own, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denounced the elections as not “free and fair.” In a written statement, he said, “We support international efforts to independently look into Belarus’ electoral irregularities, the human rights abuses surrounding the election, and the crackdown that has followed.” The hypocrisy of Pompeo’s statement runs deep in the context of the brutal crackdown against the protest movement for Black lives in the US.
The motivation for the words and actions of these Western imperialists is not ‘human rights’ or ‘democracy,’ but a strategic move in their long-term strategy to gain ground in Eastern Europe to counter the influence of the skinny dog of Russian imperialism. Belarus has been a colony of Russia since the days of the revisionist Soviet Union. 50% of Russia’s oil passes through Belarus, and in 1999, the two governments signed an agreement that would unify their political and economic systems (although it has not been fully implemented). Additionally, Belarus holds a special geopolitical significance for Russia as it sits on its Western border.
In addition to decades of national oppression, the mass uprising was sparked in part by the lead up to the 2020 election, during which the Lukashenko administration arrested numerous opposition figures including his main political rival, Viktar Babaryka, and another opposition candidate, a blogger named Siarhei Tsikhanouski (also known as Sergei Tikhanovsky), claiming that they were foreign agents involved in fomenting a coup against his government.
After the arrests of opposition candidates, Tsikhanouski’s wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, announced that she would be running in her husband’s place, becoming the main opposition candidate as the others were either arrested or forced the flee the country. Tsikhanouskaya had promised to fight the election results if Lukashenko won and positioned herself as a champion of the protest movement.
After the election, she claimed that she had actually won 60-70 percent of the votes and appealed to the EU to recognize her as the legitimate head of state. She also went to the Electoral Commission to formally request a recount, but by the next morning she had fled to Lithuania and a video was released in which she said that she made the decision to leave the country independently, adding, “What is happening now is not worth any life.”
In another video released later, Tsikhanouskaya pleaded with protesters to stay in, saying, “I ask you not to confront the police, not to go out to the square, so as not to endanger your lives.” Her words and actions show the total impotence of electoral cretins to take down a despotic regime and their negative influence on spontaneous mass uprisings. Thankfully, the protesters have not listened to her hollow calls for peace, as they are fed up with their bureaucratic capitalist government and imperialist domination. Many have already sacrificed their freedom, safety, and lives, demonstrating the truth of Mao’s proclamation that the masses are the ones who make history.
Although the protest movement has a definite mass character, elements within it calling for greater unity with NATO imperialists like the US, Germany, and France are the most dangerous. The US dreams of turning Belarus into its own semi-colony and Russia is keen to keep it as its own; the only way forward for the protesters is to reject the calls for unprincipled peace with the bureaucratic capitalist and land-selling Lukashenko government as well as the machinations of Western imperialists in the interest of true national sovereignty.