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08 June 2021

Belarus is Lukashenko's country, an increasingly isolated regime


  Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus, an increasingly isolated regime that persecutes its opponents. The hijacking of an Athens-Vilnius flight by the Belarusian regime for the arrest of opponent Roman Protassevich demonstrates once again the severity of the crackdown on opponents, nine months after the fraudulent elections. The hijacking by Alexander Lukashenko's regime of a plane connecting Athens and Vilnius for the arrest of Belarusian journalist and opponent Roman Protassevich on Sunday, May 23, is a new episode in the dictator's war against his opponents, inside and outside outside the country. Read the portrait of Roman Protassevich: "My name is on the same list as the Daesh boys", Tension between the two sides has not diminished since the rigged presidential election in August and the numerous demonstrations that took place in all countries. Lukashenko, the country's head since 1994, was largely re-elected with 80 percent of the vote, officials said, against his main opponent and the image of the Belarusian uprising, Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya. The European Union (EU) quickly rejected these results, calling the vote "neither right nor wrong". Since then, an unprecedented protest, harsh repression and sanctions by the international community have marked the lives of this Eastern European country of nearly ten million people. An increasingly isolated and contested regime, which still retains valuable support. Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's expression of Lukashenko dates back to 2005, but it still resonates. Since taking power in 1994, he has built an authoritarian regime around the ruins of the USSR, with a centralized economy dependent on the army and police. This former head of a collective farm, a state-owned collective farm, was popular with Belarusian farmers and workers for a long time in the late 1980s. Nicknamed "Batka" (the father), Mr. Lukashenko has been navigating Soviet nostalgia for years. In 1995, for example, it granted Russian official language status alongside Belarusian. Thanks in particular to financial assistance from Russia, it pursues a social protection policy, paying various subsidies to keep the factories running. Therefore, employment and remuneration are guaranteed. Rural and agriculture will be modernized. At the same time, the regime is becoming more and more authoritarian: the media is confused, the elections rigged and the opposition persecuted. In 2004, Lukashenko removed the limitation on the number of presidential terms to become president for life. Internationally, it is intelligently approaching the EU and Moscow, winning concessions one after another and exploiting their geopolitical rivalries. But inside the country, Belarusian society is evolving without Lukashenko noticing. He seems so surprised, in the summer of 2020, when thousands of people take to the streets to demand his departure. If he hadn't hesitated to show up with a Kalashnikov in front of his residence, he would have been weakened by factory strikes and the nationwide protest movement beyond the capital, Minsk, in the fall of 2020. But especially because With the constant support of Moscow and a campaign of persecution against his opponents, Lukashenko managed to stay in power. A regime that imprisons, tortures and exiles opponents Repression intensified for a year, just before the protest movement. In the spring of 2020, when the opposition has been on the sidelines for years, several anti-Lukashenko candidates garnered popular support as the presidential election approached. This is especially the case with Sergei Tikhanovsky, a video blogger who became popular in the fight against corruption of power and former banker Viktor Babaryko. Its popularity worries the dictator. Mr Tikhanovski was arrested on May 29, accused in particular of mass unrest and incitement to social hatred. His wife, Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya, later became Lukashenko's opposition figure and opposed him in the presidential election. Viktor Babaryko, considered Lukashenko's main opponent at the time, was arrested on June 18. Accused of corruption and money laundering, he has been on trial since February 17. Over four hundred convicted persons. Since the mass demonstrations in the summer of 2020, according to the Belarusian prosecutor, more than four hundred people have been convicted. On May 25, 2021, seven opponents, including opposition party leader Pavel Severinets, were sentenced to four to seven years in prison for participating in what has been called "mass riots." To avoid arrest, opponents are sometimes forced into exile. This is the case of Ms Tikhanovskaya, who flew to Lithuania on 11 August 2020. Another political figure, Veronika Tsepkalo, was dismissed in the last days of the presidential campaign. She was joined by her husband Valeri in exile in Moscow, a former diplomat whose candidacy for the presidency was rejected. Repression also fell in the media. On February 18, 2021, young journalists from the opposition channel Belsat, Daria Tchoultsova and Katerina Bakhvalova, were sentenced to two years in prison, accused of rioting during the 2020 protest. At the NGO Reporters Without Borders, twenty journalists were arrested. meet and are currently being held in Belarus. On 5 May, some opponents denounced the "brutal" repression of the Lukashenko regime in a complaint lodged in Germany for alleged acts of systematic torture. There were numerous but ineffective sanctions. Faced with this situation, the European Union and the United States imposed various measures against the Belarusian regime for several months. Before the start of this new crisis, on Sunday, 88 people, including Lukashenko, and seven entities were subject to sanctions such as banning travel to the EU and freezing assets. It was decided in February to extend these sanctions until February 28, 2022. In turn, the United States reintroduced sanctions against nine state-owned companies in the country in April. But, as Emmanuel Macron himself admits, these measures have proved ineffective. "Today we are on the threshold of sanctions policies," he complained on May 25 during the European Council, when he asked: "What are we doing? Are we starting an armed conflict? Taxation is no longer an option. Despite these measures, Lukashenko has always refused to engage in dialogue with the opposition. If the protest movement gathered tens of thousands of people on the streets of the country for several months. Today, the Belarusian opposition calls on the "international community to take more important action." "We must move forward, isolate the regime, end all diplomatic, trade and economic contacts with it, and recognize it as a terrorist," Stepan Poutilo, co-founder of Belarus' opposition media outlet Nexta, said in a statement. Minsk was again at the center of the talks. At a meeting of the European Council on Monday and Tuesday, 27 May 2021, an attempt was made to increase the pressure. The EU decided on Monday night to close its airspace for Belarusian planes and advised all airlines to avoid Belarus. Mr Lukashenko ignored all criticism and said on Wednesday that he had acted "legally" by diverting the plane to Minsk. "It is an absolute lie that the plane was forced to land by a Mig 29." continued the. "The mission of the fighter was to establish communication, to monitor the landing of the passenger plane in case of emergency. The president of Belarus was able to count on Moscow for help. "The Kremlin sees no reason not to believe the statements of Belarusian leaders," said Russian presidency spokesman Dmitry Peskov. He announced that Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko will meet in Sochi on Friday, confirming the Russian president's unwavering support.