Despite popular opinion and Belarus’ status as Russia’s closest ally, the relations between Lukashenko and the Kremlin have never been particularly cordial. The conflicts began back in the late 90s when former president Boris Yeltsin banned Lukashenko from visiting Russian regions in what looked more like his campaign for the Russian presidency.
At his State of the Nation address to the nomenklatura on August 4, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said a remarkable phrase: “I’ll accept any of your decisions. But don’t you dare betray me! Betrayal won’t be forgiven even in heaven. If you’re not capable or ready, step aside, don’t obstruct [me] from saving the country!”
Lukashenko’s Belarus has long been a success story in the post-Soviet world. In the 2000s it had some of the fastest GDP growth in the world. Belarus had the lowest unemployment rate among all the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, the lowest level of poverty in the region, one of the best public health services, the best road infrastructure, and no foreign debt. In 2003 it became the third country in the region whose GDP returned to its 1990 level (after Uzbekistan and Estonia). Over the next five years, its economy had grown by another 60%. During the financial crisis of 2009, Belarus remained the only post-Soviet country whose economy didn’t shrink. These outstanding results made scholars talk about Lukashenko’s Belarus as the post-Soviet economic miracle. But what were the foundations of that miracle?
The idea of civil religion isn’t new. It’s origins go back to the 18 century France when it was first used by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his theory of social contract. He coined this term to describe the moral and spiritual foundation essential for any modern society. According to Rousseau, civil religion was supposed to serve as a glue to keep the unity of the state and the increasingly secularising society by providing them with a common set of values.
On May 25 Belarus’ president Aleksandr Lukashenko announced that the country’s current government will step down before the August presidential election. The president stressed that appointing a new government ahead of the election is the country’s tradition, so that “people could see who we’ll be working with”. A quick search shows, however, that no such tradition ever existed and it’s the first time in 26 years Lukashenko reshuffles his cabinet right before the elections. So why now?
Yesterday morning Belarus’ president Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Minsk Tractor Plant, one of the remaining Soviet giant factories the preservation of which Lukashenko considers one of the main achievements of his 26-year rule. After a routine inspection, the president came out to the crowd of journalists for a brief Q&A session. In his speech he directly attacked three of his opponents in the upcoming presidential election – Tikhanovski, Babariko, and Tsepkalo – accusing them of causing disturbances, being on Russia’s payroll, and threatening that he has plenty of dirt on them.
Today Belarus’ Central Election Commission headed by its eternal chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina (she’s been in office since 1996) has completed the reviewing of the potential candidates’ initiative groups. This is the preliminary stage of the election campaign. The initiative groups will later be responsible for collecting 100 thousand signatures so that their respective candidates could make it to the ballot. Of the total of 54 applications, the Commission has approved 15. The basis for rejection in the absolute majority of cases was the candidates’ failure to prove that their initiative groups have at least 100 members. Some potential candidates were also born outside Belarus which disqualifies them from running straightaway.
The first poll on the upcoming presidential election in Belarus is out. A few remarks: first, it’s not the list of candidates yet, just people who expressed their will to participate. The election will be held on August 9. The date was only announced last Friday which left the potential candidates less than a week to register their initiative groups and submit all necessary paperwork (they need to do it by tomorrow). So there is a chance not all of them will make it to the next stage.