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In addition, Belarus is pushing for increased transparency with regards to the military exercises it conducts with Russia. As a means of emphasizing its potential role in fostering trust and building confidence, Belarus held advance briefings on and invited observers from the West to the Zapad exercises , which were preceded by a great deal of alarmism. These efforts were widely appreciated by the West. When Russia countered Western sanctions by imposing an import ban on Western food products, not only did Belarus disregard these Russian measures, it thwarted them by infamously relabeling Western foodstuff.

Further Belarusian moves are especially aimed at rapprochement with the West and represent a remarkable break with the hostile rhetoric and isolationism of the past. In , Belarus granted visa-free travel for short-term visits by citizens of Western countries. In May , I attended the Minsk Dialogue Forum— an unprecedented gathering of mostly Western officials and experts on foreign and security policy — where Lukashenko reiterated that Minsk strives to become a platform for negotiations and peace talks.

Belarus also encouraged the United States to increase its diplomatic presence by lifting a cap on the number of U. It suggested a Partnership Priorities agreement with the European Union, which Lithuania is currently blocking, to pave the way for deepened relations.

Initiatives to diversify its foreign relations and economic ties have also looked to China. It is a transit point for goods transported by rail to Europe. In the military realm, the Belarusian military now sometimes uses Chinese weapons or investment as a substitute for Russian hardware. When the latter refused to deliver the latest model of rocket launchers , a Belarusian-Chinese joint venture developed the Polonez , a multiple launch rocket system. Apart from its role in hosting peace talks on Ukraine, these Belarusian moves were met with harsh criticism from both Russian officials and media.

Belarus, and Lukashenko personally, were accused of breaking trust and a lack of loyalty. As a reaction to Belarus granting visa-free travel to Western citizens, since the Union State of Russia and Belarus entails the free movement of persons, Russia temporarily re-introduced controls at their land border.

The conduct of regular summits and negotiations between Russia and Belarus are another indicator of bilateral tensions. Instead, Russia insisted on deeper integration within the Union State as a precondition for subsidies. Commentators even hinted at a secret plan to keep Putin in office, as he is currently barred from seeking another term in The plan involved merging Russia and Belarus and making Putin the president of a new state.

The Belarusian population, meanwhile, is pragmatic and prefers the status quo of close ties with Russia. Surveys of public opinion in Belarus remain difficult considering the limited freedoms there, but some polls are trustworthy. Those show that Belarusians would prefer good ties and economic relations with both Russia and the West, with both the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union, or even neutrality.

The Last Dictatorship in Europe: Belarus Under Lukashenko

They increasingly regard the European Union positively. Nascent civil society organizations and independent media, as well as a marginalized political opposition, exist in Belarus, and they enjoy some freedom of expression as long as they do not criticize the core of the Lukashenko regime. This has not gone unnoticed in the West. Gradually, the West has both encouraged and reciprocated such moves. European governments, notably Germany, and the European Union are in the lead in engaging Belarus, a member of the E.

Eastern Partnership. The United States has thus far largely taken a back seat. The release of most political prisoners and a soft reaction to popular dissent after rigged elections in encouraged a lifting of almost all E. Firstly, is Belarus truly European? Although Belarus is geographically located in Europe, culturally Belarus has tended towards Russia. The term Europe is conceptualised differently by various scholars. For example, one of my respondents argued that, to some, Europe is exemplified by the European Union.

However, geographically, Europe is much bigger, encompassing Russia up to the Urals, the Bosphorus Straits and, according to some, even Azerbaijan in the Southern Caucasus. Therefore, Belarus is in a contested space, culturally, historically and geographically. Secondly, keeping in mind the aforementioned argument, is Belarus really the last dictatorship?

Germany transitioned from a fairly stable democracy in the form of the Weimar Republic into a brutal dictatorship relatively quickly, when Hitler came to power in Thirdly, the term dictatorship is also problematic. Belarus is not democratic and may be considered authoritarian. This term was developed by American scholars, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way44, to describe a new type of regime, particularly characteristic of the former Soviet space, which are not full dictatorships, as I showed in Chapter 3, and yet, they are certainly not democracies either.

They may offer some limited and controlled freedoms elections, information access, right to expression and opinion , and they prioritise stability over democracy, as the case of Belarus demonstrates. At the same time, this may all be due because he has already well secured his power. Volume I agree with this statement but as Belarus meets some of the definitions of dictatorship, I would adapt this to note that from this research, no modern country meets to ideal of dictatorship too. Yale University Press.

Oxford: Polity Dahl, R. Fulbrook, M. London: Routledge. Levitski, S. London: Trafford Publishing. Silitski, V. Essentially, it argues that Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe. I chose five chapters from this book for my analysis for the project. This analysis was very useful for my sections 2 and 3 in Chapter 2 of my project. Chapter 3 and 4 dealt with the referendums of and and I used the information provided purely for my knowledge of developments and to understand the changes in the constitution and the political system.

Dahl, R.

A holiday in Europe's 'last dictatorship' has never been easier

I chose to use this book to explore the notion of democracy and also to understand the challenges to democracy. Instead he suggested using the term polyarchy which better describes the practices of democracy as developing along the two major dimensions — public contestation and participation. This means no country is a perfect democracy and the more participation and political competition a country has, the more democratic it becomes.

Hill, R. This led them to consider strong leadership under President Lukashenko and they were reluctant to move to their independence. It also showed that we, in the West, know very little of the country and the challenges that Belarus faces in the new century. Korosteleva, E. This book was one of the first books written specifically on Belarus and was coincidently the first book I used for my project.

I used this on my final chapter where I was exploring the nature of the regime in Belarus. This chapter was very helpful in my understanding of the nuances of the Belarusian political system: that it may appear to be a dictatorship on the surface but it is far more complex.

Parker, P. This book examines Belarusian history from the Russian Imperial period to the present day. I would have enjoyed reading this whole work, as the writing is really accessible; however, I concentrated on Chapters specifically which dealt with my project research question. Method 1.

Russia-West Balancing Act Grows Ever More Wobbly in Belarus

To answer my research question I devised a questionnaire comprising three sub-questions to be posited to specialists in the field. These questions are: a. I then contacted seven specialists, to which 6 responded, to answer these questions. Specialists included: a. A senior British diplomat, working in Belarus c.

Two PhD researchers who are working in this area d. The Director, Liberal Club Belarus opposition member 3. I tabulate each of my 3 questions by respondent on a spreadsheet. Using the operative words I will then analysed each of the respondents individual responses to establish the context in which they are responding — e. From the general analysis and individual analysis I drew conclusions upon each of the questions.

Ethical Consideration I understand that research requires an ethical judgement to be made and due to the sensitive nature of the issue I did not want to quote respondents unless they had given permission.

The Belarus Dilemma: Fighting Europe's Last Dictatorship | Belarus | Al Jazeera

I therefore asked respondents if they wished to be named or remain anonymous. All respondents gave permission, with the exception of the Senior British Diplomat in Belarus. It was decided for this report to make all respondents anonymous; however, details will be made available to my project supervisor. A senior American academic whose research focuses on Belarus i. This is a formulation that some speechwriter of Dr. Definitely it has an authoritarian regime with some limitations to civil liberties.

As most political regimes in the world, this one is hybrid, to use your term.

One researcher once defined it as authoritarian populist and I agreed. I guess for a couple of reasons. First, he is in tune with ways of thinking popular in Belarus and in Eastern Europe at large. Second, his manners and the language he is using the so-called tra- sianka endear him to many people, particularly with rural roots. Third, Belarus under his tutelage is much more orderly than two other East Slavic states with which Belarusians usually compare their own country. Belarus is better groomed than much of Russia and Ukraine; income distribu- tion is more equitable and there are no real oligarchs.

Moreover, against the backdrop of what is going on in Ukraine, Belarus is some sort of a security paradise, although both countries occupy the same geopolitical niche — between Russia and the EU — and are exposed to the same tempta- tions and leanings. A senior British diplomat, working in Belarus i.

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Yes, there is no real political democracy as elec- tions are not deemed free and fair by international standards, and there is a low tolerance level for any form of opposition, but the conditions within Belarus are not as bad as those you would find in a true dictatorship. I would not apply that term to Belarus. His electoral rating gained 2. These changes were not regarded as significant, so would suggest a stabilization of public opinion.

I think what people do want is stability and Lukashenka does provide that. But people are increasingly dissatisfied with the economy. No, I do not think this is the case, for two main reasons. Firstly, the expression 'last dictatorship of Europe' comes from a certain political perspective that of the USA under George W. The problem is that semantics reflect power relations: in this case, a regime is described in a certain way based on the subjective view of the person describing it.

It is problematic to speak of 'last' and 'Europe': it suggests that 'Europe' however defined here is a group of like-minded states, which are all not dictatorships, with Belarus being the only exception, and therefore not really 'part of the group'. You can see that this raises ques- tions: first, it suggests there is an expectation of countries in Europe to all have the same re- gime type. Second, there are several countries in 'Europe' with similar regimes to Belarus: Azerbaijan nowadays, Armenia to a degree; and Ukraine and Georgia in the re- cent past.

It furthermore suggests that Russia is not considered part of Europe. I wouldn't call Belarus either of those three options. There is a broad consensus that elections in Belarus are not free nor fair, and non-government related parties cannot act freely and are not fairly represented in the power structure. One may call it an authoritarian regime instead, whereby nearly all the power is concentrated in the executive in this case, the President and his close circles and whereby the execu- tive's term in office is not prolonged through elections.

Yet I would stress that it is not a dictatorship because of the negative and political connotations of that term: President Lukashenko does enjoy wide support under the population, which gives the regime a certain legitimacy. Moreover, the re- gime is sometimes described as 'benevolent': while it may not share power with the people, it is act- ing for the interests of the people, rather than for self-enrichment of the President alone.

Some have even argued that leaders such as Lukashenko but also Aliyev in Azerbaijan, rule their country like a kingdom: they believe it is their 'property' and that they have the duty to govern it in the best way - which they consider to be centralised and without a democratic system like we know in Western liberal democracies. One could therefore perhaps argue that it is a hybrid regime this term is also used by Beichelt in Stewart et al.

Perhaps Belarus was indeed a hybrid regime in the s and early s, but by now, the power of the executive is so far consolidated and the democratic charac- ter of the system is so absent, that in my view this term no longer applies to Belarus. There is indeed clear support of Lukashenko: even the Belarus opposition has acknowledged in the past that if there were to be free and fair elections, Lukashenko would win those.

I am no expert in this area, so I cannot give a full answer here as to why so many Belarusian citizens support Lukashenko, but one clear reason is stability and security. Despite economic downturn, Bela- rus has overall been very stable over the past two decades. I recall being in Belarus at the time of political uproar in Georgia and Ukraine, and people would watch the fights in those Parliaments as a form of entertainment, commenting that that is not what they want in their own country. Belarus' close position to Russia as well as its links with Europe also mean that it is uncertain what would happen in case the regime were to fall.

Up until recently, Belarus actually performed much better than most other post-Soviet states which did push through market economic reforms. This means that 1 people were quite satisfied with the economic status and therefore had less reason to revolt against the government, 2 credit was given to Lukashenko, because his regime is associated with the economic system. The president, whose personal relationship with Vladimir Putin has never been great, feels ever more vulnerable to possible bullying by its excitable neighbour. The EU, for its part, sees Belarus as a potential diplomatic buffer between Russia and itself.

After the regime pardoned jailed opposition figures in , the bloc last year doubled its financial assistance to the country. It is now advising Belarus on how best to manage its borders. Belarus used to earn most of its revenue by importing cheap oil from Russia, refining it and selling it—at much higher prices—to European clients. Things have become trickier on the European side too.

By opening borders, Mr Lukashenko hopes to attract investment and generate trade with the West, sowing the seeds of a more diversified economy. Belarus is showing more interest in aligning itself with some of the technical regulations that govern the European single market; an EU delegation visited the country last October to discuss trade.

It also hopes the union will respond to its show of goodwill by relaxing its visa regime. Whether Brussels follows suit largely depends on domestic politics. It took years for the EU to move forward on a similar agreement with Georgia and Ukraine and the latter remains uncertain, after the Netherlands rejected a broader association package in a referendum last year. But should these arrangements be finalised—and provided Belarus fulfils the human-rights part of the bargain—it may be hard for Brussels to refuse.

There is also interest in Europe, where investors and businessmen see the Belarusian market, so far largely captured by Russia, as offering untapped potential.