In August 2020, during the presidential campaign, a peaceful electoral revolution unfolded in Belarus. At the final stage, it was headed by female leaders with the slogan: ‘We love! We can! We will win!’ («Любім! Можам! Пераможам!»). A Belarusian civil nation began to rapidly form.
The Belarusian people refused to extend the presidential powers of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. According to an alternative vote count, at least 60% of voters supported Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The Central Election Commission was supposed to announce her victory, and the country would have got the second president of the Republic of Belarus.
But the ruling regime cynically rigged the voting results. In response, mass protests have been sweeping across the country since the evening of 9 August. The entourage of the indefinite ruler tried to prolong the agony of power and unleashed an unprecedented use of violence against civilians. More than seven thousand citizens were detained, many of them were seriously injured; dozens of protesters are missing; the death of six people has already been confirmed. In places of detention, the security forces, primarily from the OMON Special Force, subjected the captured fellow citizens to an unprecedented harassment, rapes and torture.
Responsibility for the use of disproportionate and unlawful violence and for humanity crimes committed against peaceful protesters lies entirely with the security forces. However, the Belarusian authorities opened hundreds of administrative and criminal cases against peaceful protesters only, and not a single criminal case for torture or murder against special services representatives. This raises a question of the need for international criminal prosecution of the Belarusian security forces, which is possible through the International Criminal Court in The Hague or through a body similar to the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia — subject to the support of such international justice in the UN Security Council by Russia and China.
Despite the brutal repressions, the civic protests do not stop. At enterprises, a nationwide strike started, demonstrations took place in the cities of Belarus, the most massive ones in Belarusian history (more than 200 thousand people gathered in the capital twice). To this end, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who has lost the legitimacy of his presidency, is mobilising a new wave of repression, which threatens to lead to even greater number of victims among Belarusian citizens — the genocide of the Belarusian nation.
After 9 August, the authoritarian regime in Belarus was replaced by a neototalitarian dictatorship — a military-police regime (junta) based on terror — intimidation, torture and murder of political opponents. After yet another falsification of elections and bloody repression with the deaths of civilians, Lukashenka finally loses the rest of his legitimacy.
There is a consensus both within the country and in the international community — the presidential elections in Belarus are invalid. For the majority of the Belarusian people, as early as 10 August, Lukashenka’s presidency has become completely illegitimate. The heads of states and governments of the European Union at the extraordinary summit on 19 August did not recognise the results of the elections as a whole, and Aliaksandr Lukashenka as the re-elected president. After the expiration of his term in early November, Lukashenka will de jure cease to be the legitimate president of Belarus for the EU countries and, as we expect, for other democracies that would follow an example of the European Union.
Then all subsequent decisions of the ex-president of Belarus would be illegal, legally worthless. Any interstate documents signed by the usurper of power, including treaties with Russia on ‘deep integration’, as well as any change in the status of the Republic of Belarus or limitation of its sovereignty, would inevitably be declared null and void.
On the other hand, there is the formal legal complexity in confirming the victory of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. It is debated whether she is a president-elect. At least, her presidential status by international definition is the winner of illegitimate presidential election.
Despite the forcible expulsion from the country, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has the right to appeal to the primary source of power — the people. She did not dare to announce that she was taking over the powers of the ‘president in exile’ but declared her readiness to become a ‘national leader’ and initiated the founding of a Coordination Council for ensuring the transfer of power (resolution of the political crisis) in Belarus.
However, Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his inner circle reject proposals to start an internal dialogue and refuses to compromise with the alternative forces of the Belarusian society. The agonising regime is still ready to use the most severe repression against fellow citizens in order to prolong the sole power of the ruler.
The political crisis in Belarus could have unpredictable consequences for security in the Eastern European region. External players — Russia, EU, USA, China — can help force the Belarusian leader to negotiate. The close attention of foreign media to the events in Belarus, international solidarity, all-round assistance to the Belarusian civil society are also important.
After all that has happened, Belarus will never be the same. The Belarusians have irrevocably sent the quarter-century dictatorship into the past, but the Belarusian people still have to go through a dramatic part of the path of a stubborn struggle to freedom and democracy.
By Ihar Rynkevich, member of the Steering Committee, Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum