Alexander Lukashenko, the current and only president of Belarus, has a lot to win from the existing situation. Understandably, the threat for the Belarusian sovereignty from the Great power of the region is as present as ever, and if the conflict in Ukraine would spread outside of current borders, it could be catastrophic for Belarus. However, at the same time, it can be said that Belarus is always under the pressure of Russia, so it can hardly be identified as a new loss for the country, while the current situation in Donbass has helped Lukashenko to build for himself an image of a stable mediator, an excellent achievement for the so-called “last dictator in Europe”.
The main benefits of the situation come from the sense of international attention and promotion of stability. While most of the global media’s eyes are located towards events in Ukraine and Donbass when discussion turns to Europe, Mr. Lukashenko, president of Belarus since 1994, can easily see blessing for himself in such situation. With the upcoming Belarussian presidential elections happening this year in October, less international attention and pressure from other European leaders allows long-time Belarusian leader to go away with lack of transparency in elections and continue to solidify his place as the only reasonable candidate to rule Belarus. What used to be an event that would attract foreign attention, at least in Lithuanian media, now seems as just a formality that anyone hardly cares about.
Since the 20th of July there were 8 official candidates registered to be running for the Presidency. Although the fact that the any other candidate apart Lukashenko would hardly won the election, as they lack leadership and unity against the current ruler, Lukashenko will probably still use restrictions in the case of civil liberties and political rights to assure his victory. This has been consistent in the recent history of elections in Belarus since the year 2006 and was followed with concerns for democracy in Belarus since 2006. Of course, you will be able to hear some criticisms of the current year elections, as they cannot go completely unnoticed. However, with rising attention for the Donbass region and deepening crisis it would not be a huge shock if the election problems in Belarus will only be tackled at minimal potential.
Another point in the Lukashenko being a victor in Eastern Ukraine is that the region and the whole Europe can hardly afford him losing his authority in Belarus precisely now. Lukashenko losing would probably mean changes in country. These changes might be pro-EU, leading country towards fewer restrictions in society and democratization, which should always be welcome. However, at the same time it would reject the old rules in the country. If there is anything to learn from Ukraine in last couple of years, is that this would have a high potential to inspire turmoil in the country. Seeing how much already existent conflicts are damaging Europe, especially its trade and economy, foreign leaders probably will not only soften their tone on Lukashenko, but also might silently inspire him to stay in the current position, as long as he can provide to help keep region as stable as possible. Europe simply cannot afford another great disturbance in its geopolitical sphere, especially by its border. The silent support was evident by a recent report that the EU might consider reduction of sanctions for the Lukashenko and his regime, which officially expire at 31st of October and then have to be renewed. However, is this point of view and approach towards Belarus the correct one?
This brings us to the dilemma of dictatorial stability. It has been evident in history and politics, that it might be better and easier to deal with a country when it is ruled by a single person. Under the rule of one and given right conditions, the dictator could manage to keep country stable and not cause any major problems for decades, as it happened in such cases as Libya or Syria. These countries, similarly to Belarus, remained stable regimes that might even provide higher living standards for its people when compared with the neighboring countries. In the case of Libya all of these factors are evident, as the country managed to live well from its oil exports, and it was much easier to make a deals for it with its Dictator Gaddafi, especially for Europeans, as it is easier to negotiate with a single person under control rather than the elected one who would have to represent someone beyond him.
However, the problem is that these relationships usually have deadly and critical consequences, especially for those who benefit from these dictatorships and the “stability” that they might bring. The problem with this point of view is that it makes people look at the stable dictatorships as a “lesser evil”. If the EU truly wants to be called a beacon of democracy and continue making its values universal the regime in Belarus cannot be forgotten, especially when it is just in the neighborhood. Not only this puts a shade on the EU values and democracy-supportive identity but can also have more practical consequences.
For the people who are actually living in these stable dictatorships the opinion is not the same as for those countries that can keep easier relations with their state. There is a possibility that people can rise and overthrow the government, and that’s where the consequences of ignorance arise. The current migration crisis in Europe is the same consequence. Regimes of Assad and Gaddafi were usually ignored, whit out any effective actions to tackle the governments. When Libya and Syria eventually entered chaos, EU was not prepared to face the consequences. Due to this, now we have turmoil in the EU, with extremely high number of refugees from these countries, who are trying to escape this chaos.
This is why we cannot forget about dictatorial situation in Belarus.It is not that other European countries should make or intervention to Belarus or try to control it(as other Neighbors might). The most important thing that the Western neighbors of Belarus must do is prepare. Prepare for a scenario of another stable dictatorship being eradicated and have security measures for consequences. At the same time, Belarussian position might be different that the ones mentioned in the Arab states, but it still is a dictatorship, and eventually dictatorships have a historical tendency to fall. This time it would have much higher effects on Lithuania, which probably would have the highest burden to bear. Another wave of people fleeing war from a new front could truly crumble the EU, which already can hardly handle its refugees. The stable dictatorship might seem as a healthy companion for the developed democratic countries, but in the end the consequences of having such in the neighborhood has a huge price, although from the current situation it seems that EU still needs to learn this lesson.
Julius Zubė is a fourth-year student of International Politics and Development Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania.