Lukashenko
© REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
Placard depicting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko outside the Belarusian in Moscow, Russia August 12, 2020
Protests following Sunday's presidential election in Belarus have entered the fourth day. Videos of police brutality spread online and foreign ministries across the world are condemning the actions of the Belarusian police.

While temping to default to the knee-jerk reaction that what's going on in the country is a 'color revolution', claims by President Alexander Lukashenko that the protests are foreign-organized are bunk and should not be taken seriously. The political actions of Belarusians now are legitimate and deserve our attention.

Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians - including what I would categorize as an entire generation of young talent - who are IT workers, engineers, data analysts and others in in-demand fields are regrettably fleeing the country not due to war or conflict, but because of an endemic lack of opportunity that is plaguing the country. No matter where you are in the world, no matter what political system a state has, no matter the level of democratic freedoms, this translates to general frustration and is the source of much of the animosity surrounding this election and its aftershock.

Caught in the path between Russia and Germany, the Belarusian people have suffered tremendously through history and this has translated into a generally cynical attitude towards politics and world affairs. When asked, the Belarusians I've met here in Prague generally refuse to comment on their internal politics or simply "don't care" and just want to live happily. Yet, to my surprise, large demonstrations have taken place here through the week, organized by Belarusian expatriates.

While this is an anecdotal example, the exact extent of these protests, the attention to which this election drew and the reverberations felt in the Belarusian expatriate community, who are generally depoliticized, show that this is truly a grassroots and legitimate movement. And indeed there is serious reason to doubt the results of the election, as everyone from the European Union (EU) High Representative to State Duma deputy Konstantin Zatulin from the pro-Putin United Russia party has pointed out.

Things should not be twisted. It's easy to see that geopolitical powers are not at work as both the West and Russia - the two major competing powers that have a stake in Belarusian internal affairs - are virtually in unison in their criticism of Lukashenko.

No one in the West has recognized the results of the election as foreign ministries from EU member states have, to various degrees, criticized and cast doubt on the results.

And while Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenko, Putin is hardly invested in relations with Lukashenko the man as he is interested in Belarus the nation - the two of which are unfortunately almost synonymous. It should also be noted that the main opposition itself has no position of decoupling from Russia and isn't being offered anything from Western countries, including EU accession or anything of the sort.

As the Wall Street Journal's Chief Foreign-Affairs Correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov so eloquently put it, "What is happening in Minsk is not 'another Maidan' and Belarus is not Ukraine. It takes a lot more courage for Belarusians to be out in the streets protesting a rigged election."

But Lukashenko is unfortunately clinging to power, using the illegitimate election as his mandate and blaming everyone - no matter their geopolitical interests - for the unrest.

"We saw them - they showed themselves even clearer this night. We recorded, as you know, as a former agent, calls from abroad. From Poland, the United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic, they were controlling our, excuse me, sheep: they don't understand what they are doing, and they are already being controlled," Lukashenko said about the protests, also claiming that Russian and Ukrainian citizens came to the country to protest.

Lukashenko rose to power in the post-Soviet era as a populist and staunch defender of the Soviet model. This was successful for a time as the country sustained consistent economic growth while resisting much of the tremendous suffering that ravaged the former Soviet states, including Russia, through the 1990's. Belarus even curtailed the financial crisis in Europe in 2008 thanks to its planned economy, but the model has since stalled out with wage growth stagnating and no marked increase in the standard of living for the average Belarusian.

This stalling out is now indicative of the Lukashenko government; stalling out domestically and in foreign affairs, for example by botching the coronavirus response and engaging in risky diplomatic endeavors with bad actors such as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Much like the fall of the Soviet Union, Belarusian political life is coming apart due to internal fractures. Where Lukashenko originally followed the Soviet path in some desirable ways, he has repeated the mistakes of the past by failing to uplift a new generation of leaders, clinging to solitary power, refusing to adapt and alienating the population - especially the youth - both politically and economically.
Bradley Blankenship, Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. He has a syndicated column at China Global Television Network where he writes about politics in the United States, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe, he's also a contributor to Policy Network, an international progressive think tank based in London, and a freelance reporter for international news agencies including Xinhua News Agency. Follow him on Twitter @BradBlank_