The events of recent days in Belarus show that the authoritarian system of Alexander Lukashenko, which seemed strong and flexible, has cracked. The only president in the history of Belarus has lost wide support in society, and following the election results and the mass protests that followed, he largely lost his legitimacy as an autocratic and fundamentally irreplaceable ruler. Changes have been going on throughout the last "five-year period", as, according to the Soviet tradition, the economic, and at the same time, electoral cycles are called in Belarus. I decided to figure out how and why the country has changed over the past five years, as well as what resource Lukashenka has left to stay in power.
What was Lukashenka's power on.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus alone for a quarter of a century, since the 1995 and 1996 referendums that effectively abolished the separation of powers. His legitimacy is not based on ideology, nor did he create a ruling party. All his power is based on his personal relationships with different strata of society, the economic and power elite and neighboring states. These relations demanded great ideological flexibility from Lukashenka.
Flexible Soviet ideology.
The only ideological construct that has survived for 26 years of Lukashenka in power is his statist in form and essentially leftist system, similar to the system of the late USSR. Large-scale industry was preserved in the country (the most modern in the Soviet Union, since the country's industrialization began after the Great Patriotic War). There was no privatization of industrial enterprises - heavy and transport engineering, oil, chemical and food industries. 80% of industrial enterprises are controlled by the state, state-owned enterprises in the mid-2010s produced half of the GDP, they employed half of the working-age population. Enterprises were subsidized by the state - from direct injections to concessional loans, which made it possible to keep relatively low prices for products and relatively high salaries.Most of these enterprises worked for one sales market where they were competitive - Russia (plus a few other countries of the former USSR). Russia accounts for 50% of all Belarusian exports. In a political sense, this meant that there was a large population group that was completely dependent on the government to help enterprises; the workers themselves knew that the government was making sure that they received an annual increase in wages. Together with direct social support for other groups of the population, this ensured a low proportion of the “extremely poor”.
True, this did not allow us to overcome ordinary, routine poverty. The president's promise to raise the average income of citizens to $ 500 more than a decade ago has never been fulfilled. But, as you know, such poverty is not perceived as a flagrant injustice when there is no one to compare it with. The lack of privatization has led to the absence of super-wealthy business owners in the country and the accompanying radical social inequality.
Weak pro-Western opposition.
However, the president's relationship with society has long been cloudless: his system from the 1990s, based on preserving “all the best that was in the USSR,” was less and less accepted by the youth and the urban middle class. This, however, did not lead to the automatic creation of a strong opposition. Slogans about building a European-style democracy, discussions about “Belarusianization” and the impossibility of building a nation without language, talks about joining the EU - all of them were relatively popular, but the majority of citizens ceased to worry. The disagreement between the leaders of the "old" opposition on these ideological and tactical issues also did not add to their popularity. Finally, many of the leaders of the opposition parties were first repressed and then forced out of the country.
Almost half of the population is traditionally apolitical.
When independent sociology existed in the country (actually banned in the mid-2010s), the alignment was seen as follows: the president was supported by 25-30% of the population, another quarter to a third would associate themselves with the values of the pro-European opposition and would not support Lukashenka under any circumstances (under far from all of them shared the nationalist rhetoric of some of the old opposition politicians). The rest of society changed its preferences situationally - mainly depending on the current economic situation.
Thus, during a series of crises, Lukashenka lost the support of a part of “apolitical” citizens associated with large state-owned enterprises. Young people and the middle class, including those who receive income in private business, and who had not been too fond of the authorities before, were angry with both economic troubles and the "tyranny" of Lukashenka, who alone made decisions that were fateful for the country. Because of the falsifications, it is difficult to judge what kind of support Lukashenka really received in the elections. Judging by the mathematical estimates of the "postscripts" only in early voting, he did not win the elections. And judging by the data from several polling stations, where the votes were counted “alternatively”, he lost crushingly.
At the same time, not all is well with other "pillars" of legitimacy. Lukashenko received congratulations from Vladimir Putin, but effective economic assistance from Russia cannot be expected - neither during the crisis, nor after. Thus, it can be said with cautious confidence that Lukashenka's power can only rely on the support of the security forces. But to suppress the opposition, which is not united around parties or leaders, but only on the basis of a negative agenda, that is, overthrowing Lukashenka himself, this may be enough.