Belarus Before the Elections: Taking Stock of Recent Developments
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), in cooperation with the German Association for East European Studies (DGO), organized a public discussion in Berlin on September 21, 2015, devoted to the state of affairs in Belarus on the eve of presidential elections. The event featured four Belarusian experts:
- Aliaksandr Klaskouski, analyst and journalist from the independent news agency BELAPAN;
- Iryna Krylovich, editor-in-chief of the online newspaper Belrynok;
- Yauheni Preiherman, research director of the analytical Centre “Liberal Club”;
- Andrei Paratnikau, security expert and author of the Belarus Security Blog.
The panel was opened by Joerg Forbrig, director of the Fund for Belarus Democracy at GMF and moderated by Gabriele Freitag, DGO executive director.
Scheduled for October 11, 2015, the upcoming presidential elections are met with very limited expectations both inside of Belarus and internationally. Few expect anything else than a victory of the incumbent president Alyaksandr Lukashenka, ensured by no less murky and manipulated an electoral process than in previous elections. Candidates are sparring partners of Lukashenka rather than real alternatives, campaigning has been largely invisible, and most Belarusians take little, if any, interest in the elections. At the same time, the elections take place in a rapidly changing economic and geopolitical environment. In response to a severe economic crisis, the government is reluctant to launch much-needed reforms but intensifies its search for financial support to close gaps. As a result of the Russian war against Ukraine, Lukashenka has styled himself as a host and broker of peace negotiations, and drawn considerable international attention. These impulses are combined with three years of intense diplomatic efforts by the Belarusian government to break the political isolation that was imposed by the EU and U.S. in response to the brutal crackdown of protests against the previous presidential elections. The recent release of political prisoners cleared another key obstacle to a rapprochement with the West, which can now be expected to gather momentum. However, this development will crucially depend on the assessment of the upcoming elections by international monitors and the improvement of the domestic situation after the elections. Still, many questions remain as to how long and thorough this new thaw in EU-Belarus relations will be. No less importantly, this opening will have to be reconciled with Belarus’ long-standing partnership with, and dependence on, Russia.
In this light, all of the speakers urged the West to continue its support for Belarusian civil society, to foster people-to-people contacts, to speed up visa liberalization for Belarusian citizens, and to continue to integrate Belarus into the broader European context.
The event was organized in the framework of a working visit of the four experts that was organized by GMF and included discussions at the German Bundestag, the Chancellery, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of the Economy as well as informal meetings with Berlin-based experts on Eastern Europe.