Belarus. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided in November to change its name to Belarus for political reasons. This happened in connection with the Foreign Minister Ann Linde visiting the capital Minsk together with Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. The change of name was made, according to Linde, as “a recognition of Belarusian civil society and the people who have long wanted to emphasize their country’s national identity and sovereignty”. The name change was not anchored among official language preservation bodies in Sweden.
In the elections to both parliamentary chambers on November 17, all 110 seats were the party that supported President Aljaksandr Lukashenka. According to international election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the election showed “a lack of respect for democratic commitments”. So far, the organization has not been able to call a single election in Belarus democratic. The intention was that the elections would take place in 2020, but that was premature. The turnout was 71%. In connection with the election, the President announced that he will run for the 2020 presidential election.
Ten years ago, the US cut its diplomatic ties with Belarus. In September, the two countries decided to re-establish their diplomatic relations. The message came just weeks after US security adviser John Bolton visited Minsk. The United States imposed sanctions on the country in 2006, and when they were tightened in 2008, President Lukashenka chose to expel the US ambassador.
At the beginning of the year, speculation emerged that Belarus and the Russian Federation were approaching each other, all according to a 1999 agreement that stipulated, among other things, a single currency and common courts. At the same time, however, there are signs that President Lukashenka is eager to forge ties with the EU.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER.ORG: Click to see the meanings of 3-letter acronym and abbreviation of BEL in general and in geography as Belarus in particular.
Lukashenko is planning changes to the law
President Lukashenko says constitutional changes may be needed, and a referendum on the changes. According to the state news agency Belta, he states that lawyers, among them judges in the Supreme Court, work with proposals. Few details are presented, but more independent courts are mentioned. Mr Lukashenko has rejected opposition calls for a return to the 1994 constitution, which gave the president less power than he has today. Twice since he became president in 1994, Lukashenko has had the constitution changed: for the first time, in 1996, he gained more power. The second time, in 2004, the number of terms allowed for the president was increased.
Baltic sanctions against Belarus
The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are facing sanctions against President Lukashenko and 29 other officials in neighboring Belarus, which are linked to cheating in the country’s presidential election on 9 August. Other EU countries are also planning sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes, but they have not yet agreed on which Belarusian people will be covered.
Athletes join protests
Three weeks after the criticized presidential election, critics of the regime are holding another mass rally in Minsk and in other cities as well. It’s Lukashenko’s birthday and he’s being hacked by protesters. 360 Belarusian athletes, including Olympians, demand in an open letter that elections be held in accordance with democratic standards. They also condemn the police’s use of force against protesters. The day before, journalists working for foreign media had their accreditations (permits) revoked.
Putin ready to send police
A Russian police force is ready to intervene in neighboring Belarus, if the situation escalates. Russian President Vladimir Putin says the force was formed at the request of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko; there is a security pact between the countries that provides for mutual assistance. On the same day, opposition activists protesting in Minsk are arrested, and both Belarusian and foreign journalists who intended to cover their demonstration are taken to the police for identity verification, which is perceived as an interference with media freedom.
Mass protest and human chain
Two weeks after the controversial presidential election, Belarusian regime critics are holding a mass protest in Minsk. At the same time, Lithuanians form a human chain three miles from the capital Vilnius to the Belarusian border. The solidarity demonstration shows the Lithuanian tricolor and, as in Minsk, the red and white flag of the Belarusian opposition. (The opposition flag is a national flag used earlier in the country’s history.) The inspiration comes from a protest against Soviet rule staged in the Baltic states on August 23, 1989, 50 years after Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union concluded a pact that resulted in the Baltics ended up under Soviet rule.
Coup allegations against the opposition
20th of August
A criminal investigation is being launched against the Coordination Council, which has been formed by opposition leaders. The public prosecutor accuses the opposition leaders of planning a takeover and jeopardizing national security.
Lukashenko ready to take on the hard gloves
Ten days after the presidential election, Alexander Lukashenko orders the government to stop further protests. He is also reshaping the government. The Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior (who are responsible for the police forces) will remain in office. The third death toll of the protests is confirmed and the opposition has formed a coordination council, of which Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievitch is one of the members. The EU agrees on the same day not to recognize the election result. Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is currently the EU presidency, says the election was neither free nor fair. European Council President Charles Michel announces that the EU will impose sanctions on a number of people involved in electoral fraud or crackdowns on protesters.
The biggest protest so far
A mass protest against the presidential election is being held in Minsk. The demonstration is described by the independent news site Tut.by as the largest that has taken place in the country since independence. At the same time, a meeting is being held in support of the regime, in which Lukashenko claims that Belarus would end up as a state if the election is rescheduled. The day before, Lukashenko spoke with Russian President Putin, who offered to “help ensure Belarus’ security.” The day after the mass rallies, staff at state-run Belarusian broadcasters join the strikes that have marked the week of protests.
Police are accused of assault
While Belarusians are protesting against the presidential election for the sixth day in a row, the forces deployed against the protests are accused of abusing people. In EU countries, demands have been raised for sanctions against the regime, which has promised to release arrested protesters. EU foreign ministers agree that preparations for sanctions should be made, a document that states to whom or what measures could be directed. Neighboring countries, mainly Poland, are demanding that the presidential election be redone, and done freely and fairly.
Deaths in police custody
12th of August
In the city of Gomel, a 25-year-old man dies after three days in custody. According to the authorities, he has been arrested in connection with an illegal demonstration. At the same time, street protests against the presidential election continue for the fourth day in a row. During three days of protests, more than 6,000 people have been arrested, the Interior Ministry said, confirming that sharp ammunition had been used against protesters in Brest. Svetlana Alexievitch, Nobel laureate and critic of the regime, calls on President Lukashenko to resign.
Opposition candidate in exile
Following the crackdown on protesters, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition’s candidate in the presidential election, is urging President Lukashenko to step down. She also repeats the accusations that the election was rigged. When the official election results are announced, it says that Lukashenko received 80 percent of the vote and she herself just under 10 percent, the other candidates about 2 percent. Russian President Putin congratulates Lukashenko as well as China’s Xi Jinping. From the EU side, however, doubts are expressed and Poland wants the EU to hold an extra summit on Belarus. The Ministry of the Interior in Minsk states that about 3,000 people have been arrested in what is described as illegal rallies after the election. The next day it appears that Tichanovskaya has moved to neighboring Lithuania for security reasons.
Protests after the presidential election
9th of August
The presidential election is taking place, and no one expects Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, to let anyone else win. When an official polling station gives him as much as 80 percent of the vote, it leads to protests in at least ten cities. Riot police use stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in Minsk. A protester loses his life. The opposition and election observers from grassroots groups claim that there has been cheating. Internet connections have been disrupted during election day, so that it has become difficult to draw attention to irregularities. To Belarusian Radio, foreign Belarusians who stood in line to vote say that not all voters have been allowed to do so. Since the election campaign began in May, authorities have arrested more than 2,000 people, according to the organization Viasna.
Cheating accusations before the election
Advance voting in the presidential election begins. A maximum of three election observers may be present in each polling station and a maximum of five at the ballot box on the actual election day on 9 August, the Electoral Commission has announced “with reference to the corona pandemic”. Independent observers say public servants are being pressured to vote for the president or by pro-Lukashenko candidates, and to cheat during the preliminary voting. No international election observers from the OSCE are present (see 15 July).
According to CountryAAH, the population of Belarus in 2019 was 9,452,300, ranking number 95 in the world. The population growth rate was 0.000% yearly, and the population density was 46.5842 people per km2.