As the Protests in Belarus disappear from the world’s media and the conflict itself sets in to an oft violent stalemate, both sides are squaring up in their respective ways.
Self-elected President Lukashenko and his supporters are hoping that the street protests will die down as winter approaches and things will go back how they were pre-election: a dissatisfied but obedient population. Thus, old knee-jerk reactions of selected, brutal and disproportionate violence will eventually pay off as the population eventually shrugs its collective shoulders and returns to acquiescence. And why not? It worked before. Time is on his side. With the Kremlin’s support, what can go wrong? Both from afar, and on the President’s wish-list, that’s certainly what it looks like.
However, it’s not that simple anymore. The population is not reacting to the time-honoured playbook where they show their discontent and then go back home, having made their point. For a start, there is more of them. With the reassurance that they are in the majority, they are happy to go out and wave flags for as long as it takes. Moreover, as the security force have openly photographed the demonstrators the people know they are on a hit list of arrests and sackings from their jobs, if things go ‘back to normal.’ So they cannot let up.
In addition, many of Lukashenko’s traditional supporters, the elderly, have withdrawn their support in the wake of the violence unleashed upon their fellow citizens. Whereas, they may have tut-tutted the younger hotheads, they now support them. Moreover, the new generation, which is emerging and maturing, no longer wants to dream about a better future or emigrates but wants to make it happen in their own country.
The battle ground is no longer only in the streets: the protesters have taken the battle to cyberspace. Belarus has created a young and growing, internet-savvy population. The Hi-tech industry accounts for over 6% of the country’s GDP. Many People of Belarusian origin are living in the USA and other countries, either working in large companies or in start-ups. Their collective innovation muscle has swung behind the anti-Lukashenko protest.
For example, the Golos organisation has charted and calculated the electoral votes and have challenged the government figures with highly sophisticated modelling. There is an app takes pictures of masked paramilitaries and officials and matches them up to police data and photos on the internet to show their complete photos and their personal details, including addresses and phone numbers. Another app has allows the user to swipe their smart phone on a bar code of a product in a shop which accesses a data base to tell them which manufacturers are loyal to the president. Apps such as telegram and the now mainstream social media has allowed the opposition to dominate the communication sphere, which is drowning out government media and the pro-Lukashenko Russian media.
So, as we speak, as the protests continue and as the numbers of apps an their users proliferate, there may well be heated arguments in police families about whether to resign or not and the board members of Lukashenko-friendly companies are reassessing their allegiances. Members of Lukashenko’s inner circle are most likely contemplating the writing on the wall and are asking themselves – do we put our heads above the parapet too soon and be punished if nothing changes, or prompt the changes and become heroes in the process? Do the current advantages of loyalty to the President outweigh the disadvantages of being an international pariah, only recognised by other international pariahs and the possible eventual loss of any power whatsoever?
In the light of this, the present authorities face an uphill struggle to return to the status quo and rebuild a stable economy. Perhaps a rethink about the approach might be in order.