The events of the 23rd of May have drawn much attention to what was described during the tenure of George H. Bush as Europe’s final dictatorship.
Which speaks for itself in terms of the longevity of the current administration. The event in question has led to Belarus receiving much attention in the form of international condemnation for the hijacking of flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius.
This was ordered by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko in order to detain an opposition Journalist of Belarussian origin Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend.
An unverified transcript has claimed that there were reports of a bomb on board the plane and as a result they were asked to land in Minsk in order to have it defused.
This does not stand up to much scrutiny however as they were closer to the Lithuanian capital Vilnuis than that of the Belarussian counterpart. The plane was then escorted by a military MiG Jet, with opposition figures stating that threats had been made that the plane would be shot down if they failed to comply.
Following the forced landing and disembarkation, the two individuals in question were then arrested for their prior actions in condemning the administration.
The shock and condemnation of the international community soon followed, being led by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She stated that the event in question and the explanations given by those involved were entirely implausible.
However Lukashenko shot back stating that his actions were justified by the overriding considerations of national security. While further noting that the international community was merely condemning otherwise justifiable actions in order to undermine the stability of the Belarussian regime.
Sentiments which have since been approved and supported by Lukashenko’s Russian counterpart and evident ally Vladimir Putin, as being trustworthy.
Mr Protasevich was once the editor of Nexta: a dissident media organization which operated a popular telegram messenger channel. This became even more popular following Mr Protasevich’s exile in 2019, wherein he moved to Lithuania fearing the repercussions of his attempts to spread the truth behind the autocratic regime.
Gaining further traction with the elections of August 2020, which have also been condemned in the broadest manner as being undoubtedly rigged. Fears have since been expressed by the family of Mr Protasevich, that the couple are giving prepared statements under duress and that Roman may in fact have been subject to torture in the past few days.
Mr Protasevich now faces a charge of organising mass unrest in relation to his coverage of the August 2020 election, which would give a potential jail term of up to fifteen years.
While the Journalist also tweeted an apparent KGB terrorist suspects list which he was included on in the past year. It has further been reported that Roman apparently said to fellow passengers before they were forced to depart that he would face a potential death sentence in the country of his birth.
With Belarus being the final nation not only in Europe but also the former Soviet Union, which maintains the death sentence and as has been reported by Human Rights Watch they fail to families of the execution death or ultimate burial place.
This targeting of journalists and the independent media has been ongoing for the past few months, with seven further activists having been arrested on Tuesday. With one political activist in particular Vitold Ashurok who was fifty years of age, passing away due to a cardiac arrest in a penal colony to the East of the country.
Since this occurred shocking videos have been shared evidencing Ashurok collapsing twice in his cell. While Reporters Without Borders, have in the past and since recent events reiterated the necessity of an Independent UN investigation in to the persecution of journalists in the country.
However, it remains to be seen whether international condemnation and the sanctions that come with it will have any true effect on a regime which has been in place since Lukashenko took power in 1994.
His power at present is truly absolute, in 1996 he abolished the Parliament outright and since the year 2000 has launched elections which have continued to be condemned as rigged.
Yet in the past such condemnation of an international nature has done little to effect real change in Europe’s last dictatorship.
He has been supported primarily by a strong economy, which while not an oligarchy in the truest sense, is far from a modern capitalist society. Rather Lukashenko has developed an economy which is firmly in the mould of the former Soviet principles namely big state factories and state employment.
However, the past decade has seen what was once a relatively powerful economy falter and come to rely intensely on the neighbouring state of Russia.
While it may be easy to paint Russia as Lukashenko’s one remaining ally of note, the relationship has become strained in recent years due to the Belarussian President’s attempts at retaining his nation’s sovereignty from their Eastern neighbours.
This has been exemplified by Lukashenko’s failure to support his counterpart in the invasion of Crimea, instead preferring to take a strict stance of neutrality.
It remains possible that change can come to Belarus however. As was evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who took to the streets to protest the results of afore-mentioned rigged election and would continue to do so even facing the threat of detention and potential imprisonment.
The widescale repression which Lukashenko has implemented to stay in power may not continue to be a course of action capable of being maintained by the Belarussian President.
Continued international pressure may finally prove telling, if a united and comprehensive approach is taken. The difficulty posed is primarily one in relation to how the European Union may make use of its considerable if ill-defined powers under international law and foreign affairs.
Yet the early signs remain positive, as a number of Western Governments have asked their airlines to re-route flights to avoid Belarussian airspace, with some going further in announcing an outright ban on Belarussian planes coming through their own airspace.
Whether this will be continued in an overall approach by the European Union, remains to be seen however pressure of this form may yet prove effective.
This imposed isolation, may finally give rise to the effective change which the country has been in need of for decades and eventually bring an end to Europe’s last dictatorship and the 28-year reign of Alexander Lukashenko as President.