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BY Miras Orazbek

NU Student Number: 201532115 APPROVED


Dr. Matthew Millard ON

The 8th day of May, 2022


Signature of Principal Thesis Adviser

In Agreement with Thesis Advisory Committee Second Adviser: Dr. Karol Czuba External Reader: Dr. Barbara Junisbai





by Miras Orazbek

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of

Master of Arts in

Political Science and International Relations







All Rights Reserved



This study explores the peculiarities of the mass democracy movement in Belarus, particularly domestic and foreign mechanisms that opposition, protesters and other representatives of the Belarusian democracy movement utilize to endure under the repressive government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. I demonstrate that by gradually shifting their resistance strategies and embracing extensive foreign political-financial support, the democracy movement in Belarus has been able to withstand substantial domestic pressure and continue to operate under harsh autocratic settings.

As this study illustrates, Belarus has become increasingly authoritarian during the presidency of Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the Belarusian democracy movement has adapted and employed various resistance strategies through domestic legitimation and foreign aid through non-governmental organizations to persist in the repressive Belarusian reality. The growing discontent with ever-increasing authoritarian tendencies of the Lukashenka administration, as well as the development of the democracy movement in Belarus, ultimately culminated in largest protests of 2006, 2011 and 2020-2021. I show that the endurance of the democracy movement under Lukashenka and the longevity of the most recent 2020-2021 mass protests can be primarily attributed to three factors: (1) extensive foreign aid in the form of political legitimation, (2) substantial financial funding through foreign-sponsored NGOs and (3) the learning process of opposition and pro-democracy groups.

These findings emerge from a series of one-on-one, in-depth interviews that I conducted with two groups of participants. The first group consists of scholars specializing in Belarusian politics (2 respondents), while the second group of the interviewees comprises members of the Belarusian civil society (11 respondents) and the participants of anti-government protests.

Interviews and thorough process tracing results support my proposition emphasizing the role


of motivation, internal dynamics and resistance strategies by the Belarusian democracy movement on its survival and long-term endurance.


Table of Contents





CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW: Domestic and foreign factors of authoritarian survival and democratic resilience……….6

Authoritarian Survival……….…...6

Foreign Political-Financial Support………..14

Democracy Promotion………..14

Authoritarian Promotion………...19

Strategies of Democratic resistance….……….25

CHAPTER 3. THEORY AND HYPOTHESES: Hard authoritarianism and Democratic resistance……….…….……….………...27

Conceptualization of a Hard-Authoritarian Regime……….28

Foreign Support as a determining factor………...31



Case selection………...36


Ethical Considerations………...41



In-depth interviews………...44

Lukashenka’s hard authoritarian toolkit for maintaining power………...45

Survival and endurance of the mass democracy movement in Belarus………....50

Process tracing………..55



Diplomatic Cover………..…...61

Financial Support……….63

Learning and Strategy change………..66



APPENDIX A. Email (Message) For Interviews………..………..77

APPENDIX B. Interview Questions………..………..78

APPENDIX C. Informed Consent Form………..80

APPENDIX D. Oral Consent Script……….82


List of Tables and Figures

Figure 1. Three pillars of Hard-Authoritarian Rule………..28

Table 1. Opinion poll on factors contributing to Lukashenka’s rule………46

Figure 2. Proposed explanations of President Lukashenka’s survival and endurance……….………46

Figure 3. Proposed explanations of the Belarusian democracy movement’s resilience……….………..51

Figure 4. Causal pathways to regime endurance………..55

Figure 5. Causal pathways to the democracy movement endurance……….59

Figure 6. Financial Assistance to Belarus from the US and the EU ………64

Figure 7. Financial Assistance to the civil society and government sectors of Belarus from the US and the EU…...……….………...65



I would like to thank my closest family members and especially my father and my grandmother who have guided me throughout the years and showed their unwavering support, as well as friends whose loyalty and endorsement have helped me overcome all the past challenges.

I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to the members of my thesis committee, Dr. Matthew Millard and Dr. Karol Czuba for their continued support, encouragement and assistance. This thesis could not have been completed without their immense contribution and professionalism.

I wish to thank Dr. Charles Sullivan, the former member of my thesis committee, whose guidance and encouragement were instrumental at the initial stages of idea generation and research design, as well as Dr. Barbara Junisbai, the external reader, for her valuable commentary and constructive feedback on my thesis.

My deepest gratitude also goes to all the professors of the Department of Political Science and International Relations for their support and contribution to my development as a researcher over the past two years.


Chapter 1. Introduction

Nondemocratic regimes constitute an important part of contemporary political reality.

It is a common occurrence for authoritarian rulers to hold on to power for many years or even decades, with some ruling their respective countries with an iron fist until their demise. Yet, not all nondemocratic leaders are immune to forced removal from office. Recent history is ripe with instances in which autocratic regimes falter due to domestic uprisings and mass protests, initiated by non-state challengers. While some such mass democracy movements are able to resist and topple nondemocratic regime, other mass democracy movements and protests are less fortunate and struggle to gain momentum. This highlights an interesting puzzle: how can we explain the variation in the endurance and resilience of the mass democracy movements in repressive states?

Therefore, the research question motivating this thesis is "To what extent and why are mass democracy movements able to endure under repressive nondemocratic regimes?" This study explores the peculiarities of the mass democracy movement in the Republic of Belarus.

It particularly aims to explain the endurance of mass democracy movement in Belarus with the broader aim of examining how the combination of various domestic and external factors affect the outcome of the confrontation between the nondemocratic regime and the protesters.

Furthermore, this research aims to demonstrate the importance of foreign political-financial support and public attitudes towards democracy promotion in the endurance of the mass democracy movements on the one hand, and the survival of the autocratic regime on the other.

In this study, I examine the case of Belarus, which constitutes an interesting research puzzle due to the strong endurance of the country’s home-grown mass democracy movement.

First, although Belarus is widely considered a nondemocratic regime, it has experienced several mass democracy protests throughout its existence as a sovereign state. Second, there is a variation in the endurance of mass democracy protests over time. For example, while the 2006


and 2011 protests were ultimately short in duration, the recent 2020-2021 protests arguably presented a significant challenge to President Lukashenka's regime. The rapidly changing situation and political-economic struggle in Belarus substantially affects not only the European politics, but also the global state of affairs as a whole. In this sense, the research of the Belarusian case has now become more relevant than ever.

I argue that members of the Belarusian democracy movement have learned to face and challenge the regime over the years, utilizing different political strategies and tactics. I particularly look into domestic democracy promotion efforts and foreign political-financial support dimensions. I also argue that understanding the unique case of Belarus provides a much clearer explanation of the regime survival and mass democracy movement endurance as a whole. Ever since his rise to power in 1994, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has managed to consolidate an almost undisputed power. He has been largely described as the ruthless autocrat and titled “Europe’s last dictator” (Markus 2010, 118), particularly for his hardline tactics in dealing with dissent of opposition groups and violent crackdown of the mass protests against his rule. Belarus under Lukashenka has also been described as a police state, with the increased role of the security apparatus in ensuring the regime’s survival and coercive capacity (Way 2020, 19). During his early presidency, Belarus went from a relatively free state to a soft authoritarianism, which was followed by hard authoritarianism in his later years as a head of state. Despite these trends, Lukashenka has not been immune to challenges from below, with the most recent 2020-2021 protests being arguably the most challenging to Lukashenka’s autocratic rule (Way 2020, 17). These protests were unique, as many people turned against Lukashenka than in previous protests. Some hundreds of thousands of protesters were reported to have taken to the streets. With the availability of new mass media resources and mobile apps, particularly Telegram, the younger generation was able to better mobilize in groups (Herasimenka 2020). Another key part of Belarusian society, workers employed by state


factories, well-protected in the 1990s-2000s and politically passive throughout the years, joined the ranks of dissenters albeit in fewer numbers. The economic stagnation and failure has become a vital concern for the workers. Nonetheless, despite their initial strikes at the factories, fear of the unknown (the new regime) has constrained the workers from actively taking part in the protests (Buzgalin & Kolganov 2021).

The 2020-2021 protests started from the rejection of the existing economic and socio- political system in Belarus by the middle class. As protesters have a strong domestic democracy promotion narrative, they continue to receive significant political financial support from the West (Buzgalin & Kolganov 2021, 5). Throughout the years, Western financial support to the Belarusian opposition and civil society has proved to be instrumental in the endurance and resilience of the Belarusian democracy movement, with the resistance and protest movements being in large part funded through the NGOs by the EU members (most notably Poland and Lithuania) and the US. Similarly, with abundant foreign support, some of the prominent opposition leaders like Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya have managed to escape into exile to Lithuania and coordinate the democracy movement from abroad. As of now, even more dissidents are operating in exile, making the ultimate “decapitation” of the mass protest movements by the government not entirely possible. In a similar vein, never before have Lukashenka’s approval ratings been as low as following his use of extremely brute force of the 2020-2021 protests (Mudrov 2021, 7-8). Lukashenka suffered a significant political cost, losing the formerly present leverage between the EU and Russia, now being heavily dependent on the latter’s support to survive.

Furthermore, this study addresses hard authoritarian rule, which essentially dedicates its efforts to coerce and repress the protest movements as opposed to soft authoritarian regimes that prefer soft persuasive tactics over use of force or violence. Furthermore, the research examines how the democracy movement in Belarus has managed to endure under the


Lukashenka regime, notorious for its violent repressive strategies in addressing the concerns of the Belarusian public. The study assesses how the democracy movement in Belarus, despite being highly disadvantaged, manifested itself in three large anti-government protests of 2006, 2011 and 2020-2021, presenting a substantial challenge to Lukashenka’s rule.

The thesis comprises three main parts. First, the literature review presents the scholarly view on the mass democracy movement in Belarus under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as well as the phenomena of autocratic and democracy promotion within the framework of foreign support. Since his rise to power in 1994, President Lukashenka has managed to consolidate power and authority. Belarus under Lukashenka has been described as a police state, with the increased role of the security apparatus in ensuring the regime’s survival and coercive capacity.

During his early presidency, Belarus went from a relatively free state to a soft authoritarianism, which was followed by hard authoritarianism in his later years as a head of state. As such, I demonstrate the analysis of the literature on both the early years of Lukashenka’s presidency, examining the process of power consolidation, democracy movement development as well the latest works on recent largest protests in the history of contemporary Belarus. The major gap in the literature, however, is that while attributing a high role to foreign benefactors to both sides of the conflict (i.e. President Lukashenka and the democracy movement), the scholarship sees the Belarusian civil society as weak and largely incapable of implementing resistance strategies on its own, therefore leaving the internal dynamics and strategy shifts of the democracy movement largely unaccounted for. I argue that strategic choices and tactics made by the Belarusian civil society have as much importance as the extensive foreign political- financial support in the survival and endurance of the Belarusian democracy movement.

The theoretical framework is presented as a second main part following the literature review. First, drawing evidence from the works on Belarusian democracy movement in support of the argument that the ruling government of President Lukashenka in Belarus constitutes a


repressive hard authoritarian regime, I argue that the regime that Lukashenka has established in Belarus is increasingly reliant on coercive strategies in dealing with dissent or opposition, due to fears of being overthrown, especially so following successful Color revolutions in other Post-Soviet states that removed similar authoritarian leaders. The concepts of soft and hard authoritarianism are explained and expanded further in the theoretical chapter. Second, the study also derives the theoretical framework of close linkages to the West, the role of foreign political-financial support and domestic democracy promotion efforts in the duration, complexity and outcome of the confrontation between democracy movements and nondemocratic regimes.

Finally, the empirical chapters proceed with the results of a thorough process tracing and in-depth interviews with scholars, Belarusian civil society members and the participants of anti-government protests on the democracy movement in Belarus. These chapters introduce the methodological aspects of the study and presents the final results of the research. The results of the study help to analyze the extent to which and why the democracy movement in Belarus has been able to endure under Lukashenka and apply the results to a broader phenomenon of democratic resistance and survival.


Chapter 2. Literature review: Domestic and foreign factors of authoritarian survival and democratic resilience

To understand the ambiguous profile of survival and endurance of the Belarusian democracy movement, three major strands of literature need to be taken into account, namely the scholarship on (1) authoritarian survival, (2) foreign political-financial support (authoritarian promotion and diffusion, democratization and democracy promotion), as well as (3) strategies of democratic resistance. In addition to domestic strategies of authoritarian survival, and to counter extensive Western political-financial support to pro-democracy factions in Belarus, the Kremlin has provided President Alyaksandr Lukashenka with vast financial resources and diplomatic backing. Over the years, however, the Belarusian democracy movement has learned to persist violent repression from the Lukashenka regime due to shifting resistance strategies. This chapter reviews the existing state of the literature on these key issues.

Authoritarian Survival

The recent history is ripe with instances when the autocratic regimes falter as a result of domestic uprisings and mass protests, initiated by both ordinary people and non-state challengers. While some such mass democracy movements and protests are able to withstand and resist a nondemocratic regime and, in some cases, force its leadership out of office, some other mass democracy movements and protests are not as fortunate and struggle to gain momentum.

The case of Belarus constitutes such a puzzle, given a strong long-term endurance of the mass democracy movement in the country. Ever since his rise to power in 1994, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has managed to consolidate an almost undisputed power. He has been largely described as the ruthless autocrat and titled “Europe’s last dictator” (Markus 2010, 118),


particularly for his hardline tactics in dealing with dissent of opposition groups and violent crackdown of the mass protests against his rule. Belarus under Lukashenka has also been described as a police state, with the increased role of the security apparatus in ensuring the regime’s survival and coercive capacity. During his early presidency, Belarus went from a relatively free state to a soft authoritarianism, which was followed in his later years as a head of state by hard authoritarianism (Schatz 2009, 206), with the regime becoming highly repressive and nondemocratic.

The existing literature presents explicit evidence for the shift from soft to hard authoritarian and repressive nature of the Lukashenka government and highlights a few most likely explanations why he was able to survive and consolidate power in Belarus. In particular, Lukashenka’s policy of preemption ensured his long reign and kept him almost invincible throughout his presidency. During the first years of his rule, Lukashenka established a direct personal control over most of the state apparatus. He strengthened the presidential power by successfully passing the new constitution, that created a new puppet legislative assembly and the Constitutional Court (Silitski 2005, 88), thus turning Belarus into a “super-presidential”

state (Korosteleva 2012). Second, he introduced strict censorship of media, actively imposing the “information blockade on the opposition activities through the manipulation of the public opinion (Silitski 2005, 86). As such, he was in control of the general information flow in the country. The Belarussian regime began to manipulate the public opinion through the state- controlled media outlets, television and printed propaganda, portraying the above-mentioned revolution in the extremely negative light. Among other arguments, the regime stated that the similar revolution in Belarus would only lead to the same political instability and the economic disaster as the revolution-thorn states have experienced. As such, the Belarussian government issued warning texts and television messages, calling citizens to avoid “being fooled by foreign


propaganda” and to abstain from any illegal protests and meetings, threatening with the use of force against “illegal demonstrators” (Korosteleva 2009, Frear 2018).

Third, Lukashenka vastly utilized such techniques as blackmail of parliamentarians and the covert killings of the opposition leaders, leaving the opposition movements with no strong leader to challenge his rule and thus unable to gain momentum and public support (ibid, 87- 90), (Usov 2008). Fourth, Lukashenka is an important strategic asset for Russia in the borders of NATO states and thus his regime enjoys an extensive political, military and economic support by the Kremlin (Silitski 2005, Markus 2010).

In the early 2000s, the Color Revolutions that rapidly spread among the Post-Soviet states have sparked and immense interest of the scholars on authoritarianism and democratization, whereas the autocrats in the neighboring states of Belarus, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan as well as their numerous authoritarian counterparts have experienced a considerable shock and started to feel vulnerable themselves. The leaders of these regimes hastily began to examine the successes and failures of the less fortunate autocrats in order to avoid the similar fate. the Lukashenka regime started to feel particularly threatened by the “revolutionary spillover”. The uprisings succeeded in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in 2000, 2003, 2004-2005, 2005, respectively, removing local autocrats out of office. The recent scholarship has been divided over the exact explanations of the regimes’

inability to survive mass democracy protests. The first group of scholars argue that the ultimate defeat of the autocrats during the color revolutions was a product of the indecision of the regime leadership to utilize violent crackdown tactics towards protesters (McFaul 2005, 13-15).

The second group of scholars assert that the regime-specific factors played a significant role in the regime collapse. As such, the ruling political parties in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine were not as strongly institutionalized as in the more consolidated nondemocratic regimes (Way 2008). All three regimes, failing short of the major organizational and economic resources were


particularly prone to the defection of pro-regime elites and higher levels of mobilization in the opposition ranks (Way 2008, 66). In comparison, the ruling political parties in other Post- Soviet nondemocratic regimes such as Belarus were heavily institutionalized with a strong coercive apparatus and had a firm control over the economic resources (ibid, 66).

The third group of scholars argue that the international community’s efforts to promote democracy and utilization of the “electoral model of democratization” in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine had a decisive role in strengthening their civil societies (Bunce & Wolchik 2006, 12- 14). Such international political-financial support from the Western democracies, particularly the US and the EU, ensured the effective mobilization of the opposition under the march for democratic reforms and fair elections. Yet, it is also suggested that with the complete absence of domestic democracy-promotion efforts, international influence and support is of little to no value (ibid, 15). Accordingly, less developed civil societies with less experienced oppositions and less favorable attitudes towards the West are less likely to defeat the autocratic regime and achieve democratic transition (Bunce & Wolchik 2006, 16).

Among others, protest movements pose a significant challenge to the reigning autocrat.

As such, authoritarian leaders typically tend to respond in the most brutal ways to cling on to power, if they deem it necessary. Freedom of speech is restricted, emergency laws are enacted to prevent opposition groups from gatherings, protests are dispersed and the participants are persecuted and tortured in prisons. Throughout Lukashenka’s presidency, numerous attempts have been made by opposition groups to challenge his autocratic reign. The mass protests of 2006, 2011 and 2020-2021 are some of the most prominent showdowns of public discontent with his rule and demand for democratic reforms.

In March 2006, the controversial presidential election was held in Belarus. Two years prior, Lukashenka introduced amendments to the nation’s constitution removing term-limits for presidency in order to run for a third consecutive term. With Lukashenka ruling the country


with an iron first, the winner of the election appeared predetermined. Yet, Lukashenka was aware of the danger that the color revolutions in other Post-Soviet republics could pose to his regime and result in “revolution spillover”. In fact, Belarus at the time was in many senses similar to those republics. As such, the opposition and youth movements, in particular, were extremely mobilized and organized frequent rallies against the regime. Similarly, the protesters received the backing calls from the international community. Nevertheless, in just a week, as the clashes between the police and protesters took place, the Belarusian authorities managed to suppress the uprisings, detaining many prominent leaders of the protests such as Alyaksandr Kozulin (Markus 2010, 118). In this sense, while initially gaining momentum, the protests failed to turn into a full-scale revolution for several reasons. Markus (2010, 118-132) mentions five most significant factors that led to the ultimate demise of the protests. Among others, in contrast to the Post-Soviet republics where the color revolutions succeeded, the extent of political repression was much higher in Belarus. The leaders of the protest movements started to “disappear”, with credible sources testifying their murder by government death squads (ibid, 124). Similarly, the members of the NGOs and any contenders publicly speaking out in favor of the opposition movements found themselves under arrest.

Second is the obstruction of independent media’s activities. Popular independent newspapers like Narodnaya Volya, Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta were refused publishing and distribution, with their licenses being suspended. Similarly, Belapan and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty media outlets were forced to leave their offices. The Internet users’

homes were raided under the suspicion of spreading mocking cartoons about Lukashenka and several other journalists were detained (ibid. 127).

Third, despite the opposition’s attempt to establish a unified front under a single leadership, it was not as cohesive. While the opposition groups had similar objectives of Lukashenka’s resignation and free and fair elections, they were ultimately divided, as they


could not choose one candidate who would best represent their interests in the elections.

Similarly, while youth opposition groups were organized, the threat of expulsion from school was actively utilized by the authorities, which significantly reduced the number of youth members in the opposition ranks (Markus 2010, 128).

Fourth, democracy and opposition movements lacked much needed material support.

While Lukashenka controlled all the government revenues, foreign financial assistance to the opposition groups was very limited and further decreased over time. Foreign grants were channeled through NGOs and were limited to be closely working in support of media freedom and political transparency. As such, the opposition’s limited funding stood no chance against the vast resources employed by the Lukashenka regime. Similarly, whereas the foreign support would have been decisive in the survival of the mass democracy protests, domestic material support was of no less importance. As opposed to Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine and Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan, the opposition in Belarus had no domestic contributors and oligarchs in support of them, due to the poor performance of national economy. The Belarusian opposition also lacked the support of the political elite, as there were virtually no independent elite members (ibid, 130).

Last but not least, despite his low approval ratings, Lukashenka still maintained a sizeable portion of public support, particularly from the rural population and older people, who were nostalgic of the Soviet-era leadership. It was estimated that around 80% of the population was reliant on state-sponsored salary (Korosteleva 2006, 336). The members of the police force and state security apparatus were well-paid directly by the regime, as opposed to municipal treasuries in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Similarly, polls suggested that the Belarusian public disapproved of any form of violent change of the regime, and was also in support of the pro- Russian policies implemented by the Lukashenka government (Markus 2010, 132). In this sense, not enough Belarusians were mobilized to make a change in their country. It is also


believed by some scholars that the already established dominant position of Lukashenka contributed to his success (Way 2008, 57-58). Lukashenka has been in power for more than a decade and thus has had enough time to consolidate power for himself and for his ruling class.

As such, by the 2006 anti-government protests in Belarus, any opposition attempt was typically suppressed and oftentimes in the most brutal ways. The readiness of Lukashenka’s regime to such a turn of events could also be evident by his pre-emptive actions aimed at preventing the likelihood of revolutionary success of the opposition (Silitski 2005). Given the regime’s durability for more than a decade, it managed to successfully implement preemption strategies in natural settings and was able to impose a variety of institutional, societal and ideological tools and tactics to ensure its survival. As far as the institutional approach is concerned, President Lukashenka made use of extensive constitutional reforms and amendments to expand his executive and legislative powers making Belarus a “super-presidential” state (Korosteleva 2012).

The most recent protests in Belarus were significantly different from all previous mass protests, including those of 2006 and 2011, when the regime was able to easily repress the demonstrators. Out of the three largest mass protests in Belarus, the 2020-2021 protests were arguably the most challenging to Lukashenka’s autocratic rule (Buzgalin & Kulganov 2021, Mudrov 2021, Way 2020, 17). First, following the elections, that were internationally recognized as fraudulent, Lukashenka’s international legitimacy, especially his image in the eyes of the West has significantly deteriorated. Prior to the protests, he was able to bounce in between the West and Russia, particularly keeping close cultural and political ties with Russia, whereas simultaneously promising domestic democratic changes to the West. Nonetheless, as of now, his position is much worse, as with all the Western sanctions aimed at his regime and his close associates, Lukashenka has no choice but to turn back for help to Russia (Waller 2020, Tolstrup 2015, Ambrosio 2016). Second, the scope of the recent protests much overwhelmed


that of those previous opposition protests, with some sources indicating more than 200 thousand demonstrators going out to the streets. Never before had there been such a large level of political mobilization in Belarus. These protests were unique, as a lot more people turned against Lukashenka. With the availability of new mass media resources and mobile apps, particularly Telegram, the younger generation was able to better mobilize in groups (Herasimenka 2020).

In a similar vein, never before have Lukashenka’s approval ratings been as low as following his use of extremely brute force of the 2020-2021 protests (Mudrov 2021, 7-8).

Sullivan (2019, 643) suggests that when a nondemocratic government resorts to the use of brute force and outright repressive measures, such coercive actions tend to further mobilize the masses, whereby the social movements are formed from exacerbated anti-government sentiments. Drawing from the example of Kyrgyzstan’s two nondemocratic leaders Akayev and Bakiyev, Sullivan finds that the use of brute force against the participants of mass protests significantly deteriorates public perception of an autocrat, whereas those nondemocratic leaders that decide in favor of avoiding violent clashes with the protesters tend to score higher in public approval polls. In this sense, the use of brute force in Belarus aggravated the masses, who showed little signs of backing down at the initial stages of the protests. As such, Lukashenka suffered a significant political cost, losing the formerly present leverage between the EU and Russia, now being heavily dependent on the latter’s support to survive.

Ultimately, the eruption of mass protests of 2006, 2011 and 2020-2021 have demonstrated the survivability and endurance of the Belarusian democracy movement throughout the years of repression, whereas the latest 2020-2021 protests provide a clear indication of the ability of the Belarusian civil society to mobilize in huge and unprecedented numbers all under the repressive nondemocratic government of President Lukashenka.


Foreign Political-Financial Support

Democracy Promotion: The West as a major promoter of democracy

The notions of democratic diffusion and democracy promotion have been subjects to different interpretations. One of the earliest and most common interpretations describes diffusion as “the process by which institutions, practices, behaviors, or norms are transmitted between individuals and/or between social systems” (Welsh 1984, 3; Starr 1991, 359). The proponents of the democratic diffusion or the democratic domino theory have argued that the democratic transition in one country is likely to trigger and influence a similar transition in neighboring states (Starr 1991, 357; Goldring & Chestnut Greitens 2019, 320). The empirical studies by Leeson & Dean (2009, 546) and O’Loughlin et al. (2010, 545) further present strong autocorrelation between spatial and temporal aspects of democratic diffusion. Yet, the proponents still caution against accepting their findings as universal in explaining the growth and development of democracy, pushing for the study of both foreign and domestic factors of the spread of democracy.

One of the possible explanations of the growing number of democratic transitions and their further development proposed by the scholars is the concept of democracy promotion.

Describing distinct advantages of the democratic form of government, Dahl (1999) asserts that democracy plays a significant role in staving off the tyrannical reign of ruthless autocrats, while also ensuring fundamental human rights and personal liberties of ordinary citizens of the state as well as their choice of legislation and governance. McFaul (2004, 148) further suggests that the promotion of democracy has become a widely accepted norm within the contemporary international system.

Non-governmental organizations (NGO) have played an increasing role in the democracy promotion efforts of the Western states (Herrold 2015). Extensive theoretical elaborations and empirical analyses have found that the establishment of formal civil society


organizations assists successful democratic transitions through the mobilization of vast number of opposition groups and undermining the legitimacy of the autocratic ruler (Ketola 2011, 787;

de Tocqueville 2003; Diamond 1997, Putnam 1993; Bernhard 1993). Prior to democratic transitions, NGOs serve as organizational structures aimed at the mobilization of the society to present a united front against the ruler as well as to promote government accountability and the transparency of state institutions. NGOs further apply significant pressure to the ruling regime to leave authoritarian practices and pursue democratic reforms in the following stage of democratic consolidation (Putnam 2000). Moreover, as part of a broader concept of civil society, NGOs also serve the interests of ordinary citizens by bringing their social, economic and political concerns and suggestions to light as well as embracing the role of a watchdog over the state activities, keeping public records of power abuse and corruption by the state.

While the democratization theorists have insisted on the role of NGOs as the drivers of democratic transitions, the bulk of scholarship on civil society organizations suggests that NGOs within the so-called “liberalized authoritarian regimes” are adopted by local government to help their interests and hence do not possess enough capacity to implement significant political reforms and transitions as well as to mobilize and unite domestic political movements (Heydemann 2007; Carothers 2002; Albrecht 2005; Soliman 2011; Brumberg 2002).

According to Carothers (2002, 9) an increasing number of liberalizing authoritarian regimes have rather floated within a “political gray zone”, than experiencing any real political transitions. He suggests that out of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, most regimes have neither truly liberalized, nor did they transform back to their previous forms of autocracy (ibid, 13-15). Such states have been referred to as “liberalized autocracies” by Brumberg (2002, 55) due to the mix of selective government-sponsored persecution strategies, strictly managed political pluralism as well as the tightly controlled elective procedures. In liberalized autocracies, as Brumberg argues, NGOs have rather been more ponderable and


permitted to operate, with the governments’ aim of making them contribute to the regimes’

interests and proliferation of the similar regimes and practices.

The literature has derived four major pathways through which NGOs operate to rather reinforce the liberalized authoritarian regime, than present a challenge to the ruling elite’s political legitimacy. First, the presence of a variety of NGOs in the nation’s civil society sector assists the regime by creating an illusion of progress towards political liberalization and the embracement of the democratic values, thus bolstering the regime’s image in the eyes of the international observers (Albrecht 2005). Second, according to Brumberg (2002) and Lust-Okar (2004), larger NGO sector provides additional extension to the “divide and rule” strategy of the regime into larger portions of society, thus reaching far beyond the circle of close political elites and oligarchs. Within this model, a guise of competitiveness arising due to a larger number of organizations diminishes the prospects of the united front against the autocrat. Third, the presence of NGOs provides alternative avenues for opposition to get rid of pent-up concerns and worries, while also leaving regime’s power consolidation largely unaltered. Last but not least, the due presence of NGOs allows ruling regimes in liberalized autocracies to effectively regulate, control and overlook the civil society at large. As such, by state registration and passing activity reports, NGOs become actively involved in the civil society development and hence effectively embedded in the bureaucratic order of the state. This in turn offers the state a means to regulate and control most civil society activities by providing constant supervision of public mood and attitudes, and therefore diminishing the likelihood of any real challenge to the ruling regime (Wiktorowitz 2000, 43).

An increasing number of scholars have examined the role of the European Union (EU) and the United States as the major promoters of democratic values abroad as part of a broader democracy promotion concept (Bosse 2012, Lavenex and Schimmelfennig 2011; Pinder 1997;

Schimmelfennig and Scholtz 2008). There is a general agreement on the close link between the


capacity of the EU states for the promotion of democracy and the motivations it has provided to the formerly autocratic states in both the Eastern and Central European continent. Out of many states of the region, Belarus stands out as a vivid example of authoritarian resistance against democracy promotion efforts from the West. The general unwillingness of the Lukashenka regime to effectively cooperate with the EU counterparts, disunited opposition factions, poor development of transparent political institutions and unbalanced Belarusian civil society have played an extensive role in the decreasing hopes for democratization. Despite the challenges of spreading democratic values in Belarus, the European Union has taken multiple strategies of initiating democratization in the country. First, during the early years of Lukashenka’s presidency, the growing authoritarian tendencies in Belarus saw the EU largely protest against such developments through the negative conditionality and policy of isolation, namely by freezing enormous intergovernmental diplomatic and financial contacts (Bosse 2012, 373). Unwilling to prolong the rising tensions, both sides agreed to compromise, with Belarus having remained as isolated nonetheless. Second, due to the unsuccessful nature of the negative conditionality policy, the EU initiated a “step-by-step” approach. The intended objective of this policy was to gradually remove the obstacles to the long-term cooperation by working closely with the Lukashenka regime and provide a broader assistance. Despite initial hopes of democratization through normalization, the step-by-step strategy proved to be largely ineffective due to its inability to incentivize the Belarusian government to introduce democratic reforms.

In 2004, the European Union established the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), to which Belarus was admitted with the promise of free and fair elections. Although, due to the tensions around the authenticity of the following Belarusian elections, the EU-Belarus partnership stalled. To ease tensions, the EU leaders initiated a new two-tailed strategy to address the problem of democracy in Belarus (Yakouchyk 2015, 204). First, the EU utilized


the “sticks and carrots” approach, that promised extensive political-financial aid in exchange for relevant political reforms towards democratization. Second, the EU initiated vast changes in its policies regarding political and monetary help to the civil society organizations of Belarus, by allocating large funds to the pro-democracy NGOs, that played a critical role in the development of the Belarusian democracy movement under President Lukashenka.

According to Rouda (2005, 81), despite enormous pressure from the ruling regime, more than 2000 NGOs were officially registered in Belarus as of 2004, of which just over 200 were international public associations. Within that quantity, nearly 500 NGOs were also included as active members of the Assembly of Pro-Democratic Non-Governmental Organizations (APDNGO). Vanderhill (2014, 270) suggests regarding foreign NGOs, that both the United States and the European Union have implemented multiple programs of supporting civil society in Belarus, including the Belarusian democracy movement through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), US Agency for International Development (USAID). As such, NED has engaged in actively supporting the Belarusian civil society and opposition groups via NGO financing, such as the monitoring of human rights abuse in the country and the provision of training and education for anti-government activists, whereas USAID was involved in financing NGOs that overtly tasked with democracy promotion in Belarus and public services (ibid, 270).

Similar to their American counterparts, the Polish authorities have provided enormous funds towards the democracy promotion in Belarus over the past decade (Pospieszna 2010, 3).

The multiplicity of factors can explain the motives behind Poland’s inclination towards supporting democratic initiatives in Belarus. As such, due the shared border, political-cultural connections with Belarus as well as the security interests, it is one of Poland’s main political goals to provide assistance to the Belarusian democracy movement. In 2006, Poland launched the foreign aid program called “Polish aid” with two primary objectives, namely the provision


of developmental support and efforts to facilitate the build-up of strong democratic institutions in the near abroad. The Polish Ministry of Foreign affairs has thus provided an increasing amount of direct financial assistance pro-democracy NGOs operating in Belarus, most notably Freedom and Democracy Foundation (FDF), which deals with assisting the victims of governmental repression in Belarus and East European Democratic Center (EEDC), which supports media freedom and journalism without borders in the country.

In fact, overwhelming support from Western powers, particularly from the US and Poland significantly assisted the Belarusian democracy movement. Extensive funding and political legitimation allowed the movement to effectively resist the Lukashenka regime. Given the instrumental role of the linkages with the West and foreign support to the endurance of the Belarusian civil society represented by opposition and civil society, the extent to which the movement would survive without such extensive multilateral assistance is utterly dubious.

Authoritarian Promotion: Russia as a major promoter of authoritarianism An increasing number of scholars has focused on external or foreign aspects of authoritarian survival and endurance over the past decade, particularly the tools that foreign state actors otherwise known as “black knights” utilize to take advantage of asymmetric conflicts, most commonly between the government and its challengers, to promote their autocratic interests and countering democracy abroad. More specifically, the Russian Federation has been largely seen as one of the major promoters of authoritarianism, increasingly interested in diffusing autocratic ideology and practices, as well as to counter democracy promotion efforts by liberal democracies of the West (Vanderhill 2013, 6; Silitski 2010, Bader et al. 2010, Ambrosio 2009, Kuchins 2006, von Soest 2015).

The collapse of neighboring authoritarian regimes in Georgia, Ukraine and the Kyrgyz Republic as a result of Color revolutions triggered a highly negative reaction in the Kremlin,


with some of its politicians considering the revolutions as the West’s evil plot to surround the country with hostile anti-Russian puppet states and to eventually undermine the statehood and influence of Russia, or as one of their commentators suggested, “The day before yesterday:

Belgrade. Yesterday: Tbilisi. Today: Kiev. Tomorrow: Moscow (Ambrosio 2007, 237; Bader et al. 2010, 94-96). In this sense, the official Russian position with regards to color revolutions in the neighboring countries has been known as the “orange virus” or the “orange plague”

(Ambrosio 2007, 237-238). Such a wordplay and statewide anti-revolution framing has allowed Russia to link the foundational interests of the ruling regime with the strategic interests of the state and to officially take all necessary measures both domestic and foreign to stave off any such regime change in the country.

Various authors argue that Russia’s growing authoritarian tendencies under President Vladimir Putin, along with its vast capabilities and motives to actively influence political systems near its borders, enables it to promote authoritarian values with little to no obstacles, particularly to the neighboring states. As such, Ambrosio (2007, 232) provides three major pathways that the Russian government utilizes to ensure authoritarian resistance and to counter democratic diffusion, namely insulation, bolstering and subversion. First, he argues that domestically Moscow strictly opposed the activities of all foreign sponsored non-governmental organizations (NGOs), attributing to them the primary role in the orchestration of color revolutions (ibid, 238). By adopting anti-NGO legislation and rejecting foreign models of democratic understanding on the highest state level, the Russian government severely limited the capabilities of foreign organizations to operate within the country, thus protecting the strategic interests of the ruling authoritarian regime, while pretending to account for the national security concerns.

Second, the fears of the “domino effect” of the democratic diffusion, have led Moscow to re-assess its policies on how to stave off foreign influence near its borders. As such, one of


the key attributes of the Russian attempts to counter the spread of democracy is the Kremlin’s active support to similarly minded autocratic regimes in the near abroad. With the fall of autocrats in Georgia and Ukraine, Belarus has become Russia’s only authoritarian ally along its European borders and serves as a major buffer zone between itself and NATO/EU (Zulys 2010, 164). Consequently, Russia has provided extensive support to the Lukashenka government in various forms, most often in the form of direct financial aid and political legitimation of the regime on the international arena (Ambrosio 2007, 241; von Soest 2015, 631). Despite fierce Western criticism of the ruling regime in Belarus for human rights violations and power abuse, Moscow has not backed down its overt diplomatic cover to Lukashenka, preventing Minsk from severe isolation. Over the years, President Vladimir Putin has held regular meetings with Lukashenka and has bestowed his Belarusian counterpart with much needed political legitimacy. For instance, following the Belarusian parliamentary elections of 2000 and presidential elections of 2001, Putin awarded Lukashenka with “For Merit to the Fatherland”, one of the highest Russian state orders, showing his overt political support to the Lukashenka regime and passing his congratulations to Lukashenka in what he called was a “convincing victory”, despite universal dismay of the European observers, who believed the elections to be fraudulent. Similarly, in 2005, following the meeting of Condoleezza Rice, then-US Secretary of State, with the prominent leaders of the Belarusian democracy movement with the aim of convincing them to join their efforts in countering the ruling Belarusian regime, Lukashenka was invited to meet with Putin in an attempt of displaying his utmost support in public. More recently, the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections were declared flawed by the US and the EU, Russia among a few states who recognized Lukashenka as a winner and a legitimate leader of Belarus. As such, Russian diplomatic support to the Belarusian regime has been largely consistent since Lukashenka’s earliest power consolidation efforts and throughout his presidency. According to Zulys (2010,


164), Vieira (2017, 45) and Ambrosio (2007, 242) such an extensive support to the Lukashenka regime can be particularly linked to a close strategic cooperation in the form of the “Union State” between Russia and Belarus based on the idea of the united confederation with integrated political and economic systems, which has become quite popular in both Russia and Belarus. The added popularity of Putin’s personality in Belarus along with his willingness to cooperate with the Belarusian leader emphasizes the importance of the Lukashenka regime to Russian strategic interests and authoritarian promotion efforts.

Third, Ambrosio (2007, 245) argues that within the authoritarian diffusion theory, if the democratic transition near its borders succeeds, an authoritarian regime automatically views it as a symbolic threat that instills the fear of a likely regime change within itself. The threat of regime change was not the only concern of Moscow near its borders. As such, in the Kremlin’s views, the successful 2004 and 2014 democratic revolutions in Ukraine serve as some of the most outstanding symbols of the Russian foreign policy failure and a reminder of the Soviet collapse under heavy domestic and foreign pressures, or as put by President Putin, “the single greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” (ibid, 245).

As a consequence of the Orange and Euromaidan revolutions, the relationship between Russia and Ukraine stagnated and experienced further decline. Prior to the 2004 revolution, then-Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had been growing largely authoritarian, consolidating his power in the state institutions and pushing his country closer to Russia. Yet despite not being restricted by the term limits set by the Ukrainian constitution and the Constitutional Court’s ruling allowing Kuchma to seek the presidency once more, Kuchma decided in favor of leaving the office, forcing the Kremlin to look for alternatives to endorse and finally stopping at Viktor Yanukovych, Kuchma’s political and ideological successor.

Russia has invested huge financial resources and sought to provide substantial political- diplomatic support to the pro-Russian Yanukovych campaign (Kuzio 2005, 495), while also


attempting to undermine the opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who was seen as largely pro-Western, being endorsed by both the US and EU. Following the defeat of Yanukovych at the onset of Orange Revolution, Moscow sought to delegitimize the uprising, with some Russian politicians publicly condemning it as unconstitutional and undemocratic (Saari 2014, 57). For instance, in 2005, Putin’s United Russia party, that dominates the Russian political system, established direct cooperation through formal treaties with Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, bolstering the latter’s position among his Eastern-Ukrainian support base.

Furthermore, the same year Moscow took steps to economically diminish the political prospects of Viktor Yushchenko, by refusing to provide natural gas supplies to Ukraine at a discounted price, thus forcing Kyiv to pay five times more than before, causing a massive diplomatic crisis. While the conflict was eventually resolved through negotiations with the intercession of the EU, the largest consumer of Russian natural gas, the incident illustrates the readiness of the Kremlin to use the extreme economic and diplomatic leverages to assert its influence and values in the neighboring states.

Russia’s subversion attempts aimed at securing victory for Yanukovych and undermining Yushchenko’s candidacy have not been seen entirely legal and fair, however. As such, when Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin nervous agent, the growing evidence pointed to the idea that the Russian government and the Kuchma administration were behind the attack (Karatnycky 2005, 37; Kuzio 2005, 498). As a consequence, Yushchenko was not able to campaign for at least a month, due to the severe illness and scars caused by the poisoning.

Likewise, the television, common Internet space, and other networks have further assisted Russia in facilitating the diffusion and promotion of authoritarian ideas and practices (Vanderhill 2012, 5; Silitski 2006, 5-7). The concept of “linkage and leverage” proposed by Way and Levitsky (2007, 51) closely correlates with networks’ extreme ability to spread


authoritarianism, suggesting that the pathways of autocratic diffusion can be explained via the proximity of political-organizational, socio-economic, cultural, economic and communication links. Not only direct political-financial aid, but the international and intergovernmental organizations have been widely used by authoritarian regimes to spread their values and policies. According to Aris (2008) and Ambrosio (2008), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which Russia is a permanent member and one of the largest contributors, serves as one of the key instruments in Russia’s authoritarian diffusion attempts to the member states from Central Asia. Similarly, the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan was instrumental in providing with the Kremlin with further economic and diplomatic tools to exert influence over the neighboring regimes (Vieira 2016, 47-48). The membership in such organizations facilitates the trade and economic cooperation between authoritarian regimes as part of a broader autocratic survival strategy (Tansey et al. 2016, 4-8).

Not all scholars, however, agree with the decisive role of the Russian authoritarian promotion efforts. Way (2015, 691) argues that despite Russian support for authoritarianism in neighboring countries, its efforts have been largely restricted due to the fainted democratic premises in the former Soviet republics. He suggests that while the aggressive authoritarian policies of great powers such as Russia and China have increased over the past decade, the democratization process is far-forth from being threatened by autocracy promotion. Similarly, Gilley (2003, 21-23) posits that authoritarian states may have restrictions in achieving successful domestic institutionalization that may limit their capabilities to exert influence and promote their values abroad. Levitsky and Way (2010, 35) argue that when the authoritarian government abuses power within domestic settings and abroad, it triggers the negative reaction from the Western democracies, limiting the scope of the effects of the authoritarian promotion.


Consequently, despite the variation of opinions in the extent of the effects of authoritarian promotion in countering democratic values, the vast majority of scholarship tends to appropriate an increasing role to the Russian efforts of spreading authoritarian concepts and practices to the neighboring regimes.

Strategies of democratic resistance

Extensive foreign support to the nondemocratic regime and repressive measures implemented by the ruling autocrat may force pro-democracy and opposition factions to search for the ways of effective resistance. The case of the Belarusian democracy movement is no exception. Throughout the years the Belarusian democracy movement represented by the opposition factions and civil society members has managed to survive and resist passive- aggressive forms of state repression. Belarusian civil society has become highly politicized due to both the expulsion of anti-government factions from the political arena and by the improved realization by NGOs of constant readiness to withstand governmental sanctions under the repressive autocratic regime of President Lukashenka Rouda (2005, 83). Years of violent repression have led to the strategy changes by the opposition and protesters.

There have been several avenues of strategy shifts by the Belarusian democracy movement. First, in 2011, when the first public demonstrations erupted in Minsk’s central square known as “ploshcha”, the protesters resorted to the tactic that the previous protests of 2006 in Belarus had not seen – coined by Navumau (2019, 288) as “Silent Actions” strategy.

This strategy is characterized by the use of calculated silence and by the absence of active political slogans. The majority of Silent Actions participants did not seek any radical changes such as the overthrow of President Lukashenka or other dramatic socio-political procedures, as opposed to the leaders of the Belarusian opposition parties. As such, unlike the 2006 protests, the silent actions demonstrators opted for small-scale tactics, while also pursuing the concept


of “informed citizenry” and dismissing the consensual nature of the Belarusian politics, normally supported by the opposition factions (ibid, 288-292).

Second, despite initial failures to achieve the higher participation of the population in the anti-government protests, the Belarusian democracy movement utilized the “snowball effect” strategy to fill the streets. For instance, the 2011 protests saw a very limited number of demonstrators over the first few days, whereas upon assigning pre-arranged times of weekly and semi-weekly “solidarity” protests in support of the democracy movement, have helped to acquire much needed numbers. Despite the attempts to mobilize more people, however, the protests did not achieve their initial political goals. Such a refusal to actively participate in protests by the majority of general population could also be explained by the repressive nature of the Lukashenka regime. Instead, not many people were ready to openly shout anti- government slogans, still remembering the notorious violence initiated by President Lukashenka’s security apparatus just five years earlier during the 2006 protests (de Vogel 2022, 13). In contrast, the 2020-2021 protests saw many participants adjusting the time and location of gatherings differently for each day of protests, with the aim of deceiving the authorities about the frequency and physical sites for the protests.

Third, the use of social media apps has revolutionized the nature and structure of protests. Telegram Messenger created by Pavel Durov, a Russian born Kittitian-French program developer, was instrumental in providing the population with access to the information about protests (Wijermars & Lokot 2022, 126; Robertson 2022, 147). Members of the democracy movement and protests leaders have managed to ensure proper communication via Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and proxy servers in Telegram, despite the government’s attempts to block the Internet, social media channels were also utilized to deceive the security forces by spreading false locations for gatherings and demonstrations. All the scrutiny and delay in the arrival of the security forces to the actual protest location, provided the protest


leaders with time advantage, i.e. to voice their anti-government demands at the absence of security officers.

Chapter 3. Theory and Hypotheses

The contemporary political order of the world as a heterogeneous structure brings up a multiplicity of issues to address. Just as much nations and their cultures differ, there are underlying distinctions between various political systems present in the world. As such, while the distinction between democratic forms of government and nondemocratic regimes appears to be quite obvious at the first glance, more categorical variations rise up to the surface. This chapter first conceptualizes a hard-authoritarian regime in the context of the Lukashenka’s rule in Belarus and then proposes a theoretical framework suggesting that extensive foreign political-financial support assists the endurance of both sides of the asymmetric conflict, namely the ruling autocrat and a pro-democracy movement.

Conceptualization of a Hard-Authoritarian Regime

Distinguishing what states can be classified as nondemocratic regimes is often more difficult due to the intertwined categories of classification and debates. However, one would not be wrong to suggest that nondemocratic regimes tend to vary in the degree of freedom it allows for its citizens and institutions, the strategies and tactics they use in keeping their respective publics under control, media censorship and the use of brutal force (Schatz and Matlseva 2012).

Winkler (1984, 482) defines hard authoritarian regime as a “technocratic rule under one-man dictatorship”, which utilizes tightly controlled electoral process to coopt local elites and unite them under the umbrella of overall obedience to the regime. Hard authoritarian government vastly relies on brute force and security apparatus to secure the existing political


system. Under this form of government, any political dissent expressed in public is highly discouraged and often persecuted. Additionally, the ruler frequently demotes anyone who have shown slight signs of disobedience or start to gain popularity among the elites and a populace (ibid, 485). The flow chart (Figure 1) below shows three major pillars of hard authoritarian rule:

Figure 1: Three pillars of Hard-Authoritarian Rule

In contrast, soft authoritarian tactics are based upon means of persuasion, such as control of the flow of information and active propaganda. According to Schatz (2009, 206), a successful soft authoritarian tool kit consists of five core mechanisms:

1. possession of a committed support base;

2. soft autocrat is capable of mobilizing additional groups via material gain and blackmail;

3. occasional harassment of opposition with limited levels of coercion;

4. soft autocrat is able to maintain effective control over the flow of information;

5. discursive preemption.

As such, the capability of an authoritarian leader to gain loyal support groups from amongst the general population, while also maintaining tight control over the exchange of information and keeping opposition suppressed firmly establishes the ruler as a soft autocrat.

Nevertheless, often soft autocrats start to transition to hard authoritarian rule as the opposition against their rule starts to grow. Hard autocrats tend to utilize identical tools,

Hard-Authoritarian Toolkit

Repression via Brute Force


Frequent Demotion for disloyalty and



although increased proportions. As such, the case of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus, demonstrates such a shift from persuasion to coercion. Lukashenka was popular in mid-to-late 1990s and was widely characterized as a symbol of democratic change (McMahon 1997). He managed to successfully mobilize his support base, that in turn served his interests in crediting him with initial economic success and socio-political stability, maintaining balance between Russia and the West. Furthermore, President Lukashenka showed readiness to promise material gains to his closest subordinates, political elites and security officials throughout his presidency. Such financial incentives and state posts appointments have served a good purpose of keeping his elites and security apparatus loyal to him during three major protests of 2006, 2011 and 2020-2021. He also vastly used blackmail technique to get the support of those who were hesitant and pull opposing voices away. On top of that, the Lukashenka regime was able to achieve a certain level of persuasion via the harassment and intimidation of opposition members, often providing jailtimes for political opponents and rationed degree of coercive force in his initial years as President and early 2000s. Finally, Lukashenka has successfully run the media in Belarus and had an operational control of the narrative that the public was supposed to receive and follow. The regime’s propaganda machine ensured the government-approved messaged to delivered to the masses and was successful in preventing the masses from mobilizing in 2006 and 2011 protests.

Over the years, Lukashenka’s policies started to become harsher in terms of coercion and brute force. The scale of violence has become most clear following the latest 2020-2021 mass anti-government protests, with Lukashenka ordering his security apparatus to shoot at protesters to disperse the masses. The recent protests have been reportedly the deadliest in terms of human casualties in the history of the contemporary Belarus, with hundreds of people reportedly being tortured in Belarusian jails.


With more opposition to his rule, and fearing being overthrown, Lukashenka shifted to brute force and demonstrated that his unwillingness to step down as the head of state, despite losing significant portions of his domestic support base. Feeling the danger of being overrun by the masses, the ruling Belarusian regime sought to appeal to the increased Russian political, economic and security aid in times of mass protests. Multiple studies have highlighted the significance of foreign aid and intervention in both peaceful and violent settings, such as civil wars and humanitarian crisis (Stewart 2009, Sullivan 2019). As such, Lukashenka’s good ties with the Kremlin and uninterrupted political-financial support have served as one of the core reasons of the regime’s survival (Hall 2017). On the other hand, the increased political- financial support, speaking platform and political harbor provided to the Belarusian opposition leaders by the Western powers (Ash 2015), has contributed to the prolonged endurance and complexity of mass protests as much as the increased domestic efforts for democracy promotion during the latest protests. Furthermore, the widespread use of social media platforms and availability of information on the outskirts of the Internet, mobilized the youth members of society to take part in anti-government rallies – a very rare occurrence in previous protests.

Foreign support as a determining factor

Foreign support can provide substantial assistance to both sides in the asymmetric conflict


Figure 1: Three pillars of Hard-Authoritarian Rule
Figure 2. Proposed explanations of President Lukashenka's survival and endurance
Table 1. Opinion poll on factors contributing to Lukashenka’s rule (N=13)  Codes  Russian
Figure 3. Proposed explanations of the Belarusian democracy movement’s resilience

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