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DAYLIGHT IN BELARUS?

On a mid-July day, there are 16 hours and 45 minutes of daylight in Minsk, but that doesn’t mean the sun is shining on freedom lovers in Belarus.

 

Despot Alexander Lukashenko rose to power in 1994 and has ruled Belarus with an increasingly authoritarian hand since.  He’s a young dictator at the age of 60, quite the antithesis of the stereotypical aging curmudgeon.  He dreams of unification with Russia as a strategic political goal, alongside his authoritarian tactics of silencing his political opposition, detaining journalists and curtailing internet freedom.

 

Perhaps Lukashenko is dreaming of his dacha on the Black Sea.  After almost two decades of ineffective rule, his goal of unification with Russia isn’t working out the way he planned, and his endeavors to attract investment, including from former Soviet states, likely is stymied by the fact that Belarus remains one of the most repressed economies in the world, according to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, where Belarus ranks 154th out of 161 on the list of free economies. According to Freedom House, Belarus also has the distinction of being one of the worst offenders of press freedoms and is ranked as one of the seventeen least-free countries in the world.

 

Belarus is commonly referred to as “Europe’s last dictatorship.”  Although in 2010, opposition candidates were permitted to challenge the dictator, many of them ended up in jail.  The 2012 legislative “elections,” resulting in no opposition members of parliament, provided another excuse to crack down on dissenting voices, as if total control of the parliament wasn’t enough for Lukashenko.  Particularly onerous is that opposition leaders, notably young voices, still languish in prison.

 

From the outside, Belarus seems to provide a dismal model in the march for freedom.  Given the typical lifespan of authoritarians around the globe, it seems likely that Lukashenko will be around for a while.

 

But don’t despair.  Youth provide hope in this dismal analysis.  Young people are the entrepreneurs, internet users, and dreamers.  On a recent trip to Illinois, one Belarusian teenager said, “I’d like to live here and stay here.”  Economic and political freedoms, surely, are part of that desire. We recall the crimes committed against Belarusian youth by the Lukashenka regime and know that the last dictator in Europe will not be able to stifle indefinitely the energy and creativity of the young.

 

Between now and the beginning of 2014, daylight hours in Minsk drop by almost 10 hours, to 7 hours and 28 minutes of daylight.  But even during those dark days, Belarusian youth offer a glimmer of light for those seeking freedom in Belarus.

 

M.C. Andrews is a special contributor to the Freedom Square blog. M.C. is the senior advisor for communications, management and international affairs for Vianovo L.P.  Andrews was Special Assistant to the President for Global Communications (2003-2005) and Democracy Director on the National Security Council staff (2001-2003).