The Faustian Bargain by Susan Corke & David Kramer of Freedom House – for New Eastern Europe.
After nearly two decades in power, authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko brought Belarus to the brink of economic ruin in 2011 with a collapsing currency, severe shortages, soaring inflation, and dwindling hard currency reserves. Lukashenko’s gross economic mismanagement, combined with his ongoing political crackdown, caused his support among Belarusians to drop to an all-time low last September, down to nearly 20 per cent according to a poll conducted by Oleg Manaev from the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies.
It all started going badly wrong for Lukashenko with the December 2010 presidential election, which was widely condemned for fraud and vote-rigging, and then the brutal assault on protesters. Up to that point, Lukashenko had been able to get away with limiting political freedoms in exchange for providing economic stability in the country. But as the value of the Belarusian rouble plummeted, store shelves became empty and real wages declined against the rising prices of consumer staples, with the population last year beginning to blame the government and Lukashenko personally. As 2011 drew to a close, many observers, including these two authors, began to think that Lukashenko faced his gravest crisis to date and that his days as “the last dictator in Europe” might be numbered. As history has shown us in other places, however, it may take longer than expected to unseat a determined dictator. Russia offered a devil’s bargain to Lukashenko that he could not refuse if he wanted to remain in power.
To read the full article please see: https://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/299
This text originally appears in New Eastern Europe No 2 (III) / 2012, available now for purchase.