WTF Is Happening In Belarus? Well, It's VERY TRUMPY.
Belarus had a big election Sunday. Or should we say "election," because Belarus, which some call Europe's last dictatorship — at least until Trump/Putin buddy Viktor Orban finishes destroying Hungary — does not have real elections. The same guy, a rightwing authoritarian populist named Alexander Lukashenko, has been president since 1994, and he doesn't plan to stop being that now. So, like authoritarian dictators do, he rigged the election.
A Loathed Authoritarian President Who Fucked Up His Country's Coronavirus Response And Is Very Thin-Skinned? TELL US MORE!
At this point, it's pretty clear that your average man-on-the-street in Belarus hates Lukashenko, kind of like how everybody in America hates Donald Trump. The gabillions of Belarusians protesting in the streets lately are visual evidence of that.
Vox has a couple other World Almanac-type facts about the political situation in Belarus:
A government-backed poll from April found only a third of Belarusians trusted him — one of the lowest ratings of his rule. While good polling is hard to come by in Belarus, that one made sense: The dictator both minimized and mishandled his nation's coronavirus outbreak, oversaw a collapsing economy, and struggled to keep an encroaching Russia at bay.
With such dismal approval ratings, most experts believe Lukashenko would've lost a free and fair vote. Which is why Lukashenko did everything in his power to make sure Sunday's election was anything but free and fair.
Solid support of a whole third of the country? Total fuckup on coronavirus and the economy? Letting Russia run roughshod? These authoritarians do seem to have certain things in common. Another poll put his popular support more like three percent, which the Washington Post reports turned into some JOKES in Belarus about old "Sasha 3%." Lukashenko did not like those jokes. He sounds pretty thin-skinned, like some people we know.
Interesting sidenote on the Russia thing. The Times reported in June that Lukashenko and Russia are having a fight right now, which was partially Lukashenko's response to everybody hating his ass at home. What's interesting about that is that in the past, his response would have been to lean more in to Russia and blame Western powers, but these days people don't like Russia as much as they used to in that part of the world for some reason. So Lukashenko's response has been to blame the Russians. (Indeed, some of the "charges" he's brought against oppo candidates have centered on their alleged Russian ties, and he's arrested Russians, accusing them of being "mercenaries" there to fuck with their obviously free and fair election. More on that in a sec.)
The Times continues:
Belarus diplomats, [Artyom Shraibman, founder of a Minsk consulting firm] said, have started telling their European counterparts not to view the arrest of Mr. Lukashenko's political opponents as an attack on the democratic process, but as a necessary response to Russian interference.
The argument has had few takers.
Huh. Well whatever's convenient, Sasha 3%!
(To be clear there seem to be other reasons the Russia-Belarus lovefest is not going very well these days. Vladimir Putin is a really shitty neighbor.)
More on Lukashenko's handling of the coronavirus, which sounds eerily familiar:
He ridiculed the coronavirus pandemic as "psychosis" and eschewed a lockdown, even as doctors struggled to fight the virus without adequate protective equipment. Lukashenko said that drinking vodka, taking a sauna or working in the fields driving tractors would protect against covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus — although he later tried to disavow the comments.
Despite those assurances, people are super-pissed, because Belarus has had over 69,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, almost 600 have died, and can you imagine living in a country where the leader fucks it up so bad that you have over 69,000 cases of coronavirus and 600 deaths hahahahahaha kill us now.
The Greatest Rigged Election In History!
With his popularity tanking and the fake election looming, Lukashenko put his opponents in jail (LOCK THEM UP!), banned them from running, or forced them to get the hell out of the country; rounded up "hundreds" of journalists and activists; sent in the troops against protesters in the run-up to the fake election; and treated the woman who became his main rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom, as a curiosity, like awwww, a lady is running, awwww.
As the Washington Post explains, Tikhanovskaya became the main candidate because Lukashenko had her husband Sergey Tikhanovsky arrested on fake charges after he declared his intention to be a candidate. People loved her, even though she literally said she didn't even want to be president, and would rather be "frying cutlets" at home for her kiddos, according to the BBC. [That is more like "especially because" not "even though," ask Rebecca Traister who's PISSED. — Editrix] Two women led her movement with her: Veronika Tsepkalo, wife of Valery Tsepkalo, one of the candidates who had to flee Belarus, and Maria Kolesnikova, who served as campaign manager for candidate Viktor Babaryko, who was banned from running.
"I don't need power, but my husband is behind bars," Tikhanovskaya told a large Minsk crowd in July. "I'm tired of putting up with it. I'm tired of being silent. I'm tired of being afraid."
Sisters did it for them-damn-selves. Unfortunately Lukashenko was in charge of counting the ballots.
Lukashenko "won" his rigged election with 80 percent of the vote, just like Vladimir Putin "wins" elections with 80 percent of the vote. Vox notes that, according to some exit polling, actually it was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who got about 80 percent of the vote.
On Sunday, fake election day, Lukashenko said he did not either attack innocent Belarusian protesters in the run-up to the election:
"They aren't even worth repressing," he said of his opponents. "To be honest, we have been soft so far. I can tell you honestly, we have always restrained the law enforcement."
God, he sounds familiar. So weird how they all say, "I can tell you honestly" or things along those lines.
The New York Times reports that after the fake election, the government cut off the internet in Minsk and the troops moved in again.
Tension escalated sharply Sunday evening after a police truck rammed into a crowd of protesters blocking a major avenue in the center of the capital, injuring several people. The protesters had barricaded the avenue with metal dumpsters but were eventually dispersed by squads of riot police officers.
The downtown area vibrated with the din of stun grenades as security forces, backed by water cannons, moved in to break up crowds of opposition supporters who gathered throughout the evening in locations across the city.
Bill Barr was probably taking notes.
More from Vox on the protests:
Demonstrators have been met with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets shot by regime forces, even though observers on the scene have yet to report one instance of violence by anti-Lukashenko protesters.
Maybe there's a church nearby and Lukashenko can go hold a Bible upside down in front of it. That'll show 'em.
Tikhanovskaya had to go into hiding before the fake election even happened, after Lukashenko's henchmen detained "at least eight members of her campaign staff," per the Times. (She had already sent the kids away.) After the election, she had to flee to Lithuania. Before she showed up there, she was simply missing, except for the part where it sure looks like the Lukashenko government forced her to make a hostage video accepting the results of the election, and telling the protesters to go home.
All Of This Sounds So Very Familiar!
What's different about this Belarusian fake election — we mentioned Lukashenko has been president since 1994 — is that this is the first time Lukashenko's power has really been threatened like this, the first time people have been this pissed. The Times explains that in past fake elections, the stormtroopers don't come in until after the election, to stomp down people unhappy about yet another fake election. Starting the crackdown before the fake election? Sounds like he was scared.
The Trump administration has sort of pretended to throw its support behind the reformers, after having named an ambassador to Belarus for the first time in forever. Since there's no reason to believe Trump actually supports movements for democratic reform around the world, we will just give him the opposite of the benefit of the doubt and assume it is because Putin is pissed at Belarus and maybe wants to invade and steal part of it like he did to Ukraine.
Rachel Maddow began her show Monday night with a report on the happenings in Belarus, noting that authoritarians don't tend to "lose" elections once they have power, but rather "use the power of the government to hold onto control." She described how Trump has used Attorney General Bill Barr to bend the election to his will, as Barr has destroyed the rule of law to protect Trump's crime-cronies; attacked innocent Americans in the streets; and promised to release the results of his clownfuck investigation into imaginary Obama administration "crimes" against Trump before the election. (You know, the election where we decide whether Obama's vice president Joe Biden should replace Trump.)
Trump is even trying to use the damn post office to rig the election, for God's sake.
Trump Wielding Presidency Like An Autocrat: To Preserve His Power | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC www.youtube.com
Trump doesn't quite have entrenched power in America like Lukashenko does in Belarus. We still have a chance to fix this in 83 days.
It may be our last chance.
Follow Evan Hurst on Twitter RIGHT HERE, DO IT RIGHT HERE!
Wonkette is fully funded by readers like YOU. If you love Wonkette, WE NEED YOUR LOVE GIFTS TO KEEP US GOING.