June 30, 2022

Who is Alexander Lukashenko, the president who has been locking power in Belarus for 27 years?

He is continuing his showdown with the European Union. Alexandre Loukachenko, the indestructible president at the head of Belarus for twenty-seven years, is accused by Brussels of organizing a migration crisis on the border with Poland. The Europeans, who do not recognize his re-election in 2020, see this strategy as an attempt to force them to resume relations with Minsk. “Today, several leaders say they are shocked by these dictatorial practices. But the opposition has been repeating for thirty years that Alexander Lukashenko is a man sick of power”, regrets Alice Syrakvash, Belarusian exiled in France for more than fifteen years.

>> REPORT. On the edge of Europe, migrants trapped in “hybrid war” between Belarus and Poland

Born in the north of the country of a farm mother and an unknown father, Alexander Lukashenko first made a career in agriculture, running state farms, recalls Release. Elected deputy in 1990, he “part of those who take a dim view of the disappearance of the USSR”, explains to franceinfo Alexandra Goujon, lecturer at the University of Burgundy. It is however in “discrediting the Communists who remained in power” that he campaigned for the presidential election in 1994. While the former Soviet bloc was in the midst of a transition to capitalism, he “denounces the corruption and personal enrichment of the political elites in place since the country’s independence”, continues the political scientist.

“During the campaign, he appears as a simple man, who speaks like the people of the countryside and comes forward to maintain stability.”

Andreï Vaitovich, journalist

to franceinfo

At that time, Alexander Lukashenko was “really popular”, notes Andreï Vaitovich, journalist and Franco-Belarusian director (he prefers this name to the term “Belarusian”, preferred in France). “In my family, as in many others, they say that we really voted for him only once, in 1994.” The year that sees the former Communist elected President of Belarus at just 40 years old, and with more than 80% of the vote.

Once in power, Alexander Lukashenko manages not to leave him. In 1996, he obtained the extension of his mandate by referendum, dissolved Parliament and made sure that the opposition no longer sat there. “There is so much fraud that we can say that the deputies are appointed, and not elected”, protests Andreï Vaitovich. The independent media are gagged. Opponents of “Batka” (“father”, in Belarusian) are muzzled, denied access to the media or faint. “Three politicians and a journalist are ‘missing’ since the late 1990s “, recalls the journalist, for whom there is no doubt that they were murdered.

“Since 1996, the opposition no longer exists in any institution in Belarus, including at the local level.”

Alexandra Goujon, political scientist

to franceinfo

A new referendum in the early 2000s removed any limit to the number of presidential terms. In any case, Alexander Lukashenko is systematically re-elected with more than 80% of the votes, ballot after ballot. “In 2001, I was an observer at a polling station in Minsk and I witnessed fraud. I reported it to my superior, who managed to bring the case to court. This is how I was stuck by the regime “, recalls Alice Syrakvash, who moved to France shortly after, “for fear of ending up in prison”.

In a country where independent polls are banned, accusations of fraud do not worry Alexander Lukashenko. In 2006, he even readily admits that the election results are falsified, recalls Le Figaro : “I gave orders that the score was not 93%, but around 80%. Because more than 90%, it does not go psychologically. “

At the same time, the repression of the opposition is systematic. When a protest movement tried to protest against the established order, in 2010, it was violently suppressed. “For twenty-five years, political parties have been banned from participating in elections and candidates have been imprisoned, to avoid any alternation at the head of the country, decrypts Alexandra Goujon. Even within the regime, Alexander Lukashenko prevents any other political figure from emerging. We are in an extreme personalization of power, with state media that only talk about it. “

Faced with fraud and repeated attacks on the rule of law, the West is taking sanctions against Minsk, which is gradually finding itself isolated on the international scene. And Alexander Lukashenko is described as “last dictator in Europe” by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, in 2005. “There are other authoritarian regimes in Europe, like Russia or Turkey, shade Alexandra Goujon. But unlike these countries, Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, which deprives its citizens of bringing appeals to the European Court of Human Rights. It also does not have a moratorium on the death penalty. “

For Andreï Vaitovich, the values ​​of Alexander Lukashenko are “unlike those of the West”. The journalist assures that the Belarusian president has no other political program than his retention in power. “As such, a rapprochement with the European Union – which would imply respect for the democratic process and free elections – would endanger it”, abounds Alexandra Goujon. This is what explains the privileged relationship between Minsk and Moscow. “Today, Alexander Lukashenko is considered an illegitimate head of state by Brussels, stresses Andreï Vaitovich. He is therefore obliged to turn to the East. And the East is Vladimir Putin. “

“A little paranoid”, the Belarusian president is nevertheless wary of Moscow, points out Alexandra Goujon. “Russia is much more powerful. But he refuses to be completely under the thumb of his neighbor, because he needs to keep control over his country.”

This control appears to be on the verge of crumbling during the presidential election of August 2020, during which “Alexander Lukashenko makes a mistake”, according to the political scientist. It authorizes the candidacy of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former teacher and stay-at-home mom who stands in the place of her imprisoned husband. “He thought that a woman could not mobilize the voters”, continues Alexandra Goujon. Serious miscalculation. “Many identified with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya because she defended a simple cause: the freedom of a loved one, which closely depended on a return to democracy”, says Alice Syrakvash.

The opposition candidate promises new elections and, “In a country deprived of a plurality of opinions for twenty-seven years already, this easily brings together supporters of all political stripes”, notes the Belarusian living in Paris. But Alexander Lukashenko (whom some opponents now call “the cockroach”) does not change tactics: “He resorts to electoral fraud and announces his victory with, once again, 80% of the votes”, summarizes Alexandra Goujon. This time, the protest does not only affect the elites and the cities. The movement, massive, spreads throughout the country. Repression also.

Police beat a protester during a rally denouncing the results of the presidential election in Belarus on September 23, 2021, in Minsk. (MIKHAIL VOSKRESENSKIY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

“We would have thought we were in a country at war”, testifies Andreï Vaitovich, who covered the events. The anti-Lukashenko demonstrations are dispersed with violence. For three days, at the beginning of August 2020, the internet was cut, depriving the population of information and means of communication. “Thousands of people were looking for their loved ones, unaware that they had been arrested. When these demonstrators were released, it was discovered, from their bruises and injuries, that they had been tortured.”

“In 2020, Alexander Lukashenko crossed a new red line. He no longer hides his violence or his cynicism.”

Andreï Vaitovich, journalist

to franceinfo

Opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is forced into exile, like tens of thousands of other Belarusians, “doctors, students, workers who took part in strikes …” For those who remain, “everyday life is made up of fear, the fear of being denounced or arrested just for having consulted an opposition site”, deplores Alice Syrakvash.

Even Belarusians in exile fear reprisals. In May 2021, Minsk rerouted an airliner to arrest an opponent of the regime, Roman Protassevich. Brussels responds with new sanctions. According to Westerners, the autocrat took revenge for these latest measures by organizing since summer one influx of migrants at the gates of the EU. “Alexander Lukashenko’s strategy is to divide in order to rule better: to divide its population or, in this crisis, to divide Europeans on the answer to be provided, confirme Andreï Vaitovich. For a year, he has shown that human life has no value in his eyes, whether they are migrants or Belarusians. The only thing that interests him is power. “