Teddies for Democracy

In 20 years or so Kolja Lukashenko might succeed his father in leading one of the greatest countries in the world. At least, that is his father’s plan. Little Kolja seems to like the idea, too. He has an abnormally big ego for a seven year old. Unfortunately, Belarus is not that great of a country to live in. 41.5 % of its population state that they would instantly leave, if they were allowed. 

Why so? Despot Alexander Lukashenko has been reigning the landlocked state ever since 1994.  While other ex-Soviet states were moving forward and democratising, Belarus remained under authoritarian rule. The repression of human rights of the Soviet years continued. Soviet style policies stayed in place.

In 1996 the EU started to sanction Lukashenko’s oppressive regime. As the recent parliamentary election in September has manifested, any political opposition is completely disabled. Not a single opponent of Lukashenko currently holds a seat in parliament. Activists or critical journalists, be they foreign or domestic, have to fear the iron fist of the state. A Moscow-style protest wave demanding free speech and democracy would not be possible in Belarus.  EU sanctions therefore continue. Significant improvements seem unlikely.

A recent episode in the EU-Belarusian relationship has been the initiative of a Swedish PR group. On 4th July this year, the latter dropped hundreds of teddy bears from a plane, each of the holding a sign with pro-democracy messages. As amusing as the stunt appeared at first sight, it has caused severe damage.  The Swedish ambassador has been expelled. The Belarusian counterpart to Sweden was withdrawn. Lukashenko also decided to sack his responsible generals for not preventing the “outrageous” incident. On the contrary, the initiative has been met with wide support from Brussels. New EU sanctions might follow this month.

Given Lukashenko’s fear of granting freedom in Belarus, the country might not be moving towards the EU for a long time. However, Lukashenko cannot ignore the European reality around him forever. What needs to fall from the sky for Belarus to open up? For now, democratic Teddies should suffice. Little Kolja might catch one eventually.

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