In the world portrayed by the infallible Western globoliberal media, history has really ended, like in that old discredited book by Francis Fukuyama: all countries, sooner or later are destined to take the path of the West, the only path that could lead them to democracy, freedom and prosperity (fill in here with the other usual buzz words, like human rights, freedom of speech, rule of law or whatever you like). There is simply no alternative to the globalized interconnected world, that is to say, the world owned by Western capital: this continues to be, in spite of widespread fears of decline, economic and demographic crises and the rise of the quiet (for now) giant China, the unchallenged consensus among the Western elites as it is reflected in Western mass media.
For this reason, when a country opens up to the West, this is invariably cheered on and unconditionally supported by the global (West-ruled and West-owned) establishment, regardless of whether this transformation turns out to be good or bad for the majority of the population of the country itself. We have seen it with Ukraine, where after a coup following three months of protests in the center of Kiev, the new authorities received immediate recognition from the West, as if something like this was perfectly normal, as if this kind of protests, the occupation of government buildings and the violent overthrow of a (corrupt but still) democratically elected President would be tolerated anywhere in any of the “civilized” countries of Europe. But because the Maidan Revolution irreversibly decided the destiny of Ukraine and put it on the trajectory to join the Western world, the West was happy to help support the narrative of the Maidan as a genuine and pure “popular revolution” against a corrupted and dictatorial order. Interestingly, “popular” movements in Western countries tend to be currently dismissed as nothing more than deplorable manifestations of “populism”, but as long chaos and anarchy happen far away from our homes, it is just fine. The fact that the “Revolution of Dignity” has turned out to be rather disappointing for a majority of Ukrainians, with a collapsing economy and the war in the Donbass as the direct consequences of that watershed moment, in spite of the best efforts by the current Ukrainian government to portray the conflict in the Donbass as a patriotic “war with Russia” for the independence of Ukraine (in a recent interview with FOX News, Poroshenko said there were 3,000 Russian soldiers on “his” territory, which might well be the case, but meant that all the other ones, more than 40,000 fighters are local rebels). Three years and a half after the Maidan, it may be too early to ponder about its long term consequences but for now the outcome certainly lags behind the wild expectations that the revolution fostered.
Young Ukrainians went to the streets moved by the aspiration that by “joining Europe”, they were suddenly getting rid of the old order of things, the Soviet backwardness and the poverty, and that soon they would be living and working enjoying European standards, or at least they were hoping that a closer association of Ukraine with Europe would make it easier for them to emigrate and try their luck abroad, without caring too much about the subtleties of the European common market, or the potential of Ukrainian exports in Europe. The youth in Belarus has similar hopes, because they would like to live in a wold where it would be easier for them to buy a new iPhone, a new car, or just travel abroad. Fears of Belarusian Maidan scenario seem to be wildly exaggerated, however.
Belarus, in a way, has much in common with Ukraine and many observers and analysts saw in it enough potential for instability that they predicted Belarus was going to be the next country heading for a violent change of regime on its path to liberalization, democratization, ie Westernization. As a former integral member of the Soviet Union, since its independence Belarus has tried a difficult balancing act between Russia and Europe, at the same time remaining closer to Moscow than to Brussel or Berlin. Europe and the United States certainly relate to Belarus with more than a little condescendance and until the Ukrainian crisis, they even imposed economic sanctions on Belarus, motivated by human rights abuses, but it is clear that they would only be happy to close an eye, were the country to turn away from the Russian orbit. European analysts and experts typically refer to Belarus as the “last dictatorship in Europe” but in the words of that old experienced objective commentator that Edward Lucas is, whenn Lukashenko signals potential disagreement with Russia, Western leaders are “ecstatic”.
While certainly having not reaped the most benefits after having (partially) turned into a market economy, Belarus has escaped the worst of the transition period, the wild capitalism of the 1990s, when in Russia and Ukraine state property and assets were privatized for a fraction of their actual values by governments hungry for quick cash. The country has been ruled for the past 24 years by the same President (although the mere duration of a term in office is not necessarily synonymous with dictatorship or corruption), elections are probably a masquerade and certainly many are disaffected with the current political situation in the country, especially after a serious economic crisis which hit the country since 2011, with the Belarusian ruble losing two thirds of its value since then, and from which Belarus is only slowly staring to recover. There were a few days of rather large protests in spring, when the government introduced a so-called “tax on parasitism”, a sort of fine that all citizens not in employment or study would have to pay (it amounts to around $200 yearly for those who have been unemployed for more than 6 months over the past year).
Belarusians, however, seem to have learned the lesson of the Maidan. Except for a group of professional opposition activists, nobody is seriously thinking of overthrowing the government in a violent way and nobody in his right mind seems to look at Ukraine as a shiny example to follow. The West too, after the shock of the Ukrainian gamble turning very bad, has proven unwilling to support the Belarusian opposition and without the moral, mediatic and organizational support by so-called NGOs, “spontaneous” popular revolutions have rarely happened in the past. With average salaries around $400 a month, Belarus is certainly lagging behind the leading economies of Europe, but it does not fare worse that countries like Bulgaria and Romania which have been in the European Union for 10 years now and did not see their standard of living grow to the level of France or Germany by the sole fact of being in the EU. The lesson of Ukraine still fresh in their memory, Belarusians understand this, and they are not ready to destroy their country in blid and idealistic revolutionary fervor just because of the chimera of future European freedom and prosperity.