Over the last two weeks Europeans and to a lesser extent the rest of world have discovered a new cause celebtre, Belarus. When protests and demonstrations took over the capital and other Belarusian cities on the evening of election day and the state predictably tried to suffocate them, the harshness of the police produced a backlash effect in the public perception, encouraging the protests and providing them the moral high ground. The violence shocked many.
The pictures of hundreds of thousands of Belarusians demonstrating for “freedom” and “democracy” have been shown and shared innumerable times over the last two weeks and European citizens, most of whom had a very vague notion of what Belarus is like less than a month ago, have largely reacted expressing support and solidarity. The European Union has refused to recognize the results of the elections, on the ground that these was neither “free” nor “fair”. With the anti-government protests gathering momentum, the idea that Lukashenko must have stolen the elections and that these must have been massively falsified cemented itself as a fact into the minds of those tired of the president.
Europeans and Westerners in general are particularly sensitive to this sort of events. It makes them feel good, special and privileged. Germans, Italians, Spanish, French and others instinctively assumed that because Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and he occasionally may say or do things that do not conform to contemporary Western progressive conventional wisdom, he must by definition be an autocrat that entirely lacks popular legitimacy and is kept in power exclusively by arbitrary will and brutality.
Westerners were induced to see this as a struggle of the entirety of the Belarusian people against Lukashenko. Last Sunday, Belarus witnessed what has been called the largest demonstration in its history, with between 200,000 and 300,000 people gathering on a sunny day in central Minsk in support of the opposition. Incidentally, by the official counts Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Lukashenko’s rival, received around half a million votes, or 10% of the total.
In the aftermath of the election, the opposition claimed Tikhanovskaya had received 80% of the votes, more or less the same percentage as Lukashenko obtained according to the official data. “Golos”, a volunteer organization supportive of the opposition and supported by the opposition, obtained access to the protocols of 1310 polling stations out of total of 5767. The report focuses on the votes that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in reality received, but it contains also another important bit of information that has so far eluded public perception.
According to the protocols, Tikhanovskya gathered here 471,709 votes, that is around 81% of the votes she officially received. This suggests there must be something wrong with the official electoral counts. According to the same protocols, however, Lukashenko obtained 1,157,792 votes, that is 61.7%. Not quite the 80.1% that was given to him by the electoral commission, but still a strong result that would win him the presidency after the first round – a figure that would be the envy of many Western politicians.
Not that it matters much now. The perception that Lukashenko stole the election has been transformed into an established fact. But next time someone tells you of the Belarusian revolution as a battle of the whole of the Belarusian people for “freedom” an “democracy” against an evil and isolated dictator, try to mention this. Their pictures do not look so good and romantic as those of a people in revolt and are not likely to be shown every hour, but there is a silent majority in Belarus that still appears to be behind Lukashenko.
Stepan Antonov is a freelance journalist. He is the author of “Battle for Ukraine: Ukraine between Russia and the West”.