Why Belarus is not Egypt

Many are wondering these days – why demonstrations in Belarus two months ago were not as massive in Egypt and have not led to political changes. Belarus is not Egypt in many important respects, but this does not necessarily mean that changes are impossible in Belarus.

The most obvious difference between Belarus and Egypt is that Belarusians have not yet fully formed as a nation – neither politically, nor culturally. Although there are two official languages, those who speak Belarusian are usually treated with hostility because this language is seen as a sign of a certain political position. A dominant religion is also absent – although nominally the majority are Russian Orthodox, as far as those actually practicing religion are concerned, the number of Catholics and Protestants is higher than those of Orthodox. The vast majority of Belarusians do not practice any religion at all.

More importantly, until the 1990-s Belarusians have never enjoyed a prolonged period of their own statehood, outside of control of foreign nations. That prevented them from cementing their own vision of history and their place in the world. Belarusians as nation are political teenagers who need time to grow and mature.

In addition, centuries of wars and foreign domination on Belarus territory have made their trick – people often prefer to be satisfied with the bare minimum. The official propaganda portrays an image of a happy Belarusian who only needs two things – a shot of vodka and a piece of pork on the table. Obviously, most Egyptians need neither vodka nor pork to be happy. To be absolutely fair, in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union Belarusians have seen more freedom and prosperity than ever in their history. Even today there is much more freedom in Belarus than in the Soviet times.

The other reason why Belarus is not Egypt is that it is very difficult to organize people in a country with cold climate. Belarus is the world’s northenmost autocracy. Having such a political regime in the North is already an anomaly because countries in the North such as Sweden or Canada are usually exemplary democratic countries with very low political corruption. Perhaps Charles de Montesquie was right when he attributed national character to geography and climate. He observed that “you must flay a Muscovite alive to make him feel”. The same applies to Belarusians today. As northern people they are relatively insensitive to pleasure and pain which makes them different from Egyptians who live and protest in warm climate.

Not surprisingly, after Lukashenka was first elected in July 1994 he organized presidential elections in cold months. When it was relatively uncontroversial that he would win the second term, the elections were held in September 2001. The next elections were held in March 2006. In 2010, when it was clear that he was losing support of the population the elections were held at the end of December. Then the winter cold helped the regime more that its riot police.

Finally, Belarus is not Egypt because it remains heavily dependent upon Russia both economically and politically. Russia is comfortable with the status quo and will continue to facilitate alienation of Mr Lukashenka’s regime from the West. The Eastern neighbor is so influential in Belarus not only because of the language but also because Russian TV channels dominate Belarusian media landscape. The Belarus nation has not yet formed as such and therefore particularly vulnerable to outside media influences.

Belarusians obtained its independence nineteen years ago and soon the nation will no longer be a teenager. It is important to help Belarusians mature as a European nation by strengthening its national identity and language. The country’s dependance on Russian media can be reduced by offering alternative sources of information so that Belarusians can see the world through their own lenses. After all, it is not always cold in Belarus which makes the prospect of political changes more promising.

Yarik Kryvoi is the editor-in-chief of Belarus Digest and the founder of the Ostrogorski Centre.


Igor, I agree that a


I agree that a judicial reform would really boost the business climate in Belarus. Unfortunately, judges are far from being independent. I think the real unemployment is Belarus is in double digits. But as with the real election results - we can only guess what the real figures are.

The points you are making about Bahrain are fair and confirm that poverty is not necessarily the main cause of public unrest. A number of other factors come into play and each country is unique.

As they say, there is a simple answer to any complex problem and usually this simple answer is wrong.

Just compare to eastern

Just compare to eastern european countries, not asian and you will find out that situation if not then better that comparable. I personally support what so far have been done by the belarus government despite of the fact that bureaucracy is still slowing down many incentives and a support of almost 80% on recent elections is likly to be more real than false. Unemloyment rate is also close to official figures but the salary has to be improved. Actually the statistics is quite accurate in post sovet countries. What has to be done om my opinion is a judicial reform to improve status of courts and popularise existing justice mechanisms in the country. So far they are depreciated due to mentality of the people inherited from the soviet era.
About Bahrain. The kingdoms wealth is managed by the Sunni ruling minority loyal to US and EU while Shia majority (nearly 70% of the population) has no access to major political decisions and exists in lowcost layer of the countrie's fatburger. Unrest in there has nothing to do with democratic movements. Its just as old as the country exists tribal fights for better place under sun. Inspired by Tunisia and Egypts revolutions Bahraini Shia clerics decided to use situation to get more gains using unconscionably peaceful crown. But sunnji regime will not be thrown. Bahrain with the help of Saudi Arabia and other GCC will calm down the crowd as brutally as will be necessary and US will huff and puff in making carefully balanced statements on a Kings brutallity. Middle East will continue bubbling slowly transfering unrests to Germany, France and Great Britain with their big muslim communities. You'll see it soon.

Igor, I believe even the

Igor, I believe even the government itself does not believe that the unemployment rate in Belarus is 1%. Like the 86% figure at the recent elections, it is not supposed to reflect reality but has a different purpose. It is easy to look good compared to Tajikistan in terms of education, internet, etc. But three of five of Belarus neighbors are already in the EU. When we compare Belarus to those countries - the comparison looks not great at all. And this is despite massive subsidies from Russia.
But poverty is not the main thing anyway. Bahrain's GDP per capita is almost two times bigger than that of Belarus. And still there is serious unrest these days.

A bigger part of present

A bigger part of present Belarus territory was populated with so-called Litvins - Belarusians at present. It's true that a Soviet policy of resettling had an impact on nation's determination but you cannot say that the nation is not formed. It is formed with the unemloyment rate less then 1% and aducation provided to 99,7% of the population, with the highest internet ratio access comparing to other CIS countries. So, socio-economic issue is a core for any stability or unrest in an modern, educated society. Other points are false but can have some sense if we talk about closed and not educated society in some Asian or African countries for example.

Igor, there were no nations

Igor, there were no nations in their contemporary understanding at the times of the Great Dutchy of Lithuania. It was a common state populated by those who are now called Belarusians, Lithuanians and Ukrainians. Economic conditions are not the only medium for public unrest. There are many very poor countries which have never had any serious unrest. It requires more than just poverty.

Thesis on formation of a

Thesis on formation of a nation is humiliating. Have a closer look on a history of a Great Dutchy of Lithuania which is truly the history of Belarus. The only reason you will never see any substantial uprising in Belarus is that majority simply satisfied with the state of their living based on social support from the Government. Belarus just has no nutrient medium for such kind of revolutions. Now look at a highly populated Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen and some other countries with a high rate of unemployment, lack of major social services and a very low salary whichy are the nutrient medium for a public unrest.

Alex, it is true. But Russia

Alex, it is true. But Russia is more than a usual northern country. It is also a southern country, a muslim country (to a significant extent) and an empire.

Good points. However, Russia

Good points. However, Russia is also a northern country but not a democratic paradise.


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