Until 1994, when Alexander Lukashenka was elected president, Belarusians enjoyed much more freedom. The press was free, opposition parties were present in the Parliament, and the country pursued a cautious pro-Western foreign policy like its neighbours. At that time, Belarus’ prospects of joining the European Union were better than the prospects of Romania or Bulgaria, both of which would later join the EU.

In the early 1990s, Stanislau Shushkevich, the speaker of the Parliament, was the formal head of state. However, the real power rested with the Council of Ministers chaired by Viachaslau Kebich. While Kebich was seen as more pro-Russian than Shushkevich, his foreign policy was generally balanced between Russia and the West.

Having monopolized television, radio and other media, Alexander Lukashenka initiated a number of referenda to implement constitutional changes. As a result of popular votes, widely believed to be falsified, Lukashenka eliminated independence of the judiciary and legislature and marginalized all opposition groups using state security apparatus. By the end of the 1990s, Belarus had turned from a democratic to authoritarian state with the worst human rights record in Europe.