Staunton, March 27 – When a dictator decides his only remaining weapon against his own population is brute force, the consequences -- unless that force is deployed in truly massive way -- almost certainly include the further radicalization of the population and the increasing likelihood the dictator will be compelled again to use more force against an enraged populace.
That is the situation Alyaksandr Lukashenka finds himself in after the mass arrests in Minsk and other Belarusian cities over the weekend. By arresting hundreds of those protesting against his regime – a large number but far smaller than Vladimir Putin did in Russia at the same time – the Belarusian leader has shown that the social contract he may have had earlier is void.
As a result, he will be compelled to use ever more force, leaders of the opposition say, because his crackdown while harsh was insufficient to intimidate the enraged Belarusian nation (belprauda.org/tri-kita-i-bespomoshhnost-rezhima-lukashenko/ and eurobelarus.info/news/policy/2017/03/27/vladimir-matskevich-rezhim-bol-she-ne-sposoben-kontrolirovat.html).
Moreover, other protest leaders add, it is clear that Lukashenka understands that he has no other leverage left and so will become ever more repressive, setting the stage for ever more serious clashes with the population which is committed to continuing to demonstrate (belaruspartisan.org/politic/374670/ and charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/27/245045/).
There are many ways to tell that an act of intimidation like the one Lukashenka deployed has produced exactly the opposite effect that he intended. Among those that have surfaced in the last 36 hours are three that are particularly important for the future of that country and its dictatorial leader.
First, Belarusian police were seen to attack elderly people, a violation of social norms among Belarusians who retain far greater respect for their elders than is the case in many countries (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/27/245024/). And in the wake of the police attacks, people began to collect money for those arrested (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/27/245028/).
Second, various groups in Belarusian society declared that they would remain in solidarity with the population against the dictator. Among the most significant of these are Belarusian students who have played and likely will play a major part in future protests against Lukashenka and his regime (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/26/244995/).
And third the Roman Catholic churches in Belarus offered prayers for the future of Belarus and Belarusians yesterday, an action that many in Belarusian society will see as a vote of confidence in them and even an expression of support from an important social institution (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/26/245005/).
But perhaps the most obvious indication that Lukashenka has failed to intimidate Belarusians but rather by his actions has had exactly the opposite effect is what Belarusians themselves are saying in the wake of the mass arrests. One protester urged Belarusians to engage in acts of civil disobedience: “Don’t obey the psychopath,” he said (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/26/244996/).