The financial crisis in Belarus could mark the beginning of the end for “the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe.”
President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, making him the longest serving head of state in Europe. Despite this, his time in office has been dogged by accusations of electoral fraud, brutal crackdowns of political opposition and increasingly economic mismanagement. (For more, see James Kirchick’s blog on last December’s election)
To date his position has been secured by the ruthless use of the security services and the country’s economic success since the collapse of the Soviet Union, much of which has relied on large gas and oil subsidies from Russia.
By the middle of 2009, however, the Belarusian economy had stalled. An unwise government-led credit boom during the financial crisis, coupled with the incremental removal of natural resource subsidies from its neighbour, put public finances on an inescapable downwards spiral.
Officials were forced to go cap-in-hand to the IMF for a bailout that ultimately totalled $3.5 billion with a further $2 billion added by Russia. These measures were aimed at averting a contagion effect that could have had broader humanitarian and economic repercussions, especially considering the fragility of the global financial system at that point.
Nevertheless these interventions did little to alter the attitude of the Lukashenko regime to dissent. Following the announcement that the incum…