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January 1 – January 7, 2024
Society and political parties

2023: unification of democratic forces; 2024: tougher rhetoric against the regime

The situation got worse
2023: unification of democratic forces; 2024: tougher rhetoric against the regime
Фота: t.me/tsikhanouskaya

The coalition led by Tsikhanouskaya maintained its lead in the democratic movement, despite challenges from other opposition centers and the depoliticization of society. They succeeded in establishing a “strategic dialogue” with Washington and engaging with European capitals to defend the interests of emigrants and isolate Lukashenka’s regime. However, the influence of democratic organizations on the domestic political agenda has regressed to the pre-revolutionary level of 2020.

The democratic movement successfully avoided fragmentation and the descent into a “war of all against all”—one of the main achievements of Tsikhanouskaya’s coalition in 2023. Nevertheless, the alliance consistently faced challenges from other opposition centers and ambitious politicians.

In 2023, the coalition focused on uniting supporters of Euro-Atlantic integration, particularly political emigrants and the diaspora. Concurrently, the democratic movement heightened its harsh rhetoric towards the regime in response to continuous repression and Lukashenka’s refusal to engage in dialogue.

Protest activity gradually subsided, a consequence of activist fatigue from the prolonged confrontation with the regime without tangible results. People’s attitudes were also influenced by adapting to the new political reality. According to a study by independent sociologists, the number of staunch opponents of Lukashenka decreased from 21% (2022) to 10% (2023).

As a result, Tsikhanouskaya’s coalition opted not to participate in the elections to the House of Representatives and local councils scheduled for February 2024. Harsh repressions, emigration, and the depoliticization of assets significantly limited the influence of the democratic forces on the domestic agenda and the mobilization potential of society. Political organizations within the coalition failed to develop a unified approach to participation in the vote, offering supporters contradictory models of behavior. Options ranged from ignoring participation in regime events (the general position voiced by Tsikhanouskaya) to mobilizing for a protest vote (“Honest people”).

Tsikhanouskaya’s cabinet focused its efforts on sanctions, delegitimization, and isolating Lukashenka, as well as seeking international persecution of regime guards for repression and violence. Additionally, the democratic forces concentrated on strengthening international subjectivity, training personnel in case of a democratic transition in Belarus, assisting political prisoners, and preserving national culture. Measures were taken to develop the power bloc of the democratic movement.

The United Transitional Cabinet introduced one of the most popular initiatives—the passport of New Belarus. This project enhanced the ratings of the Tsikhanouskaya coalition among opponents of the regime, particularly among representatives of the emigration.

Democratic forces forged successful cooperation with the Council of Europe. Democratic organizations take part in the work of the CoE contact group on a rotating basis. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has devised a 15-point plan aimed at supporting representatives of civil society and political organizations.

Tsikhanouskaya elevated the relations of democratic forces with the USA to the level of a “strategic dialogue.” The politician addressed Congress and engaged in numerous meetings with high-ranking officials in Washington.

Political organizations fortified their connections with the leadership of post-Soviet countries, yielding tangible results. Tsikhanouskaya made an official visit to the CIS country—Moldova—at the invitation of President Maia Sandu, marking a historic first.

Security forces from BYPOL, following a boost in trust, including the February attack on the Russian DRLV A-50 at the airfield in Mačuliščy, suffered significant reputational losses throughout the year. Internal disputes led to the departure of several activists from the organization and the formation of an alternative structure with a similar name, BELPOL. 

Significant claims for political leadership within the democratic movement were asserted by veteran opposition politician Zyanon Pazniak, as well as volunteers from the Kastus’ Kalinouski Regiment. Early in the year, the leader of the Belarusian Popular Front opposition in the 1990s, in collaboration with the warriors, attempted to seize leadership from Tsikhanouskaya. However, Pazniak’s joint project with the Kastus’ Kalinouski Regiment under the name “Security Council” did not progress during the year.

Throughout the year, the coalition of Tsikhanouskaya and Kastus’ Kalinouski Regiment endeavored to find points of contact and developed a certain level of trust. However, after a series of unsuccessful attempts to establish cooperation with the soldiers, Tsikhanouskaya’s cabinet initiated the creation of a new Belarusian unit in the armed forces of Ukraine.

In response, the Kalinouski Regiment continued to bolster its political standing. At the end of 2023, the warriors convened in Kyiv at the “Path to Freedom” conference, drawing a broad representation of dem forces, including antagonists: Tsikhanouskaya’s office, the United Transitional Cabinet, the Coordination Council, the “Free Belarus” movement with Zyanon Pazniak, National Anti-Crisis Management, and others.

It is noteworthy that, despite internal contradictions, the democratic forces consolidated their sympathizers and successfully thwarted attempts by the regime’s guards to foment a split in the democratic movement. Thus, Prosecutor Shved’s initiative to create a return commission failed, as Belarusians outright ignored its work.

The Coordination Council has increased its influence on the democratic movement’s agenda after expanding its membership at the beginning of 2023. However, this institution likely garnered the highest disapproval ratings. Confidence in the Coordination Council was eroded by public disputes and debates, typical in a democratic process but unusual for Belarusians. At times, criticism of the Coordination Council from individual prominent politicians with personal projects, such as Pavel Latushka from the National Anti-Crisis Management, intensified. Towards the end of 2023, the struggle between democratic organizations intensified on the eve of the next election of delegates in the Coordination Council, negatively impacting the ratings of the political institution.

Democratic forces lack opportunities to engage a wide audience in the Coordination Council elections. Restrictions are justified by the safety concerns for voters and candidates, repression, and the expropriation of property belonging to Lukashenka’s opponents, as well as the reduced audience of independent media.

The space for legal social and political activity of regime opponents narrowed throughout 2023. After re-registration, all opposition parties (along with individual loyalist parties) lost their official status. Nevertheless, they continued their activities in relocation: preserving inter-party coordination, integrating assets into the projects of the broad coalition led by Tsikhanouskaya.

Simultaneously, activists from political parties tested the permitted boundaries of social and political activity while waiting for a window of opportunity. For example, the leader of the “Green” party (liquidated in 2023), Zmitser Kuchuk, attempted to run for the House of Representatives but failed. The head of the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly (liquidated in 2023) and the 2020 presidential candidate, Siarhei Cherachen, confirmed his political ambitions. According to the politician, about 40 activists from his team stood as candidates for deputies in the 2024 elections. Tatsiana Karatkevich, the ex-candidate for the 2015 presidency, focused on social and local initiatives without excessive publicity. In turn, the “Our Party” project was frozen after the arrest of ex-candidate for the 2020 presidency, Andrei Dzmitryeu. However, a part of the “Tell the Truth” group nominated its candidates for deputies in the 2024 elections.

Most likely, most of the alternative nominees will not pass the registration process or will withdraw due to regime pressure. However, the nomination itself will allow political organizations to maintain a connection with the audience and gradually adapt to activities in the new political reality.

Predictions:

  • Preservation of the leadership of the Tsikhanouskaya’s coalition with harsh rhetoric towards the regime and strengthening of the power component of the democratic forces.
  • Narrowing of the audience of democratic organizations in emigration with the consolidation of diasporas and supporters of the European development vector of Belarus.
  • Strengthening of the positions of alternative political projects in the democratic movement, which have adapted to the updated political reality inside Belarus.
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