Relocation, structural strengthening in exile and development of online services
In 2021, democratic forces made successful diplomatic contacts with Western capitals, but mainly due to the scandalous actions of the Lukashenka regime. Repression and emigration of activists have significantly weakened the protest movement within the country, but a single democratic agenda remains in demand within the society. Relocated media and NGOs have resumed their activities in exile and developed online services, but their audience is declining due to the restrictive actions of the authorities. Political parties have limited public activity and suspended cooperative projects inside Belarus due to fears of reprisals.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s foreign visits and high-level contacts (including a meeting with President Joe Biden), as well as democratic forces (Coordination Council, National Anti-Crisis Management) representatives’ meetings with Western leaders, preserved the democratic agenda in communication with international organisations, Western capitals and Minsk.
However, the complete delegitimisation of the regime at the international level has not been achieved, and despite an extensive campaign by the political exiles, the allocation of IMF funds to Minsk and cooperation between the Norwegian Yara company and Belaruskali were not halted.
Tsikhanouskaya tried, with some success, to exert influence on Belarusian-Russian relations against a background of growing contradictions between the Lukashenka regime and the Kremlin. However, an attempt to initiate negotiations between the democratic forces and the Lukashenka government with the mediation of the EU (Austria) failed.
Along with the delay in resolving the political crisis, tensions have increased amongst exiles with criticism from some opposition representatives of the overall democratic agenda and the position of the leading centres (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s office, National Anti-Crisis Management) on the international sanctions as well as the negotiations with the regime.
In 2021, the fundraising initiatives supporting victims of repression and civil society continued, but the funds gathered gradually decreased. Nevertheless, these initiatives adapted their activities to the needs of society in supporting the repressed, exiles and the protest movement in Belarus, facilitated by the strengthening of horizontal ties in the diaspora and emigrant actions around the world to draw attention to the situation in Belarus.
The influence of civil society and independent media on the domestic political agenda gradually decreased along with their audience (mainly due to regime repression). However, the civil society agenda predominated on social networks and the Internet. The idea of new elections as the most acceptable way to resolve the political crisis remains the leading position in society (53%).
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s office, National Anti-Crisis Management, “Honest People”, and “Rabochy Rukh” continued to communicate with representatives of the state apparatus, members of election commissions and employees of state-owned companies but were unable to achieve a critical level of support for protest mobilisation in 2021.
Nevertheless, the democratic forces created a broad coalition (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s office, Coordination Council, National Anti-Crisis Management, “Honest people”, ZUBR, “Golos”) to promote a unified strategy of action for the referendum, mobilise supporters of change, and support the political engagement in society.
Political emigrants ran several successful projects in cities around the world (specifically in Warsaw, Vilnius and Kyiv) to unite the diaspora, maintain ties between emigrants, develop the national identity, and mobilise in support for change. The IT sector remained involved in the civil society projects helping many NGOs and media organisations to resume work after relocation.
Despite a joint mobilisation plan for Freedom Day, democratic forces failed to regain control of the streets of the capital. With a few rare exceptions, street actions and backyard events ceased by the end of the year.
Attacks on the law by the security forces and the regime’s attempts to resolve the political crisis by force led to increased support among those who support the decisive actions against the ruling class. Cyber partisans continued to interfere with the communication infrastructure (and revenues) of state institutions and state-owned companies as well as organise campaigns to identify and demotivate law enforcers and officials by publishing scandalous records and materials.
Political organisations within Belarus periodically tried to resume contacts with their sympathisers via educational courses (“Greens”, BSDP (Hramada), “Together”) and support for local initiatives (“For Freedom”, “Our Party”, Belarusian Christian Democracy).
In contrast to the contradictory position of the state institutions, the civil society and democratic forces developed and promoted a single agenda on COVID-19, which resonated with the position of doctors and the health care system.
Forecasts for 2022
Mobilisation of supporters of change for a protest vote in the referendum with possible aggravation of confrontation by the security forces.
Unravelling of the unified democratic agenda, strengthening of the position of those who criticise sanctions and ultimatums to the regime
Expanding the use of online tools by civil society to communicate with sympathisers and maintain contact with their audiences.
Suspension of public activities of political organisations within Belarus with possible revival after the referendum.