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July 1 – July 7, 2024
The ruling elite

After the Return of “Popular Love” – Liberalization 4.0?

The situation has gotten better
After the Return of “Popular Love” – Liberalization 4.0?
photo: elements.envato.com

Lukashenka is gradually loosening the repressive reins ahead of the 2025 presidential campaign. Following the elections, he hopes to renew his personal legitimacy both domestically and internationally. The ruling class has ensured its monopoly on power through a four-year authoritarian reaction, despite complications arising from the war in Ukraine.

The Belarusian leadership is beginning the process of releasing political prisoners. Throughout his time in power, Lukashenka has periodically initiated a conditional “political thaw,” as seen in 2003, 2008, and 2016.

The ruling class has forced society to accept Lukashenka’s monopoly on power—at least according to the regime’s standards.

As a result of the authoritarian reaction from 2021 to 2024, the regime’s enforcers have completely eradicated signs of the protest movement, leading to the depoliticization of society. The vast majority of activists have been forced into emigration. The regime has eliminated pro-democratic political parties and civil society organizations. Vertical connections within the country have been significantly disrupted, their quality reverting to levels seen a decade ago.

The regime plans to utilize favorable socio-economic conditions to renew its internal and external legitimacy through the 2025 presidential campaign.

Economic growth and rising wages positively impact trust ratings in state institutions. The regime has ensured high employment rates through the state sector and the emigration of people abroad, which has even led to a labor shortage. It is worth noting that Lukashenka is keenly concerned about low unemployment rates, seeing unemployment as a threat to political stability. The regime has not faced a political crisis due to labor shortages, so this situation is not seen as an existential threat by the authorities.

The ruling class aims to ease social tensions ahead of the elections. Among other measures, these efforts are designed to demotivate some of the regime’s opponents. For example, the regime hopes to exacerbate internal disputes among pro-democratic political organizations regarding sanctions and strategies toward Lukashenka. This helps reduce the democratic forces’ attention to the domestic political agenda and the presidential campaign.

Nevertheless, regime enforcers continue to impose financial sanctions and repression against Lukashenka’s opponents. It is likely that criminal prosecution and harsh exemplary sentences may decrease in the coming months or eventually cease. However, the ruling class will continue to financially drain its opponents.

Thus, it is unlikely that Lukashenka will take significant steps toward liberalization and the release of political prisoners—they will be released gradually. Most may find freedom after the presidential campaign, and only if the results are favorable to the regime.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.
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