ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Belarus and Lukashenko: A Beacon of Hope for Europe, and Popularity Explained

Updated on June 19, 2013

Post-Soviet Belarus has been referred to as both an “outpost of tyranny” and the “Last dictatorship in Europe“. These external criticisms do not appear to be shared by many inside Belarus though. In fact it was by two popular referendums in 1995 and 1996 which allowed for President Lukashenko to centralise power around his office. Later elections have been the source of controversy in Western media circles. Regardless of this, not even his opponents deny his popularity (White, Korostelva & Lowenhardt 2004: p60). For this reason Belarus’ post-Soviet transition provides a worthy case for explaining the popularity of what is deemed authoritarian government. There are two basic reasons for this popularity: continued economic success and progressive social policies.

Belarus Coat of Arms
Belarus Coat of Arms
Soviet Architecture
Soviet Architecture

Soviet Republic

This path to “popular-authoritarianism”, so unique in comparison to the liberal democratic path embarked upon by the other states from the west of the former Soviet Union, must firstly be understood in terms of it’s own experience of Soviet life. Starting with the Great Patriotic War, Belarus lost one third of it’s population (Matsuzato 2004: p242) and suffered the greatest per capita financial losses of the war (Ioffe 2004: p86). The Belarusian’s gave more than any other people to defeat Hitler’s fascism and defend Soviet socialism. From this point on though, Belarus would have one of the most positive experiences of any Soviet Republic. It became known as the ‘assembly factory’ of the USSR (Matsuzato 2004: p242) and industrial output flourished. It was under the collective Soviet system that Belarus experienced its first significant economic development (Ioffe 2004: p108).

Furthermore, as the Soviet economic growth slowed down in the 1970’s and 80’s, other republics had unpopular leaders. Belarus however, was led by the popular hero of the Great Patriotic War, Pyotr Masharov. For this reason, the masses of the Belarusian people were not ready for the top-down destruction of the USSR that was to come (Marples 2005: p901). This view is reflected by a 1997 poll which revealed the people‘s top two choices when asked who would be best to lead post-Soviet crisis states: Josef Stalin and Yuri Andropov (Eke & Kuzio 2000:p536).

Belarus also has an ageing population as a result of the success of the Soviet health system. As much as 78% of the elderly are supporters of the President (Ioffe 2004: p98). Given the high levels of Soviet nostalgia, this may be understood in light of Lukashenko resurrecting Soviet symbols and culture. More important though is his collectivist economic policies which ensure a high standard of living.

With Hugo Chavez
With Hugo Chavez
With Raul Castro
With Raul Castro

Modern Belarus

The interim period between the Soviet and Lukashenko era’s in Belarus largely avoided the excessive and disastrous capitalism from which most post-Soviet states suffered. Moreover, which privatization did occur was not perceived as a “giveaway” (Buck, Filatotchev & Zhukov 2000: p287).

There was a lack of small scale privatisation, thereby preventing the emergence of a petty-Bourgeoisie (Savchecnko 2002: p249), the socio-economic group who would be most invested in building a free market liberal democracy.

While the economy did contract during the interim years, under Lukashenko, near consistent grown has been achieved. Between 2002-08, Belarus enjoyed an economic boom, averaging 9% growth and achieving 10.2% in 2008 (World Bank 2010). Even external critics do not deny the achievement. It is recognised that despite continuing with the policy of job protectionism, price controls and collective ownership, which combined with growth have allowed for a massive reduction in poverty (World Bank 2003).

Although occasionally fractured, relations with Russia have been generally good, thereby allowing for mutually beneficial bilateral agreements.. One such example has been Lukashenko’s ability to strike deals for cheap Russian oil in exchange for Russian military bases in Belarus (Ioffe 2004: p91). The bases give Russia an eye into the west, as well as make western powers think twice about intervention in Belarus. Economically, the usefulness of discounted oil to a productive economy is obvious.

This economic competence has allowed Lukashenko to boast of a lack of public debt, quite unlike the vast majority of former Soviet states (Matsuzato 2004: p240). Further relative success can be found by even before the boom period, Belarus ranking 10th of 28 post-communist states in terms of real GDP (Katchanovski 2000: p58). This was achieved without the social upheaval experienced in these other states. Perhaps more importantly, the distribution of wealth is by far the most equitable.

Economic strength has given Lukashenko legitimacy and allowed progressive social policies, which given the collectivist Belarusian psyche, in turn enhances legitimacy. In practice this means Belarus spends more as a percentage of GDP on health than the 3 Europeanized Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Lativia (World Health Organization 2008).

Further comparative analysis reveals Belarus to have a life expectancy 3 years higher than the CIS average (World Health Organization/Europe 2009). In terms of Human Development Belarus ranks 16th in the world in terms of poverty and 5th in literacy (Human Development Reporty 2009). These successes must be attributed to both the legacy of the Soviet Union and the rule of Lukashenko. With Belarus being an apparent “major Soviet success story" (Ioffe 2004: p110) and Lukashenko continuing the social policy of the USSR means it should come as no surprise that there is far from large scale unrest (Eke & Kuzio 2000: p524)

At the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis, “experts” have predicted that the big tests for Lukashenko’s government lie ahead. It is true that the Belarusian economy began to stumble to a degree since the crisis. In 2009 the lengthy period of growth came to an end with a recorded a o.2% decrease, which combined with less favourable terms on Russian oil should see a rising budget deficit (CIA Factbook 2010).

The crisis has forced an increase in government borrowing from the IMF, which may act as a catalyst for modest economic liberalization (World Bank 2010). This could potentially unleash a cycle whereby the economy continues to shrink, just as privatization caused in other socialist republics, which in turn creates further spending cuts. Thus, the government loses popularity and legitimacy.

However, despite Washington’s hopes this scenario is yet to unfold. Belarus has rode the wave of the crisis and seems to be rebounding. Lukashenko won a landslide election victory in 2010 and in 2012 a pro-Lukashenko parliament was returned. In the case of the latter the opposition, resigned to their inevitable crushing defeat withdrew from the electoral process. Academics at the University of Glasgow, every year perform surveys in the post-Soviet republics, and every year Belarus is voted as having the happiest population, yet it is the one state which shuns capitalism.

The importance of the question of Belarus is one which may be lost on the left right now. But it is a question that must be understood. Vilified by the West, Belarus stands for all the European left aspires to, yet the European left is yet to identify with the struggle. If Lukashenko continues to push Belarus on a socialist path, free from debt, independent from Washington and Brussels, it will prove that liberal democracy is not “the only game in town” and we have not reached “the end of history”.

Communist Supporters of the president
Communist Supporters of the president


Belarus Country Brief 2003, World Bank (Online)
Belarus Country Brief 2010, World Bank (Online)
Buck, Filatochev & Zhukov 2000, Downsizing in Privatized Firms in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
The World Factbook, CIA Factbook 2010 (Online)
Eke and Kuzio 2000, Sultanism in Eastern Europe: The Socio-Political Roots of Authoritarian Popularism in Belarus’, Europe Asia Studies, 52 (3)
Human Development Report 2009 (online)
Ioffe 2004, Understanding Belarus: economy and political landscape, Europe Asia Studies, 56(1)
Katchanovski 2000, Divergence in Growth in Post-Communist Countries’, Journal of Public Policy 20(1)
Marples 2005, Europe’s Last Dictatorship: The Roots and Perspectives of Authoritarianism in ‘White Russia’. Europe Asia Studies, 57(6)
Matsuzato 2004, A Populist Island in an Ocean of Clan Politics: The Lukashenka Regime as an Exception among CIS countries’, Europe Asia Studies 56(2)
Savchenko 2002, Towards Capitalism or Away From Russia: Early Stage of Post-Soviet Economic Reforms in Belarus and the Baltics, American Journal of Economics and Sociology 61(6)
White, Koresteleva & Lowenhardt 2004, Postcommunist Belarus
World Health Organization 2008 (Online)
World health Organization Regional Office For Europe 2009


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)