Tatsiana Kulakevich: Belarusian People Await a Window of Opportunity to Usher in a New Regime

Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich underscores the resilience of the Belarusian protest movement amidst systematic repression and violence. Despite recent parliamentary elections failing to incite significant dissent, she suggests that future electoral events, especially presidential elections, could ignite substantial change. Despite the challenges ahead, the Belarusian people remain hopeful for a window of opportunity to usher in a new regime and reclaim their rights and freedoms. Kulakevich also draws attention to the plight of political prisoners in Belarus, whose uncertain fate mirrors Navalny’s tragic end.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, numerous post-Soviet countries have struggled to establish and consolidate liberal democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights and freedoms. After two and a half decades, a concerning trend toward populismauthoritarianism, and autocracy has emerged among several of these nations, with some, such as Belarus, never having experienced a functioning democracy. Giving an exclusive interview to European Center for Populism Studies, Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich, an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies and a research fellow and affiliated faculty at the USF Institute for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, sheds light on the underlying causes of these failures and their implications for Belarus.

Kulakevich begins by addressing the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent expectations of reform and democratization among former Soviet Republics. However, disillusionment soon followed as many countries experienced kleptocracy and oligarchic rule. The global financial crisis of 2008 further eroded confidence in liberal democracy, leading to the rise of populist leaders who capitalized on public discontent.

Belarus, under the authoritarian rule of Alexander Lukashenko, stands out amidst this backdrop. Kulakevich emphasizes the regime’s shift towards "Sultanism," characterized by the consolidation of power in the hands of one man. However, to her, unlike traditional totalitarian regimes, Belarus lacks a unifying ideology, instead revolving around the arbitrary exercise of power.

Dr. Kulakevich underscores the resilience of the Belarusian protest movement amidst systematic repression and violence. Although recent parliamentary elections on February 25 did not evoke significant dissent, she notes that future electoral events, particularly presidential elections, could catalyze meaningful change. Despite the formidable challenges ahead, Dr. Kulakevich emphasizes that the Belarusian people remain hopeful for a window of opportunity to usher in a new regime and reclaim their rights and freedoms.

Dr. Kulakevich said the murder of Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition figure, casts a grim shadow over Belarusian dissidents. Kulakevich highlights the plight of political prisoners in Belarus, whose uncertain fate echoes Navalny’s tragic end. The regime’s ruthless tactics, exemplified by Navalny’s assassination attempt, resonate with Belarusian dissidents, who face similar threats to their lives and freedoms.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Dr. Tatsiana Kulakevich with some edits.

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