On the 25th August 1991 Belarus issued a full declaration of national independence. Stanislav Shushkevich was the first Belarusian leader, during his time in power Shushkevich tried to direct his country towards the West, moving away from its Soviet past.
Alexander Lukashenko came to power in July 1994.
The former collective-farm director’s presidential style has been widely regarded as authoritarian and autocratic. Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice declaimed Belarus as an ‘outpost of tyranny’.
Lukashenko has altered the constitution several times using referendum deemed illegitimate by the West. These alterations have striped the parliament of many of its powers creating a “legal dictatorship”. Lukashenko has extended both his term of office and the number of times he can campaign for the presidency.
Independent press in Belarus is rare as most media is state controlled. The independent press that does exist is mainly web based but internet access is state controlled and sites can be easily blocked. Belarus is ranked worse than Zimbabwe and Bahrain for press freedom by journalists without borders. During the arrests following the December 19th peaceful protests many members of the independent press came under increased pressure from the regime and in some cases were imprisoned.
On 19 March 2006, Lukashenko claimed another five-year term as president, allegedly gaining 83% of the vote. However many independent observers have claimed that his opponents – the most popular at that time being European-styled Alexander Milinkevich – were harassed and deprived of public venues throughout the campaign. On the night of the election, thousands of protesters turned out on the city’s main square for what was being termed as the Denim Revolution.
People began erecting a peaceful tent city in the central square in Minsk. Hundreds, mostly students, withstood freezing temperatures for almost a week. But once the international media left to cover Ukrainian parliamentary elections, protesters were beaten and arrested by riot police.
Since then Lukashenko has tightened his grip on power, many human rights groups including Amnesty international and Human rights watch have documented the continued harassment and intimidation and arrests of democratic activists within Belarus.
Many Belarusians rejected criticism of their political system because in comparison with most post – soviet states, they have enjoyed a relatively stable and prosperous economy. In 2008 however, with rising gas prices from Russia, the traditionally anti-European administration began to make overtures to the West. Talking about moving Belarus towards EU membership. In exchange for financial aid Lukashenko made promises to take greater steps towards democratisation and the respect of human rights. He released several political prisoners in a move designed to placate the EU, shortly before parliamentary elections were held.
The results of the 2008 parliamentary elections showed all 110 seats going to Lukashenko loyalists. The elections were again declared unfair by international observers and the EU withdrew from Belarus once more.
With the countries economic situation worsening, in 2010 Lukashenko once again began to engage the EU in dialogue promising free and fair elections. The night of December 19th 2010 once again saw a bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters.
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