While the presidential election campaign of December 2010 saw a revival of dynamism and interest in the opposition in Belarus, the subsequent violent clampdown ended hope of an opening in Belarus. The opposition, rattled and weakened by these events and continued government pressure, has not been able to turn the economic crisis, mismanagement by the government and falling ratings of Alexander Lukashenka to their advantage. Instead, the opposition parties since the elections have been in “status quo” survival mode. Dependent on modest Western aid, they have been caught up primarily in their own parallel political reality. Disengaged from the wider population, they have missed opportunities such as the economic crisis to explain how their plans would positively impact individuals in society. Meanwhile, a resurgent “political middle” is now more disappointed with Lukashenka’s leadership than ever before.
Yet all “third way” attempts at reaching out to this group to date have failed. The regime’s effective “divide and rule” strategy is the prime cause, but the lack of persuasive arguments put forward also contributes. The political consequences of the economic crisis could not be more visible: President Lukashenka’s rating fell to 20.5 per cent in September 2011, the lowest ever. However, there has been no corresponding rise in the ratings of opposition leaders. In the meantime, Lukashenka’s ratings edged slightly higher to 24.9 per cent in December 2011, illustrating that in the short term, at least, he is able to deal with the worst aspects of the crisis.
Any objective analysis would recognise that the Belarusian opposition are largely in an impossible situation. Prominent activists are in jail while others have had their health broken through imprisonment. 12 years ago saw the murder of some of their leaders, those who most resonated in society. Constant repression over many years has seen their structures frozen as the authorities have directly obstructed changes of leadership or registration of new parties.