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Opposition activists expected to take to the streets of Belarus to mark Freedom Day


Opposition activists expected to take to the streets of Belarus to mark Freedom Day

belarus freedom day
Photo: AFP/Sergei Gapon

Today marks Freedom Day, the holiday celebrated by Belarusians commemorating the country’s independence from Russia in 1918.

Historically an opportunity for anti-government demonstrations, Freedom Day has been opposed by President Aleksander Lukashenko’s government. Along with decrying pervasive government surveillance and strict censorship on freedom of speech, critics have demanded that Lukashenko temper efforts to politically and economically tie Belarus to its Russian neighbour.

While the president certainly wants to maintain power as well as his country’s sovereignty, it would be difficult to wean the country off of its dependence on the Kremlin. Russian subsidies and energy exports play critical roles in supporting Belarus’ underdeveloped economy. The threat of these benefits being cut is likely to keep Belarus in Russia’s camp for the foreseeable future, at least until alternative energy becomes a more viable option.

The rest of Europe is also largely dependent on Russian energy and the EU is wary of a Russian backlash to EU-Belarus rapprochement. Even if the EU did make concerted efforts to integrate Belarus, Lukashenko has been vehemently opposed to trade liberalisation for decades, casting doubt on its economic sustainability absent Russian support. The likely outcome is further Belarusian dependence on Russia, especially given the catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 virus on global economies.

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