Opinion: Do Not Overlook Belarus in the Ukraine Crisis

By Nadia Liu

Public Relations Manager

Growing up, I used to tell people I was Russian and Chinese, since nobody knew where Belarus and Taiwan were. Now, both countries are at the center of a heated geopolitical discussion. With the Russia-Ukraine War, Belarus is now known to the world as an aggressor, contributing to a brutal and unnecessary war. Still, there is much that most people do not know about the country. It is imperative to understand that the Belorusian regime and its people are not one and the same, and that the world should be empathetic towards the Belorusian people.

Belarus’ current leadership can be described as an authoritarian dictatorship. Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s first and only president, once called himself “the last dictator in Europe.” There is no freedom of press, opponents of the regime are repressed, and elections are neither free nor fair. 

Despite the atrocities that Lukashenko contributes to in Ukraine, it is important to understand that he also commits brutal injustices within his own country. In 2020, an unprecedented wave of peaceful protests swept Belarus following a fraudulent and corrupt presidential election. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya emerged as the leader of the democratic movement in Belarus after taking her jailed husband’s place in the election. While Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory, independent polls showed that Tsikhanouskaya had won. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets, on which riot police used excessive force, rubber bullets, and worse and detained almost 7,000 people. Belarusians bravely continued to demonstrate peacefully, but by mid-November more than 25,000 people had been detained, and with Putin’s support, Lukashenko crushed the protests. With Putin’s backing, the Belarusian people have no way to stand up for their own rights, let alone stand against a war their dictator is promoting, and it is essential that Belarusians are supported in their fight for freedom rather than blamed for a war they do not support.

This year, Lukashenko supported Putin in his invasion of Ukraine by inviting Russia to stage its troops and equipment on Belorussian soil, leading the world to blame Belarusians alongside Russians for the war. While Lukashenko and the regime should be punished, the Belarusian people should not. Belarusians view Ukrainians as neighbors, and the war is deeply unpopular, even despite aggressive propaganda: according to a new Chatham House poll, fewer than three percent of Belarusians favor offering military support to Russia. With all media channels being monitored and gatherings banned, there is no way to protest. Yet, Belarusians were quick to organize humanitarian aid for Ukrainians and even fight for Ukraine in volunteer regiments. It is entirely unfair to blame people who are fighting for human rights and freedom from a dictator for the war their dictator waged, that they have no method of stopping or protesting against.

For me, it is personal. I have family in Belarus, I have family in Ukraine. Maybe for you, it is not personal. Yet, I implore you to care, to support, to understand. “We need Belarus not to be overlooked because Belarus is not only a part of this crisis,” Tsikhanouskaya told TIME. “Belarus can be part of the solution.”

(Sources: TIME, BBC, Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty, NPR)

Categories: Opinion

Leave a Reply