Minsk demands Tikhanovskaya's extradition. What is happening in Belarus? Why is this country being narrated in Europe only by the opposition?
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition, is in exile in Lithuania after the outcome of last August's controversial election that confirmed President Lukashenko's mandate with 80% of the votes. Today, the defeated candidate is seeking the attention of the international community and calling for action by the European Union after the government requested her extradition on 5 March.
Belarus gained its independence in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, it has been a Presidential Republic, consisting of a President and a Parliament elected periodically. Lukashenko has been the President in charge since 1994 and has always been reconfirmed in successive elections with very high percentages. The results have often been contested by international observers, such as the OSCE - the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Belarus can be regarded as an authoritarian regime, where there are doubts around the real recognition of fundamental civil and political rights. This is exemplified by the fact that Belarus it is the last European country where the death penalty is still in force. Prior to the elections on 9 August, several political opponents were arrested, including the blogger Sjarhej Cichanoŭskij, husband of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. This event, together with allegations of electoral fraud, caused protests across the country.
Belarus follows a low-profile foreign policy, in which the Russia-Belarus Union plays a key role. This international organisation was founded in 1996 with the aim of harmonizing the two countries on a political, economic and social level.
But what is the relationship with the European Union like? In 2004, following the disappearance of four political opponents, the EU imposed an arms embargo and a ban on the export of goods that could be used for internal repression. Further targeted measures were also taken: the freezing of assets and a travel ban on four people believed to be responsible for the disappearances. On 15 February 2016, the Council had decided to ease the sanctions, given some improvements regarding respect for human rights, while maintaining the embargo. However, the European Union considers that the latest elections were neither free nor fair and condemns the government's acts of intimidation against the opposition and violence in the repression of protests. In October, targeted sanctions were extended to 7 entities and 88 individuals, including Lukashenko himself.
The continuation of the protests - and perhaps the prolongation of European sanctions - has convinced the Belarusian president to prepare a constitutional reform to be subject to a referendum in 2022. Lukashenko's idea is to resign when the new constitution comes into force, but it is not yet possible to say whether this will lead to the end of the centralisation of powers in the hands of the presidential figure. Similarly, it is not possible to say whether an opening towards Europe, which would certainly not be appreciated by the Russian ally, is imminent.
Translated by Elena Briasco