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Belarus Events: Reaction in Uzbekistan

Belarus protests against the election results did not generate much interest in the Uzbek media. While the authorities tend to keep silent on this issue, Russian media strongly influences the public opinion.

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The mass protests against the results of the Presidential elections held on August 9 have been going on in Belarus for several months. The number of elderly people who previously mainly supported Alexander Lukashenko, but now join rallies and processions is growing. On October 12, dispersing pensioners’ march in Minsk, the security forces used flash-noise grenades and tear gas, but even after that many did not stop protesting.

According to the reports of October 16, the authorities put Belarus presidential ex-candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on the interstate wanted list “for calls to harm national security”.

The European Union and the USA did not recognize the elections in Belarus as legal and valid. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the presidential elections in Belarus as valid; on August 10, he was among the first to congratulate Lukashenko on his victory in the elections.

Meeting of Shavkat Mirziyoyev with Alexander Lukashenko in August 2019. Photo: http://president.gov.by/
Meeting of Shavkat Mirziyoyev with Alexander Lukashenko in August 2019. Photo: http://president.gov.by/

On August 10, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev congratulated Alexander Lukashenko on his victory in the elections. With this, the authorities put an end to the issue for themselves and did not publicly comment on the problem of the protests further on.

Several Uzbek experts interviewed by CABAR.asia found it difficult to answer the question of the authorities’ reaction to the events in Belarus.

“You see, the authorities may think about it and follow [the developments], but they do not say anything openly about it. I do not know why. Maybe they do not want to further sharpen a delicate question. There is not even much more to say,” said one of the experts.

Temur Umarov, a consultant at the Carnegie Moscow Center, believes that the Uzbek authorities are closely watching the events in Belarus, since these developments are a “nightmare” for them.

Temur Umarov. Photo from personal Facebook page.
Temur Umarov. Photo from personal Facebook page

“It is obvious that Alexander Lukashenko is put in a corner, his legitimacy both within the country and in international relations is at an extremely low level. Therefore, one should not be surprised that Lukashenko’s mistakes and the instability of his regime are now being analyzed,” Umarov says.

According to him, the attention of the regional authorities to the events in Minsk can be measured by public activity.

He noted that against the background of protests in Belarus, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan published a law on holding rallies, meetings and demonstrations.

Uzbek Media Do Not Write About Belarus Often

According to one of the Tashkent journalists, who wished to remain anonymous, the public in Uzbekistan receives information about what is happening in Belarus mainly from Russian TV channels.

With this, many are sympathetic to Lukashenko, they believe that he retained “social achievements existing in USSR” in his country.

“Young people [consume news online], Lukashenko’s fans are among them as well,” the journalist says.

According to him, the situation with Belarus is somewhat reminiscent of a discussion about the need to join the EAEU, where the expert community is mainly against it, but ordinary citizens support integration.

Many ordinary people support Lukashenko, considering him a good manager.

“There are many experts and journalists who support the protesters. However, many ordinary people support Lukashenko, considering him a good manager. Some say that it does not matter who the president is, the main thing is that blood is not shed,” said the journalist.

Belarus Events Did Not Gain Much Interest in Local Media

For example, the website of the National News Agency of Uzbekistan (UzA), which is “the state source of official information,” has published only one political news about Belarus in the past two months. This is August 10 message from the head of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in which he congratulated Alexander Lukashenko “on a convincing victory in the Presidential elections in the Republic of Belarus”.

Similarly, independent news websites do not often write about this topic. For example, there is no news related to the elections in Belarus on the website of one of the most visited media, the Uzbek-language portal daryo.uz. Also, they are not available on another Uzbek-language resource – qalampir.uz.

Of the top news websites, only Gazeta.uz regularly publishes materials from other media outlets about events in Belarus.

The publication on the website “We do not need to be lulled by peaceful actions” – Alexander Lukashenko” caused the greatest discussion. It gathered 81 comments.

Lukashenko’s opponents prevailed among commentators. However, several commentators supported Lukashenko. In the comments under the posts about Belarus on social networks, many Uzbek social media users express their support for Lukashenko.

For example, many Uzbek commentators approved the actions of the security forces, commenting on the video of the “Present Time” media “Shooting in the Air and Tear Gas: Protests in Belarus on September 20”.

At the same time, these Lukashenko supporters post on their Facebook pages the critical publication about life in Uzbekistan, torture by police, corruption, and inequality of citizens before law. For example, one of the supporters of Batka [“Father” – Tr.] is outraged that Uzbekistan has many loans, and that the President of Uzbekistan “blindly believes his team” of economists.

However, several Uzbeks criticized Lukashenko and his supporters.

According to the consultant at the Carnegie Moscow Center Temur Umarov, with all the parallels and similarities of the regimes, Belarus and the Central Asian countries have many differences.

Therefore, Umarov does not believe that, following the Belarus example, citizens of the region will also protest. According to him, “internal factors are always decisive” in the country.

“The formation of protest sentiments in modern societies, the formation of opposition in authoritarian (hybrid) regimes is a much more complicated process. It does not work according to the principle by which we were reproached in childhood: “If everyone would jump off the roof, would you?” Societies do not protest only because in a neighboring or similar country, people did,” Umarov said.

Societies do not protest only because in a neighboring or similar country, people did

He believes that the leaders of the Central Asian countries witness how the violence against protesters hits the reputation of the authorities.

“The main thing that the protests could teach was that [civil] society is not helpless, no matter how it is suggested from the pages and screens of state media,” Umarov said.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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