According to experts, the authorities and people track the protests in Belarus, but each country is distinctly specific.
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Protest actions over the resignation of president Alexander Lukashenko and democratic reforms have been ongoing in Belarus for more than two months. They started as soon as preliminary election results were announced in early August. According to official data, incumbent president Lukashenko won the election, yet numerous supporters of his main rival – Svetlana Tikhanovskaya – rallied in Minsk and other parts of the country the next day and demanded to recognise the victory of the latter and to resign voluntarily. Protests are still ongoing.
Since the beginning of these mass protests, world media and various foreign states, especially in Europe, focused on events in Belarus. Central Asian states also followed actively the situation in Belarus and joined heated discussions on social media and live talks.
Although, unlike in August, now the interest in the events in Belarus has subsided, the audience in Central Asian states still continues to discuss and comment on the events due to materials regularly published in the media.
Experts in Kazakhstan think the situation in Belarus causes much interest of the authorities and ordinary people in Russia and Kazakhstan in the post-Soviet area. These countries have much in common. After Nazarbayev left office in 2019, Alexander Lukashenko has been in power longer than other leaders in CIS. Also, Kazakhstan and Belarus are similar because the state in both countries controls much of economy, experts said.
“Kazakhstan and Belarus are similar because Nazarbayev and Lukashenko are fathers of the nation; they are allegedly the basis of stability,” political analyst Medet Tyulegenov said. “The national rhetoric was based on the allegation that once they left office, the collapse would follow. However, in Kazakhstan Nazarbayev left office, yet with reservations, and tried to establish a party system with Nur Otan.”
However, the resignation of the first president in Kazakhstan, although with reservations, has reduced the degree of protest moods in the society, while in Belarus people got tired morally from the eternal leader. In Kazakhstan, according to experts, the shift of power has begun.
“Now we are in the process of shit of power as it is obvious that the second president masters his powers, gains experience and strength. The key challenge for our country was to ensure painless succession of power from the first president so that we could learn to choose peacefully the heads of state under the constitution, establish relevant political traditions of shift of power. In Belarus, this process was delayed and resulted in this crisis. This is a big difference between the countries,” political analyst Talgat Kaliev said.
Both countries have dominance of the state in economy, but Kazakhstan coped with the problem a long time ago and tried to carry out reforms. In Kazakhstan, state companies are more market and work under the principles of corporate governance, whereas in Belarus they are run just like in the USSR. However, Kazakhstan admits the problem of state dominance and the authorities tell about the plans to reduce state participation, decrease monopolies, while Belarus does not have such plans,” the expert said.
According to political analyst Askar Nursha, dean of the School for State and Public Politics and Law, back in the 90s Kazakhstan held a shocking reform, and afterwards modernised the economic system. Belarus has avoided many of such processes and retained a strong industrial basis and a whole class of relevant engineers and workers, respectively. Moreover, the protesters are being affected by the proximity of Belarus to European countries that experienced velvet revolutions since the end of the 80s and follow today the path of the European integration, and are building the state based on the values of personal liberty, democracy and human rights. The nearest states of the Baltics and Poland that display sympathy to the protesters have a certain impact on Belarus.
KazNet contains the voices of both supporters of the protesters, and of followers of Lukashenko. News about Belarus protesters often become popular among other news. However, according to experts, despite the public concern, the impact will not be immediate.
“The first Maidans in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan did really cause some turbulence in neighbouring countries, partly because colour technologies were something new to all former Soviet republics. Today, such events won’t surprise anyone and we don’t need any export versions. For example, it was quiet in neighbouring Belarus during the last maidan in Ukraine, or Kazakhstan did not feel the impact of revolutions in Kyrgyzstan,” Kaliev said.
The authorities of both Kazakhstan and Russia monitor the events in the partner country. Partly not to repeat the mistakes in management, partly because of possible consequences of the change of power.
“The key conclusion we can come to is we cannot underestimate the people, we cannot overestimate the stereotypes of local mindset. As if people are not ready for democracy, people are quiet in nature, or the masses may not be mobilised. The situation in Belarus shows that protest moods get more active even without apparent leaders. The lack of charismatic leaders curbs the severity of protests, yet does not deter protest moods. Also, events in Belarus show that the influence of the West is not always to blame. We see that the influence of geopolitical factors in Belarus is less strong than during previous revolutions in CIS,” political analyst said.
Also, experts note that modern technologies and the younger generation differ significantly from the previous ones. In the last 30 years, the speed of social development and the speed of changes were incommensurable with the current ones. The youth consumes mainly western media and culture, absorbs their values, technologies develop and have big influence on modern political events.
“The risk for Kazakhstan is not about the status of democracy or level of country’s development, but about expectations. The pace of political modernisation in the country is behind very high expectations of the people. If we compare Kazakhstan with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan is rather liberal. But there’s still some discontent with state governance,” Nursha said.
“The public concern with Belarusian events is big, but various segments of people interpret them differently,” political analyst Nursha said. “Businesses and creative segments see not only risks, but opportunities. The society is fragmented, but discusses the situation not only in terms of politics. Weak opposition is what is in common in Belarus and Kazakhstan. However, it did not preclude the masses to become more active. In Kazakhstan, the opposition often complains that the people are indifferent and neutral. But Belarus has proven that at a certain moment the people wake up, recognise their responsibility for the country and become the arbiter of their destinies.”
Reaction in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstanis have experienced revolutions more than once, and do not cherish high hopes for them. However, they still follow the events in Belarus, with which they share the Soviet past and understand the public protest against the eternal president. According to experts, the Kyrgyz authorities follow the events in Belarus to some degree, but not closely. Membership in the Eurasian Union and close relations with Russia of both countries contribute to the concern with the events. However, the country is experiencing violent political processes, which, however, have their local specifics.
According to the head of the AUCA International and Comparative Politics Department, political analyst Medet Tyulegenov, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus have more differences than common things.
“The regime that Lukashenko built is specific and unique; therefore, Belarus is unlike other CIS countries. It has preserved Soviet institutions and the ways of economy management; the management is based on a personalised authoritarian system. This is why all the problems arose. Kyrgyzstan has never had one single person in terms of the personalised-authoritarian system, it always appointed it with the consent of a certain elite, and there have been attempts to hold fair elections and political struggle,” the expert said.
According to political analyst, teaching fellow of the OSCE Academy Emil Dzhuraev, geographic location and neighbourhood also play an important role in the state policy. Neighbourhood with the European countries affects the internal state of the people in Belarus.
Also, differences relate to the implementation of human rights. In Kyrgyzstan, it is easy to gather for a rally, or organise an opposition party. Thus, concerned citizens held a rally in support of the protesters and demanding an end to political prosecution near the building of the Belarusian embassy in Bishkek.
“We need to assess the situation more soberly, not to dream up about all people loving the president. We need to listen to critics and the opposition, we should not resort to all kinds of forceful methods of promoting the power, as it may fail or backfire on the leader at some point,” according to Dzhuraev, these are the lessons the Kyrgyz authorities should learn from the events in Belarus.
The politically active population is watching the events in Belarus with a certain interest, although they are discordant with the ideas about the country. Since the influence of the Russian media is quite high, the average person receives information from them, and believes that Soviet plants and factories have been retained in Belarus, people have jobs, the streets are spotlessly clean, and Belarusian products are exported to Kyrgyzstan. However, reality has proven that popular protests cannot be stopped despite all of the above.
“An average person gets most of the information from the Russian media, where the situation is presented as chaos, lawlessness, intrigues of Western countries and so on. And this is sad, we need to perceive the situation more broadly. At first, attention of Kyrgyzstan was focused on the problem of the virus, and then on the parliamentary elections,” Tyulegenov said.
Also, the Kyrgyz people are amazed by the duration, peaceful nature and mass character of the protests.
“What is circulated on the Internet, in opposition Telegram channels does not fit with the image of Belarus on Russian channels, where they showed their factories, cleanliness and happy people. And our people are confused by such a discordance. There is nothing remarkable in the peaceful action of solidarity in Bishkek, as well. We see the global trend when people from other countries express solidarity with protests both in America and in Belarus. We understand that we are not only citizens of one country, but part of a larger one, and what happens in one country affects others as well,” the political analyst said.
Nevertheless, according to experts, all the events that unfold in countries have an impact on their neighbours. At the same time, the constant presence of leaders, suppression of the opposition, and the use of a retaliatory machine can eventually cause protest moods in a society. There are also risks and threats of changing the mood of the masses like “if the Belarusians succeed, we will succeed” for Russia and Kazakhstan.
“Change through protest is a dangerous precedent for neighbouring countries. It is dangerous not to hear the society, to rely too much on the retaliatory system and on the reports that are submitted,” political analyst Tyulegenov said.
Media coverage in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
According to Google Trends analytics, elections and protests in Belarus have attracted maximum attention from Kazakhstanis and Kyrgyzstanis over the past year. If at normal times the dynamics of popularity remained at around 10, in August it reached 100. This number shows the level of interest in the topic in relation to the highest indicator in the table for a certain region and time interval. Simply said: how many times people in a certain area typed a certain word into a search engine. For comparison, we also took the word “Uzbekistan” since the country is also a close neighbour of Kazakhstan and the country’s events are covered in the media. In August 9-15, the tag “Belarus” reached a peak at 100, while Uzbekistan was at 11. After this period, public interest gradually diminished.
Since August, 140 articles about Belarus have been written on the popular Internet portal Tengrinews.kz in Kazakhstan. For comparison, there were only 9 from June to July. Most of which were reprints from other publications. Interestingly, information is taken from both government websites and protesters’ channels. Often, the materials became the most popular among other news and collected many comments both for and against Lukashenko.
The protests were also actively covered on other popular Internet resources, such as nur.kz, informburo.kz and others.
In Kyrgyzstan, we can also track down the surge and fading of interest in the topic of Belarus via Google Trends. In August 9 to 15, there was a surge in popularity of the word Belarus that reached 100, while the average value at normal times reaches only 10. For clarity, we took the tag Uzbekistan.
Kyrgyz online media also actively covered the events in Belarus – both from the protesters and from official authorities. People also posted comments, most often in support of the protesters.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project