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14 Jan

Marta Palombo, Belarus Project, December 11, 2011 (Italy)

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Europe’s (Far) East

Belarus could have a lot more in common with Asia than we think.

It is now beyond any doubt that Belarus and China share a similar point of view on human rights, as declared by the President of the Chinese Parliament during his visit in Minsk 1.

What is more, it seems that the political system in Belarus has an Asian tincture. Alexandra Goujon2 describes it as “sultanic presidentialism”, an exotic form of government characterised by an authoritarian and personalised ruling style. In her work, she gives her interpretation of the organisation of political power in Belarus.

The Belarusian political system is designed to hold the power in the hands of the sultan/president. He is directly elected, with no constitutional limits of possible re-elections. He appoints all major state positions; to give some examples: a great part of members of the Parliament, the chairmen of the electoral commission and of the constitutional court, the directors of public enterprises (which represent the biggest part of the economy).

The system is run as a personal preserve of the president/sultan. Corruption is a keyword, as political elites are at the same time compensated and threatened, and therefore completely subject to the authority. The sultanic power is actively demonstrated on the one hand by the frequent use of violence, and episodes such as the disappearance of political characters of the opposition3; on the other hand, by the distribution of public resources, such as funds and political positions.

The direct election of the president and the regular utilisation of referendums stress the link between the president/sultan and the people. In particular, these instruments were used as the basis for populist legitimation, which is the central point of a system in which democratic institutions cannot act effectively, political parties are discredited as “divisions in society” and almost not represented anymore in the institutions of the State.

In the Belarusian sultanic regime, any kind of legitimation is denied to the opposition, which is rather definable as “resistance”: the opposition does not exist in the Parliament, and the only way it has to make its voice heard is the organisation of manifestations and public meetings, condemned by the regime as “trouble to law and order” and regularly repressed.

The consequences of sultanic presidentialism are clear limits for the future: the absence of parliamentarian opposition not only causes the lack of a serious alternative to the sultanic regime, but it also prevents a democratisation of the society, which will arguably make change harder.

So, should we accept Belarus as an Asian country? I think we should rather intensify our efforts to bring it back to the European family, to political pluralism and democracy.

1 For the French speakers:

2 Alexandra Goujon, “Révolutions politiques et identitaires en Ukraine et Biélorussie (1988-2008)”, Paris: Belin, 2009

3 Cfr:

Article originally published:

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