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Belarus: Anatomy of Adaptive Authoritarianism

Open Panel

Abstract

Contemporary Belarus is best known as the ''last dictatorship in Europe'' and an ''outpost of tyranny''. This paper looks beyond the popular sound bites to bring more substance to the discussion on Belarus as a modern non-democratic regime. In identifying the characteristics of the successful authoritarian consolidation which has taken place under President Alexander Lukashenko over the years since his initial election in 1994, this paper argues that a concept of ‘adaptive authoritarianism’ is the most appropriate term to reflect the realities of the political landscape in Belarus. This conceptual framework draws on elements from existing models used in comparative politics, which are then applied in the manner most appropriate to what is actually occurring in Belarus, based on an in-depth, bottom-up approach to identifying and analysing the system in place in the country. Adaptive authoritarianism is the case of Belarus is classified as featuring: increasingly hegemonic electoral authoritarianism within a system showing neopatrimonial tendencies; claims to performance legitimacy in the form of socio-economic stability through a shifting mixture of charisma, populism, rational self-interest and resigned acceptance; the exploitation of state coercive capacity through outright persecution as well as techniques of authoritarian pre-emption and managed pluralism; and the frequent demonstration of pragmatism, expediency and opportunism by changing and adapting the approaches and policies pursued at any given time, as deemed in the best interests of the incumbent.