Causes of Democratic Transition Failure in Belarus

Angelina Vysochina and Irina Degteva,
2nd year master’s students, School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University

Abstract: The article details the causes of the constant failure of democratic transition in the Republic of Belarus. The Belarusian political regime and Alexander Lukashenka himself are considered within the framework of democracy movement in the post-soviet states. The transition failure can be explained by the lack of contributing factors. The following methods were used in the paper: structure-oriented approach and process-oriented approach. Also, the authors devoted considerable attention to general scientific methods.

Keywords: democratic transition, political regime, post-soviet states, democracy, authoritarianism, structure-oriented approach, process-oriented approach.

Political science considers transition of democracy in the post-communist countries as one of the most complicated issues nowadays. During the past two decades these states faced great incidence of political, economic and social changes and challenges. Samuel Huntington (1991) called this period as a “Third Wave of Democratization”[1]. It was followed by the next burning questions such as ”whether democracy can be exported or not and under which conditions”; ”whether democratic transition in one country is able to produce “snowballing”, or it is a single event that took place under specific favorable circumstances”; ”what circumstances are they, and whether every case is unique or there are some common features”.

Lukashenka, who firstly became the president of the Republic in 1994, is the embodiment of a person, who is able to put an end to economic recession and corruption. Now he is still legitimate and popular among people due to the ability of his government to keep acceptable living standards and full employment to the population, tempering the negative consequences of the world economic crisis. Amid successful politics in economic stabilisation and employment increase, Alexander Lukashenka consolidated all branches of power in his hands. He straightened his power in 1996, when most of the Belarusian people supported president with authoritarian tools of management on the national referendum. It was a turning point in democracy of Belarus and marked continuing “a near-dictatorial executive style and rejected key elements of the democratic state, namely a legislature reflecting the views of the electorate and directly elected local executive power”. Checks and balances system went on to be concentrated in Lukashenka’s hands. The 2004 Referendum eliminated the limits of presidential term. Therefore, Alexander Lukashenka was able to guarantee the legitimacy of his future turnout and provide a semblance of democracy in Belarus. As a result, since his first presidential elections in 1994, Alexander Lukashenka has legally run presidential campaign every five years.[2]

The former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in her interview to the CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty, called the Republic of Belarus “the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe”. Geographically Belarus is locked between Russian hybrid regime with authoritarian features and democratic Europe. From the other sides, Belarus is surrounded by stable democratic states of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia on the west, by Ukraine from the south, where Color Revolution has already occurred.

We define causes for failure of democratic transition according to structure-oriented approach, such as economic stability and financial wellbeing, stable economic growth, growth in industrial output, high levels of GDP, rising standards of living. Moreover, there are stable payments of constantly increasing salaries and pensions, stability of the political system, low level of social stratification and unemployment rate, strong relationship with Russia and its economic aid, low gas prices and loans, minor ties with democratic states. By the way, lack of the active support from the Western-funded non-governmental organizations in Belarus, state repressions on independent media, crackdown on political opposition and human rights activism and orthodox religious traditions are among them.

Moreover there are a lot of causes for failure of democratic transition according to process-oriented approach such as the extreme popularity of Alexander Lukashenka, the unity between elites and security ministries, a weak and divided opposition, the absence of common vision for necessary changes among opposition. Besides, the lack of great political scandals discrediting national leader, minor improvements in the country’s political environment (for instance, the prisoner release in 2015), exclusion of independent observers from electoral monitoring, obstruction of conducting an alternative counting of votes, maintaining power by the old elite, opposition leaders have little experience in the executive branch. It is necessary to add inadequate participation of opposition in governing process, absence of proactive orientation toward regime change and lack of support for democratically oriented political forces.

In conclusion, it should be noticed that Alexander Lukashenka managed to create a semblance of permanent economic growth and equality in the state. He is perfectly playing on people preferences and wishes. It is necessary to focus on the current situation, when successful democratic transition in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova has not had “snowball” effect on Belarus. It means that Belarus hasn't enough contributing factors, which were described above. Moreover, there are the crucial obstacles to democratic transition.


  1. Freedom House. (2007). Belarus: Nations in Transit. Retrieved from
  2. Huntington, S. P., The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991
  3. Kharitonova, O.G., The trajectories of post-communist transformations in the light of theories of democratization. Modernization and politics: traditions and perspectives of Russia. Мoscow, 2011. P. 62.
  4. Makarenko B., Melville A. How Do Transitions to Democracy Get Stuck, and Where? Democracy in a Russian Mirror.Cambridge Studies in the Theory of Democracy, 2015. P. 268-297.
  5. Nechyparenka, Y. (2011). (Rep.). Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI). Retrieved from

[1] Huntington, S. P., The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century, University of Oklahoma Press, 1991

[2] Nechyparenka, Y. (2011). (Rep.). Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI). Retrieved from