In eastern Europe, a wind of protest and change is blowing stronger and stronger. Belarus, Bulgaria and Russia. Countries with different histories and peoples but with common denominators: a Soviet past, a present threatened with authoritarian figures and a disappointed citizenry of its political class.And at the bottom of the staging is the European Union (EU) that seeks to consolidate its influence in the region.
In Belarus more than 200,000 protesters took to the streets in the first call on 16 August. The largest protest in the history of the country. They denounced an electoral fraud that allowed the re-election of President Alexandr Lukashenko after 26 years in power.
Since then, the protests have continued, under crude police repression that has left thousands of people dead, injured and arrested.
Police violence has left the so-called “last dictator of Europe” politically isolated. Russia, Lukashenko’s long-time ally, is demanding reform lawsuits in exchange for his full support.
For its part, the European Union condemns and sanctions, but also promises financial support for any democratic transition that respects human rights. It also offers a helping hand to opponents, such as Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition and exile in Lithuania.
Protests in Bulgaria
Another country, this time an EU member state, Bulgaria, has been protesting for more than three months. Bulgarians have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. The conservative politician has been in command of the country since 2009 and his government is dotted with corruption scandals and an alleged link to the country’s mafia.
The poorest state in the European Union, fighting corruption and challenges to the rule of law, almost 14 years after the country joined the EU.
The political turbulence also raises tough questions for Brussels. Since Bulgaria persists in blocking the talks for the entry of North Macedonia to the group of 27.
Russia and its “lifetime” president
A different country, a different leader, but who in turn has provoked, with a constitutional referendum, some timid protests. Vladimir Putin has been in power since 2000. He is the oldest president in modern Russian history since the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. He is 68 years old and there is no successor in sight.
Putin’s fourth term ends in 2024, but through the July referendum on constitutional reform, which he won with 78% of the vote, he could remain in power until 2036. Two more terms.
And if something goes wrong, the legislature has backed a bill that gives Russian presidents and their families criminal immunity after they leave office.
Opposition figures denounced Putin claiming to be “president for life.” The Kremlin’s main critic, Alexei Navalny, described the results as a “big lie” that did not reflect the true public opinion of the country.
Navalny is now a survivor of a poisoning attempt. He believes Putin was behind it, accusations shared by some EU countries. Moscow has labeled them unfounded.
His case runs the risk of galvanizing tensions between Europeans and Russians, at a time when the Kremlin feels shaken by public opinion and the West accuses it of killing its political opponents.