Belarus protesters vs “Psycho 3%”

Belarus protesters vs “Psycho 3%”

What will it take to bring change to the one European country where nothing ever changes? Alexander Lukashenko has led Belarus long enough to consider his Russian neighbor Vladimir Putin "the new guy." Since 1994, he's beaten back periodic calls for political change. That's now getting harder.


Years ago, Lukashenko was popular. Many Belarusians were gratified that, in the years that followed Soviet collapse, their country avoided the economic chaos of Boris Yeltsin's Russia and the political upheavals in next-door Ukraine.

But over time, his popularity has withered, particularly in Minsk, the country's capital. Protesters, who have gathered in city streets in recent days in historically high numbers, have dubbed their president "Psycho 3%."

The "psycho" part refers to his insistence that the coronavirus is merely a "psychosis" that can be managed with saunas and vodka. Lukashenko rejected calls for a COVID lockdown in his country with a warning that it would leave citizens without enough to eat. (Not a ringing self-endorsement for a man who has been in power for 26 years.)

The "3%" refers to his approval rating in a recent informal online poll. A more credible survey from the Belarus Academy of Sciences, conducted in April and leaked to Western media, suggested that about one-third of Belarusians still trust Lukashenko, but that's not impressive in a country where the president controls nearly all traditional media. The "Psycho 3%" label has even become a fashion item among protesters.

Outsiders are watching. Russian officials remain interested in Lukashenko's fate because they believe Belarus remains a bulwark against the further expansion of Europe toward Russia's border. Europe takes an interest, because Belarus has often been labelled "Europe's last dictatorship" — and because Belarus has long been a transit point for Russian oil headed West.

Time to vote. Lukashenko's immediate problem is a national election on August 9, and his campaign strategy might look familiar to Mr Putin. For example, Lukashenko is now a lock to win a sixth term, in part because two leading opposition figures, Valery Tsepkalo and Viktor Babariko, have been barred from running.

Babariko, the stronger of the two candidates, faces money-laundering charges that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen calls "politically motivated." Tsepkalo had more than half the signatures on his election petition invalidated. In Belarus, as in other authoritarian states, the law exists not to protect the people from the excesses of their leaders but the other way around.

These moves then triggered protests that quickly got the president's attention. When the Psycho 3% idea became a popular internet meme, Lukashenko shut down mobile internet connections nationwide, and his police then hit the streets of Minsk to beat some protesters and arrest others. A few journalists went to jail, too.

Pointing fingers at Russia. The interesting twist on Lukashenko's new campaign messaging is that he claims his strongest rivals are agents of the Russian government — Babariko is the former head of a Russian-owned bank, and Tsepkalo has been linked to a deep-pocketed Russian oligarch.

This is the latest sign of friction in the long-complicated relationship between Minsk and Moscow. Putin has pressured Lukashenko to lead Belarus into a "Union State" with Russia, while Lukashenko fears that "union" might make Belarus into a Russian province. Russia has long shipped fuel to Belarus at a discounted price that Belarus can then sell to Europeans at a markup. A lack of progress on the union project has ended that economic support, at least for now.

The enemy within. But like all long-time dictators, Lukashenko's greatest challenge may be demographic. No Belarussian under 30 can remember life without him, and the number of older voters, his most reliable backers, is dwindling.

He also has a more immediate worry: Any dictator can rest easy if he believes that soldiers and police will follow his orders to pull the trigger. But Lukashenko can't help but notice that the Psycho 3% internet memes include photos of anonymous protesters in both police and army uniforms.

Unfortunately for Lukashenko, not even Europe's last dictator can shut down the internet forever.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

More Show less

Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

More Show less

80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

More Show less

On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

More Show less

For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Does alcohol help bring the world together?

GZERO World Clips

How should athletes protest at the Olympics?

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal