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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.

The role of the public library has evolved over time. As we move online at an even faster rate, knowledge, entertainment and opportunities for education and employment are found on the internet. Those living in well-connected, affluent places may have come to take internet access for granted. But there is a digital divide in the U.S. that has left people at a disadvantage – particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.

Finding ways to overcome that divide in a sustainable, community-led way could help bring the benefits of the internet to those who need it most. One solution is to use technologies such as TV white space to facilitate wireless broadband – as Microsoft's Airband Initiative is doing. To read more about Microsoft's work with public libraries, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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Less than a week out from Election Day, 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots, and many of those are people who are voting "early" for the first time because of the pandemic. In fact, the early vote total alone this year is already equal to nearly half of all ballots cast in the 2016 general election, suggesting that 2020 turnout could reach historic levels. Most important, however, is how things are playing out in key battleground states where the outcome of the US election will be determined. In Texas, for instance, a huge surge in early voting by Democrats this year has raised the possibility that a state which has been won by Republican candidates since 1976 could now be up for grabs. Here we take a look at early voting in battleground states in 2020 as compared to 2016.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new constitution. But, why are people in this oasis of political stability and steady economic growth in South America willing to undo the bedrock of the system that has allowed Chile to prosper for so long?

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

One week before the US election. What do other world leaders want to happen?

Well, I mean, let's face it. Outside the United States, most of the world's leaders would prefer to see the back of Trump. An America first policy was not exactly made for non-Americans. That was not the intended demographic audience. Trump doesn't really care. In fact, to a degree, it's kind of a selling point that a lot of foreign leaders don't want Trump. It's showing that Trump is strong in negotiations and indeed is doing better for the American people.

That's largely BS, but occasionally it's true. I mean, his willingness to use American power to force the Mexican government to actually tighten up on Mexico's Southern border and stop immigration from coming through. AMLO would have much rather that not have happened, but the fact that it did was an America first policy, that rebounded to the benefits of the United States. And there are other examples of that. But generally speaking, it would be better for the US long-term, and for the world, if we had more harmonious, smoother relations with other countries around the world, certainly pretty much all the Europeans would much rather see Trump lose. The United Kingdom is the significant exception given the nature of Brexit, and the fact that Trump has been in favor of that, like being called Mr. Brexit by five or six Brits or however many did.

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