State-society relations in Belarus have been tense for many years. The presidential elections in August 2020 and the mishandling of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have proved to be the catalyst that brought these fragile relations to a complete breakdown. Over the years, the widening gap between a new generation of an emancipated citizenry and a regime stuck in predominantly paternalistic power structures and reluctant to engage in political and economic reforms has become increasingly evident. The deteriorating economy during the last decade and the perceived decline of the country’s social welfare system have been important factors in these developments. At the same time, the regime has continued to invest in its domestic security structures to a disproportionate extent compared with neighbouring states, allowing the so-called silovye struktury (“state power structures”) to gain influence at the highest level of state governance.
The report relies on document analysis, public opinion polls, statistical data and problem-centred interviews conducted by the author with various local stakeholder groups between 2017 and 2020. For reasons of accessibility, the report mainly draws on observations and assessments by individual activists or representatives of the expert community and civic organisations in the capital Minsk and the city of Bobruisk, and only utilises state sources to a limited extent.