Last week, demonstration activity in Eastern Europe continued at very low levels. In Belarus, demonstrations against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko continued throughout the week and were met with violent state response. Lukashenko indicated a potential willingness to step down from office after constitutional reforms are made. This seems, however, to be in an effort to buy time in the face of domestic demonstrations and pressure from Moscow to pursue deeper integration with Russia. Meanwhile, peaceful demonstrations against many governments’ handling of coronavirus continued across the region.
In Belarus, thousands of people demonstrated throughout the week in Minsk and other cities, demanding new elections and a cessation of police violence and political persecution (RFE/RL, 22 November 2020). Lukashenko’s inability to control the demonstration movement has weakened his domestic position — and therefore his bilateral relationship with Russia. The Kremlin publicly encouraged Lukashenko to integrate Belarus more deeply into its Union State agreement with Russia, following a visit with Lukashenko by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (RBC, 26 November 2020). The Russian-Belarusian Union State is a 1996 agreement between the two states that establishes a framework for deeper integration, including a common currency and set of laws. The agreement has not been fully implemented and Lukashenko in particular has been reluctant to pursue deeper integration as it would erode both Belarusian sovereignty and his own political power. However, he relies on Russian support to remain in power in the face of overwhelming pressure to resign from the Belarusian public. In what was viewed as an effort to stall for time, Lukashenko indicated that he might be willing to step down following amendments to the constitution (Belta, 27 November 2020). He likely hopes to enact sham reforms that would placate Belarusian society while giving him a stronger bargaining position with Russia.
Demonstrations against many governments’ handling of the worsening coronavirus pandemic took place across the region including in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Russia, and Ukraine. Many of these demonstrations violated laws on public health, though they remained peaceful across the region.
Demonstrations for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women took place in Greece and Russia. In Greece, several of the demonstrators were detained for violating public health laws. In Russia, several of the activists participating in these demonstrations were detained for failing to comply with police instructions.
In the Donbas region in Ukraine, fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-led separatists remained at very low levels. There were 33 armed clashes, 30 shelling incidents, and one fatality reported.
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