Throughout the years, crypto press and different organizations have picked up on Belarus and its seemingly positive attitude towards cryptocurrencies. Youtube videos were published about Belarus using state-powered nuclear power to mine bitcoin and contribute to the global hash rate securing it. News was made of the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukanhesko signing a decree that legalized cryptocurrencies and ICOs, and made cryptocurrencies tax-free for at least five years.
Now, as he is cracking down on protestors after declaring himself the victor of an election seen “as riddled with irregularities” is a good of a time as any to reflect on what happens when bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general pick up unlikely and unhelpful allies who deserve scrutiny. Opposition candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya is on track to lose to a margin of about 70% on 80% turnout, despite the fact that she has inspired large waves of protest and garnered support from across the political spectrum — a seemingly improbable figure.
Alexander Lukanhesko has won every election since the independence of Belarus. He was the only politician in Belarus who voted against the dissolution of the Soviet Union — nonetheless, since its independence, he has been the sole person in power over the country. Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate who hailed from Belarus and ultimately ended up being named the director of the Belarusian PEN Center, warned Europe to beware of Belarus’s “soft dictatorship”. Belarus has switched back and forth between looking at Europe and Russia as allies. These different perspectives have either softened or hardened the political perspective, always led by Lukanhesko.
As protests have ramped up during the leadup to the 2020 elections, the soft edges of Belarus have been hardened into waves of protest and repression. Opposition candidates who ran for office were detained. Thousands of mostly young protestors were beaten and set upon with tear gas after the election results were announced. Dozens were injured — and thousands were placed in detention. While there is something to be said for the support and awareness garnered by cryptocurrencies — it was somewhat unlikely from the start that a nation-state without many checks and balances would embrace the spirit and the ideology behind independent nodes making free choices. After all, a country where no election has been labelled as fair or free since its independence should struggle to be able to guarantee financial freedom and choices for its own citizens.
All of this culminated in the censorship of the Internet in Belarus as election results started pouring in — the critical protocol upon which blockchains and cryptocurrencies that need to reach global consensus depend on. Belarus was a rare country that tried to use cryptocurrencies and a liberal attitude towards them to launder the country’s reputation for technological innovation through the cryptocurrency community. It was a refreshing change of pace for a community used to being called “criminal” and associated with anything as unsavory as terrorism and money laundering from most nation-states, and which faced nation-state based bans.
Yet, even though Belarus seemed like a government that was more receptive to cryptocurrencies, the reality is that its inherent power structure lent itself to political and economic centralization. This was something that should have been under more scrutiny from the beginning. As cryptocurrency becomes more adopted and widespread, it’s possible other states will latch onto it for various different ideological reasons, or as a way to help promote their economy. Yet cryptocurrency adherents must be wary of temporary allies who may not share longer-term convictions about individual freedom and choice — and which therefore, cannot be relied upon for any long-term collaboration or growth.