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The “Accidental Candidate” Versus Europe’s Longest Dictator: Belarus’s Unfinished Revolution for Women

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Abstract:  Women in Central and Eastern Europe have made gains as presidents and prime ministers. A notable exception to this is Belarus, where President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the longest dictator in Europe, has tightly clung to power since 1994. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya surprised many when she threw her hat in the ring for the 2020 presidential election. This article asks how Tsikhanouskaya arose as the 2020 opposition candidate and how gender shaped the campaign. Gender played a central role in her being able to stand in the election. Her husband had been a leading presidential candidate but was imprisoned by the regime. Like women who rose to executive leadership positions, Tsikhanouskaya ran in her husband’s place. Lukashenka permitted her candidacy because he did not see her as a political threat. Lukashenka regularly diminished her candidacy using sexist rhetoric. Tsikhanouskaya’s own campaign highlighted more traditionally feminine traits such as being a nurturer, unifier, and non-power seeking, and only being in politics by chance. Referring to herself as an “accidental candidate,” she made it clear that she sought to unify the Belarussian people against the dictatorship and would step aside after this was accomplished. As de facto opposition leader, she continues to highlight these more feminine qualities and craft a less threatening image.

Keywords:  Belarus; Central and Eastern Europe; dictatorships; democracy; gender studies; revolution; women in politics

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v11i1.6167


© Farida Jalalzai, Steve Jurek. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.