Crypto-friendly state Belarus faced a nation-wide internet blackout on Monday after a hotly contested presidential election on Aug. 9. The country has been facing mass protests since the announcement of the incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko’s landslide win over Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader who claims the vote was massively falsified.
The crypto-friendly country raises questions on the support of dictatorship and authoritarian governments’ role by the crypto communities following Lukashenko’s marred election win.
Belarus’ friendly nature to Bitcoin
Belarus has been one of the biggest proponents of cryptocurrency services and Bitcoin mining within Europe. Throughout 2019, the government and the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko spoke and made policies favorable to enable the crypto ecosystem growth in the country, including the launch of the world’s first tokenized securities exchange.
In September 2019, Lukashenko appeared in a video authorizing the mining of Bitcoin using the country’s nuclear power energy. The footage first shared in April, whereby he spoke on the possible creation of bitcoin mining data centers in Belarus, enticing laughter and amusement amongst the crowd. He then said,
“Wait for us to bring in the nuclear plant and use the excess energy… we will use space to build mining, and we will mine these bitcoins, and we will be selling them.”
While the crypto ecosystem in Belarus looks set to bloom with the re-election of Alexander, who has won every election since the country split from the USSR in 1994, human rights and freedom in the country is in danger following the sparked protests.
Choices: Crypto friendliness or fair elections?
Despite the interests and regulation friendly stature of Belarus in the crypto field, analyst and the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich, claims the country is falling into “soft dictatorship.” Lukashenko has been at the center of the protests in Belarus by authorizing the tear gassing and arresting young protestors as well as detaining opposition leaders following the 2020 elections.
Notwithstanding, he shut down the internet on election day as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram Telegram and Viber, all went off at about 3 AM local time. According to internet watchdog NetBlocks CEO Alp Toker and director of research Isik Mater, the country experienced a near-total shutdown in internet connectivity throughout the day as only pre-installed VPNs allowed access.
However, Lukashenko issued a statement denying any role in the shutdown instead of passing the blame to international actors. He said,
“Our systems registered multiple cyber-attacks on the government agencies’ websites and Beltelecom servers. That led to the communications channels getting overwhelmed and our infrastructure malfunctioning, leading to the disruption of access to some Internet resources and services.”
According to a Forbes article, the cryptocurrency friendliness nature by Lukashenko is masking his real dictatorship tendencies by the 26-year serving president. If a country does not respect a democratic people’s vote, then can it embrace Bitcoin’s spirit and ideology behind independent nodes making free choices?
Opposition leader, Tikhanovskaya has since fled the country due to fear of her family and two children's safety, reports state.