EN | Electors vs Voters – The US Presidential Elections

New York, October 21, 2020

[ANALYSIS Bulletin No 6] Vlad Lupan | The US election enters homestretch. On November 3rd, not only the US President is going to be elected, but also a third of the Senate, as well as all the delegates from the House of Representatives – the ‘lower’ chamber of the American parliamentary system. The Republicans are considering electoral and post-election options, including holding repeated elections. The Democrats currently follow the traditional campaign formula, although, in our opinion, they show interest in the influence that protests in US can have on voters. 

Online voting in federal elections is prohibited. In-person voting will take place on 3 November. One subject of disagreement in these elections is mail-in voting. This type of voting begins on 24 October and has already been declared ‘a rigged election’ by President Trump, as early as this spring, long before the election. In addition, and in line with the traditional Republican ‘justification’, the President 

‘just asked’ whether the election day could not be postponed due to the pandemic — the justification used implies that he could only ask because he has no legal authority to change that date. So, according to Republican supporters, we must conclude that any speculations about a possible wish for such an undemocratic transfer are just speculations. The pandemic is indeed dangerous and could justify such a transfer. But taking into account that President Trump ‘just asked’ if doctors can give chlorine to COVID-19 patients, it is clear that he is not aware of all ins and outs, either medical or legal, of such “questions”, yet he would have wanted such a development. We could assume that, through such ‘questions’, the President could undermine his credibility and, therefore, the actual chances for such a voting date transfer.

There are two other obstacles – firstly the possibility of electoral losses due to an ‘anti-democracy’ image among undecided voters and, secondly, due to legal matters, a factor we will explain in the conclusions. In our opinion, this ‘just asking’ was, in fact, putting out fillers and it is absolutely obvious that it is a part of the electoral tactics of the Republican leader. Let us also note, from a chronological perspective, that the ‘question’ regarding changing the election date was posted on Twitter immediately the day after George Floyd’s death, i.e. before the widespread media coverage of the case and the mass protests and violence during these protests.

Although the leader of the Republican Party declared in advance the elections as rigged, this party actually controls the US Postal Service – not the electoral commissions though and, most importantly, the votes of electors and voters. As mentioned earlier, the electors “chosen” by vote ultimately decide who will be the President of the United States. As to the “rigged elections”, it is obvious that there could be no evidence of a presupposed future fraud. Anyway, even if such an ‘electoral-preventive’ statement is characteristic of the current Republican leader, it is based on a problem in part related to some difficulties in identification of voters by mail, and even those voting in person – only 2/3 of the US states require an ID at the voting polls.

However, there are other legal nuances that diminish such concerns – such as a number of rules in place in various States that minimize fraudulent voting. Still, even if we put aside the mail-in voting issue, president’s voters blindly believe what he says – we witnessed a dialogue in a mall, where a young Orthodox religious voter, supporter of the Republican party, could not explain to a pro-Biden Hispanic voter why there was a possibility of fraud, but he still believed in it. For this reason, the Democrats have tried to portray the Republican party cohesion as a ‘cult’. Of course, the Democrats have somewhat similar cases, as well as discipline, but they are supported by most of the media in the United States, which limits the negative impact on the party they support. Nonetheless, the conspiracy theories propagated by Republicans can easily create a much worse impression than democratic ‘interpretations’, some of which are often reasonable and correct as things stand now.


However, there is a new and real concern, rightly mentioned by Republicans, about mail-in voting – the complications of verifying and counting all the mail votes, since their number is going to be bigger than usual. Let us return, however, to the fraud that does not yet exist – such a statement is nothing more than a ‘preventive’ communication, part of the electoral strategy of Donald Trump’s team. This shows that he discussed several electoral and post-election options, even ‘bypassing’ the election results, and prepared the ground for such options. On the other hand, Joe Biden’s campaign is run in quite a usual way, including the condemnation of Antifa and the violence during the protests that began with the death of George Floyd, whose family Biden visited. This act was immediately reported in the media, in the middle of the election campaign. However, in our view, what really is really happening behind the showdown, is that a morally correct movement of peaceful protesters opened the door to street violence and banditry, sometimes among far-left Democrat voters, no matter how ‘out-of-ordinary’ they may be.

Thus, the election campaign was running its course against the backdrop of ongoing protests and violence in a number of American cities. As it was easily predictable, Floyd’s death and racial discrimination indeed became one of the main electoral topics in the 2020 US elections. But the goal of the contending parties remains the same – victory in elections. They need to strengthen their electoral base and win the votes of swing states and they cannot achieve this only by addressing the issue of racial equity. Respectively, in August the candidates launched or relaunched their electoral programs, with the help of broadcast conventions, without the presence of public, four days each. To avoid describing the whole four days of electioneering, we will report just some important elements, as a message or as a contrasting view. The programs contain elements related to minorities, topics derived from protests, as well as economic or even electoral matters. Democrats’ supporters said the GOP (Republican Party) did not have a new party program at its pre-election convention and focused on supporting the leader, not the principles,  compared to the Democrats.

We can see that in this way, without a program, the Republicans may call to mind the image of a personality cult. It is, still, somewhat expected from a ruling party not to come up with an absolutely new program, however the examination of the main topics of the Republican convention shows that the GOP has actually adjusted its previous program, at least in a way.

One of the interesting elements of both conventions was the presentation of voters, who moved from one electoral camp to another or even defecting politicians, implying possible moral and political shortcomings of the opponent party. We will only briefly mention that both the quantity and the ‘quality’ of the opponents were relatively equal on both sides in terms of the produced effect – although they addressed topics important only for their traditional voters, not the parties they defected from.

As predicted, the Republican election campaign stressed the President Trump’s ability to ensure the economic recovery of the United States, especially before the pandemic. At the same time, the GOP capitalized on the population’s fear of the violent protests. Here is an example of a strong message, by creating an ‘image’ of armed violence – the wife of a former police officer killed by criminals in St. Louis saying among other things that her husband was retired and that the looters streamed her husband’s execution. Strong emotions were thus elicited. The verification of this shocking statement showed that the former policeman was helping someone to ensure the security of a store, when it was being robbed by bandits.

The criminals were black men, the ex-officer too – such an image targets several audience groups, including the black people community, police and any voter unsure about these protests, confused about the differences between protesters and criminals. However, the so-called execution video shows the ex-officer already shot, lying on the sidewalk, although still alive – it is filmed post-factum, apparently spontaneously and the recording person is from the Afro-American community, shouting emotionally at the criminals that the policeman is someone’s father. Not exactly a streamed execution – but the diffusion at the Republican convention of an aggregated image of ‘executions’ on the street induces strong emotions and a level of insecurity for any voter who would rather prefer the security offered by the police, which the President’s administration supports. The death of the black ex-officer is a tragedy, but, from the point of view of political strategy we find that it was also used in electoral purposes.

Undoubtedly, the family of the deceased police officer considers such a warning, using an image of an ‘execution’, being true and correct. No one should go through what they did. At the same time, few Republican voters would have verified this information, and even if they did, there is no certainty that they would have taken these nuances into account when making a decision. They might think along the lines that a decent man was intentionally killed by criminals during the protests, not that there wasn’t a streamed execution, and would certainly rally around President Trump. As it is often said, ‘fear is a powerful motivator’ and the Republican party has used it effectively in this context.

As we mentioned earlier, the democrats chose a more traditional platform, the central topics being related also to the economy, i.e. progressive taxation depending on income, thought also focused on access to the health system, justice in the racial context (of course), education and the return to the system of partnerships in international relations.

However, it were not the positive aspects of the electoral programs that determined the political dynamics lately, rather negative elements of the campaign did. The so-called political dirt, including the self-inflicted one, seems to have quite strong effects in the 2020 campaign. This development partly repeats the style of the 2016 campaign, when President Trump ran against the Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton. But, this time, there is an additional element – the self-inflicted ‘dirt’. In 2016, the Republican candidate claimed that the Democrat violated laws, starting with keeping confidential emails on a private server to transferring US shares from a Canadian uranium mining company to the Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, for example. Then and now Trump resorts to political name-calling, accepted by a part of his electorate as easy-to-use election slogans, difficult to counter if repeated without the right of reply, in the style of the GOP candidate. This hyper-competitive attitude, labelled by the left and long before the elections by former Republican experts as man-child like, did not produce the same results in 2020. At least not as expected.


Even before the election debates some Republican senators, as well as journalists from the pro-Republican channel Fox were extremely critical of Trump – after the debates, the situation became even worse. Before the debates, a number of Republican representatives expressed their opinion that the party would have lost the elections in all three electoral institutions if the elections were to take place in August. Then two self-inflicted disasters followed – the media critical towards Trump reported that the US President, who apparently rejected the idea to visit an American cemetery in Europe because of the rain, supposedly called the American soldiers killed in wars ‘losers‘, thus partially alienating an important part of his traditional electorate – the military and their families, through a disastrous message revealed before the elections.

The second disaster, the one of the first televised discussion between Trump and Biden followed – that is if Trump’s frequent and caustic interjections, including shutting up the moderator from the Fox channel, can be considered discussion.

What is more, during the debates, the US President also poured gas on fire that already has shaken the country, fleeing the explicit condemnation of white racist groups, fact heavily criticized by the Fox correspondent at the White House. In his turn, Biden is hit by his son’s emails scandal, as Biden jr was previously employed by a Ukrainian energy company under investigation. We mentioned earlier that the Ukrainian authorities would most likely prefer to avoid falling between the hammer and the anvil in the political struggle between the GOP and Democrats. Kyiv would not want to lose both parties’ support for US military assistance, while Ukraine is fighting a war. Yet, the scandal erupted after an email disclosure, according to which Joe Biden’s son arranged meetings for an employee of that company already under investigation, to meet his father, US Vice President at that time, i.e. an attempt of influence peddling. Interestingly, the emails regarding the involvement of Biden’s son with the Ukrainian company ‘Burisma’ were recovered from a laptop, dropped off at a repair shop, somewhere in New Jersey. The owner of this laptop, says the pro-Republican newspaper New York Post, never came back for his laptop and did not respond to requests for its retrieval. We do not know how true these statements of the NY Post are, but the laptop’s hard drive was sent to Rudi Giuliani, Donald Trump’s lawyer. The former Mayor of New York City, as well as the former head of the pro-Russian Yanukovych’s election campaign, both had direct contact with the Russians. Moro than that he was encouraged by presumed FSB agents, regarding the disclosure of these emails. Furthermore, Twitter and Facebook blocked the emails’ publication by the pro-Republican newspaper New York Post on their platforms, to avoid the publication of material that the social media platforms deemed as obtained through cyber-attacks. NY Post obviously countered that by saying that it was obtained as a result of a laptop abandonment. In the end of all this “X said vs Z said”, we conclude that after the publication of this electoral ‘dirt’ some people in Moscow are pleased, and, at the same time, the original article in the New York Post, disclosing the emails, was viewed five million times.

The above developments demonstrate the turns, mistakes and political tactics of the campaign. Since an election campaign is a living process, here are some conclusions we could draw on this last hundred meters.

I. No business as usual. To begin with, apparently the Republican victory in 2016 came after two democratic governments, on the wave of traditional ‘fatigues’ of the electorate after any two consecutive governments. However, the Republican election campaign was different, more populist. The fact is that obviously a pro-populist voting, observable around the world, denotes a more serious problem – the voters are tired of formal ‘politics as usual’, a good part of which often eludes the uninvolved voter. However, this does not mean that politics should be populist. To make this conclusion more understandable, we’ll remember the the Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar , whoused to go to election meetings, where he spoke about Russia’s macroeconomic growth and provoked a remark of a simple voter to a correspondent of the Russian newspaper Kommersant, if we recall correctly, according to which Gaidar ‘speaks nicely, it’s a pity I don’t understand anything’…

II. The danger of keeping to the letter of the law, but not to its spirit. Secondly, one of the messages at the Republican pre-election convention was: let no one tell us, from outside or inside, how to elect and be elected – the current system has provided us with free elections for a very long time. In the current context, the history of segregation was not mentioned. This message of preserving the electoral system and respectively the laws governing it, launched at the August convention, provoked our curiosity. Later we found out about the option to ‘bypass’ the election results, since the law allows such an option and the convention statement “clicked” into place

Those who have worked in election campaigns know that any political force discusses electoral options, as diverse as possible, in order to find possible, even unusual, ways to win. However, in President’s Trump campaign context, we will also mention the aspect of the law in the construction business in New York – where the US President comes from. In the past, while we were still holding an official position in New York, we have witnessed the demolition of a building next to a diplomatic mission, without the consent of the representation or in line with the ecological permits of the municipality. Following discussions with a group of dedicated lawyers, who decided to help the mission pro-bono, we learned that the construction business representatives generally do not mind to violate regulations and legislation, then paying fines, only to make sure that the lot or construction is handed over quicker and the profit is earned faster. Therefore, such secondary legislation for these businesses  is not the supremacy of the rule of law preached by American diplomats, albeit in a different context. At this point I would suggest an important observation – thus, some of these businessmen do not seem to see an important distinction between the secondary, construction related, and the national or international legislation and its violation, having the classic New York answer at the ready: ‘and what can they do to me?’

So, the Republican idea of the appointment of electors by the US states, instead of them being elected, may be convenient, if there were suspicions that the number of pro-democrat voters in the ‘red’ Republican states would be too big. According to the US constitution, this would be legal, but if something like this were to happen in any other country, the American observers regardless of party affiliation, together with their partners from other democratic states, in the International Election Observation Missions, would most likely find that such an approach corresponds to the letter of the law, but not to its spirit. Such a development would open the door for undemocratic states to conduct elections or intervene in the elections of others, if there are loopholes in the law, without departing from the letter of the law.

III. ‘Risks’ exist in both political camps. Here are some:

1) Republicans could continue the policy of partial self-isolation, a modified Monroe doctrine, in the name of the reasonable spending of US resources. Their country, they would suggest, cannot afford and is not able to defend everyone, nor should it, at least not without profit. The idea of US self-isolation is also popular in certain academic circles, which most seriously discuss it on both side of the political spectrum, without offering ideas on how, for example, democracies can grow, including economically, without partnerships. From our observations, as well as from empirical data, we see that such a growth or return to democracy and well-being of Post-World War II Germany would have been impossible. The same goesfor the current EU member and NATO –Estonia – after the fall of the USSR. In the same way, the loss of US’ European partners led Japan and Germany to the doorsteps of the US in World War II. But this risk is of an external nature, less important for the Republican electorate, which in 2018 launched the slogan ‘better Russian than Democrat’, ignoring the clearly visible and serious external dangers, for the sake of the internal logic of the party.

2) The risk associated with Democrats acceding to power is of a different, somewhat more internal nature. They are internationalists, with their peculiarities in that, yet Russia has attacked their candidate in 2016. So, they no longer actively support an almost unconditional resumption of relations with Moscow, as they did before. There are nuances in how they see their relations with, for example China or Iran, but at the same time there were also questions about their determination to help Syrians or Eastern Europeans with more than statements or sanctions in the past. However, the partial “risk” for the American voter is that domestically Democrats stick to the traditional policy of over-taxation and income redistribution, which we would exaggeratedly call “robinhoodian”. Obviously, they have a strong argument about progressive taxation, depending on income, but the alternations of power in the world have often shown that when Social Democrats or Social Liberals departed from power, including in the US, the budget was left overstretched, and the business sector, including the small and medium enterprises, shrunken. There were exceptions, but the rule is generally valid, thanks to such a  robinhoodian taxation program – in the end you can’t take the same money more than once. To build hospitals you need to tax the businesses, which cannot be done if this sector is shrinking…

IV. Surveys are approximate in the US as well. The phenomenon of the margin of error higher than stated in public opinion polls is well known in Eastern Europe. Since 2016 it is a topic also discussed in the United States and in 2020 the media reported in all seriousness about a survey that showed that 52% of respondents did not believe polls were accurate. Ironic isn’t it? The leading polling company, Pew Research, showed that there are cases where the margin of error in some polls can be twice higher than declared. For instance, in the 2016 election Hillary Clinton was winning in polls, but lost the electors’ vote. For this reason, in our previous analysis we indicated that the American system would depend on the electors. We saw that the Republicans focused on such a scenario. We do not know if Democrats have prepared countermeasures.

former Republican adviser mentioned in August 2020 that polls cannot take into account the real level of support for President Trump, which may be higher. However, we recall that in the meantime ‘debates’ were held, as well as that there was a  blunder with military called ‘losers’ – things that apparently might scare off some undecided voters, causing a loss of popularity for Donald Trump. So, in short, without going into details about the comparative and quantitative analysis to determine voter preferences, we can suggest that the trends seem to be pointing to a certain winning margin for Joe Biden, at least for now. But the impact of the email scandal – as in the case of Hillary Clinton – is still unknown, as is the tendency of voters to support a President in office. There is a possibility that the scandal of Biden’s son email leaks have been accounted for, yet the emails have only appeared now and didn’t have time or a medium to spread. Hence, it is not clear if the email scandal is going to have a more serious impact on the swing voters.

It is possible that mail-in voting and vote counting errors could present challenges mainly for Biden, and somewhat less for Trump, perhaps even greater than the margins of error in the polls. The situation remains unclear, and some media outlets, which we may be considered Democratic-leaning, expressed their concern that there are other hidden factors that could lead to a new Trump’s victory – last minute voting in person of Republican voters or preventing mail-in voting by local courts.

Such elements as an electorate focused on a current leader figure, already in power, as well as the fact that they tend not to disclose their real position in the polls, are parts of the current US political culture, important to consider.

V. Questions – do we face the rise and fall of a great power or not yet? Or what is the alternative to US? The current American electoral system favors clear and simple messages from both sides of the political spectrum. Yet, the increasing role of political ‘dirt’, though present at any time in any campaign, still raises questions. These questions are related not only to the “quality” of the electorate, but also to American political elites, suspected of poor education, unfounded and dangerous strategic decisions or, on another side favoritism, so criticized by American diplomats in other parts of the world. Obviously, any such suspicion diminishes US’s chances of being listened to, and not just ‘because of the GOP’. The questions for those outside the US, but also for those in the US could be:

  • Whom then the states in transition will ‘listen to’ and what about non-democracies? Do the regimes get free rein and what would such a future look like for US interests?
  • What conclusions will the world draw from of all the ‘dirt’ revelations concerning the American left and right wing?
  • With all these concerns, how can the situation be remedied – in the US or outside the US?
  • Is there another stakeholder ready to take over the torch of the Statue of Liberty, or ‘there is really no one to call in Europe‘,even if EU says otherwise.

Eventually, there is much more to say about the US elections. In the run-up to any elections the polarization increases dramatically and the extremes are more prominent. These mostly calm down after the elections. Perhaps we should not dramatize the current developments – however, we should certainly draw the necessary lessons from each election, including this one, be these elections in the US or elsewhere. In this context, let us recall the old Romanian proverb: ‘Every bitter experience is a learning opportunity’.

Images sources: PexelsBBC

Vlad Lupan is an independent expert and former diplomat of the Republic of Moldova. He has over 20 years of diplomatic experience, acquired at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova, as well as in three OSCE Peace and Development Missions in Georgia, Albania and Croatia. He was a negotiator in the Transnistrian conflict and held positions of Director of the NATO Department, Foreign Policy Adviser to the President of the Republic of Moldova, member of the Parliamentary Commission for National Security, Defense and Public Order of the Republic of Moldova, Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the UN. He was included in the UN documentary on global population problems. Vlad Lupan gave presentations and lectures at Columbia, Stanford, Yale Universities, Occidental College and City College of New York.

This material was developed by LID Moldova experts under the project The Best Way: Periodic Bulletin funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). Opinions and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the authors and the experts and do not necessarily reflect the position of the funder.

Elements of text, images, tables, or charts may be taken over provided that the source is cited, i.e. LID Moldova, and that the appropriate hyperlink is attached.

Copyright © LID Moldova

Sven Gerst-You Cannot Fight Digital Technology with Rubber Bullets_orizontal

EN | You Cannot Fight Digital Technology with Rubber Bullets: The Surprising Rise of the Pro-Democracy Movement in Belarus

[ANALYSIS Bulletin No. 6] Sven Gerst | In the early phases of the Internet, tech optimists predicted that the widespread availability of new communication platforms will eventually lead to a new wave of democratization and civic empowerment. However, recent developments have not only challenged this storyline; but shown reverse effects. Authoritarian regimes—most notably China and Russia—have used digital technology to extend their social and political reach and bolster surveillance, the persecution of citizens, and the spread of propaganda and disinformation.

And it could even be argued that it was precisely those digital technologies that allowed such regimes to turn declining democracies into the full-fleshed autocracies that they are now.[1] However, these observations should also not tempt us to turn into tech pessimists. Because there is Belarus—where decentralized messaging apps gave rise to a democratic revolution in the most unlikely of all places.

Of course, by now so-called Twitter Revolutions are nothing new. We have seen them all around the world—from Moldova to Taiwan to the Middle East. But there are some particularities that make Belarus a curious case study. Because one of the best explanations for this sudden (and certainly unexpected) formation of a large-scale pro-democracy movement can be found in the analysis of the intersection between political organization and technology.

Traditional Forms of Resistance under Authoritarianism

Unlike in liberal democracies, opposition and dissident movements in authoritarian political contexts traditionally organize themselves under the banner of a leader figure. In order words, strongman leaders usually get challenged by other strong, charismatic leaders. This has various reasons. Most notably the fact that dictatorships tend to not only to consolidate power in favor of a specific position but also create a so-called Cult of Personality.[2]

In such highly personalized political environments, opposition movements are coordinated via hierarchical structures—where the leader figure is operating as the focal point of uniting collective political efforts. While such centralized structures allow for streamlined communication as well as effective and efficient coordination, they also suffer from their inherent reliance on individual leaders.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that authoritarian regimes have often countered such movements by attacking their central coordination points through preemptive repression and/or isolation of their leaders. In fact, such dynamics have dominated the political landscape in Belarus ever since its independence in 1994. Whenever potential challengers to Lukashenko were about to rise and gain traction, the regime channeled its efforts to remove those public leaders and most often forced them into exile.

The Emergence of Networked Protests

While hierarchical movements remain the dominant form of political coordination in authoritarian societies, the advent of digital communication technology—such as social media platforms or direct messaging apps—gave rise to new forms of social coordination: Networked Protest.[3]

For example, the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine that sparked in 2013 were able to induce political change without traditional elements of centralized leadership. Instead, the movement heavily relied on the decentralized efforts of a widespread network of political, civic, and cultural groups loosely connected via digital communication platforms.[4]

While such non-hierarchical forms of social coordination often suffer from mixed messaging and a lack of formal representation, the Euromaidan movement was able to achieve what traditional hierarchical structures were unable to accomplish. However, such success stories should not get us too hopeful. Similar protests in Turkey (i.e. Gezi Park Protests) and the Middle East (i.e. Arab Spring) were unable to deliver lasting change despite their ability to mass mobilize via Twitter and Facebook.

You cannot fight_media.npr_.org_.jpg

The Powers & Weaknesses of Networked Protests

Obviously, there is much more to say about networked protests.[5] However, this short glimpse into the very nature of political action should have revealed that organizational structures play a crucial role in a movement’s ability to realize its goals. While hierarchical opposition movements have been able to pose serious threats to strongman leaderships, authoritarian regimes have adapted to those challenges and developed expertise, strategies, and capacities to counter such dissident movements effectively.

Networked Protests that are organized via multiple nods of coordination and connected via digital communication technology do not suffer from such vulnerabilities. Due to their decentralized structures, they tend to be much more robust and less prone to be toppled by outside attacks. However, connective movements face other important challenges. While Networked Protests are a very powerful tool of mass mobilization due to the speed and reach of their digital infrastructure, it is this very disruptive potential that often conceal and distract from a lack of internal capacities.

Connective movements tend to overestimate their own capacities and are governed by constant ad hoc adjustments undermining the long-term outlook and prospects. It seems that in the age of social media, the amount of people that one can bring to the streets is not necessarily an indicator of the strength of a campaign anymore. Moreover, Networked Protests lack shared deliberation and decision-making experience and therefore tend to struggle at the first serious roadblocks—such as settling for a common agenda or spokesperson.


The Belarusian Update to Networked Protests: The Hybrid Model

Now back to Belarus. Because what we have observed during the presidential race in Belarus in 2020 combines all these insights. When with Viktar Babaryka a new strong challenger emerged in the presidential bid this year, the Lukashenko regime countered this movement through the usual tactics—and detained Babaryka based on allegation of money laundering. However, the authorities (as well as political commentators) did not take into consideration that in meantime a powerful digital infrastructure has emerged in the country: Due to the infamous mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the government[6]Belarusians have created crowdfunding platforms and Telegram groups that connected regime-critical forces already prior to the presidential race.

In the aftermath of the Babaryka arrest, these digital tools turned political. And the (more or less) accidental bid of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the wife of an also detained video blogger, was able to weaponize this digital infrastructure.

The biggest telegram channel NEXTA reached almost 2 million subscribers within weeks. What emerged can be best described as a hybrid model of decentralized communication hubs amplifying the message of a strong leader figure. This allowed Tsikhanouskaya to launch an unprecedented opposition campaign basically overnight. In addition, this pro-democracy movement was able to maintain its strength even when Tsikhanouskaya was forced into exile right after the elections due to its decentralized nature. Of course, removing the central figurehead led to internal disputes amongst the radical and moderate fractions of the movement; nevertheless, it was still able to bring hundreds of thousands of protestors to the street each week—to bridge the time before a new leading figure could emerge.

It is still too early to tell the tale, but the hybrid model of the Belarusian protests has shown how effective resistance in an authoritarian context can look like: combining traditional elements of political leadership with a decentralized digital communication infrastructure. And it is to be expected that more such structures will emerge in autocracies all around the world rather soon, as it is much needed.

Sven Gerst is a PhD Student in Political Economy at the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. He has an interdisciplinary background in economics, political science, and philosophy with degrees from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Mannheim. Previously, he also studied and worked at Harvard University, Duke University, St. Petersburg State University, and National Taiwan University. Sven is also the Secretary General of the International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY)—a global umbrella organization for all liberal youth organizations and which represents 1.2m young people. He is based in Minsk.

This material was developed by LID Moldova experts under the project The Best Way: Periodic Bulletin funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). Opinions and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the authors and the experts and do not necessarily reflect the position of the funder.

Elements of text, images, tables, or charts may be taken over provided that the source is cited, i.e. LID Moldova, and that the appropriate hyperlink is attached.

Copyright © LID Moldova


[1] Yuval Noah Harari, Why Technology Favors Tyranny.

[2] Frank Dikötter: How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century.

[3] Zeynep Tufekci: Twitter and Tear Gas.

[4] Tetyana Bohdanova: Unexpected Revolution: The Role of Social Media in Ukraine’s Euromaidan Uprising.

[5] For example: Aliaksandr Herasimenka: Adjusting Democracy Assistance to the Age of Digital Dissidents.

[6] Chatham House: Belarusians Left Facing COVID-19 Alone.

Images sources: media.npr.orgGMF ReThink


EN | In the midst of global pandemics North Macedonia proves that Euro-Atlantic geopolitics is there to stay

#LIDFLASH | Emil Kirjas | “In the midst of the global pandemic of Covid-19, when the epicenter of the crisis is in Europe, we have seen an unprecedented commitment by the governments from both sides of the Atlantic that the cooperation, unity and solidarity in both in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic space is there to stay. The sacrifices that the Macedonians have made in the last years with concluding the historic agreement with Greece have paid dividends: North Macedonia achieved its security guarantees that it is there to stay as a nation and the citizens can hope to join the community of prosperous nations.

This is not only a national historic achievement but a strong message to the region and to the world. It must be taken as an inspiration and motivation by the citizens of Moldova. It shows that even though the conditions might sometimes seem impossible, staying focused on achieving the national interest of being part of NATO and the EU is achievable. Creative innovative solutions to the intractable conflicts and lot of hard work do pay off. I cannot wait for the day when we will toast with good Moldovan wine on the membership of Moldova in our Euro-Atlantic family.”

Background: With the raise of the national flag of North Macedonia in front of the headquarters in Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) confirmed its commitment to its “open doors policy” by welcoming the South East European country. The ceremony which took place in parallel in the front of the Allied Command Operations (SHAPE) in Mons (Belgium) and Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia (United States) marked officially that now that the collective Euro-Atlantic defense mechanism includes 30 allied nations from both sides of the Atlantic. North Macedonia became formally a NATO member state in the same week when the European Council had finally given a green light for start of the accession talks with both North Macedonia and Albania.

In fact, the first ever meeting of the General Affairs Council which took place via videoconference had only one item on the agenda – to confirm the determination of the European Union to continue its enlargement policy with the countries of the Western Balkans.

Kevin Tammearu

EN | Saving 1407 years of working time

[ANALYSIS Bulletin No. 3] Kevin Tammearu | The Estonian data exchange system, called X-Road, helped Estonia save 1407 years of working time last year alone. This is up from 804 years in 2017 and Cybernetica, the European cyber security company behind the solution, is helping countries across the globe achieve the same.

A myriad of challenges

Work on this started in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s: Estonia faced several challenges in economic development, tackling legacy issues and securing a place in the international community. It was evident that overcoming these difficulties required a forward looking, fast paced government.

However, Estonian public administration databases were in isolation and the data exchange between agencies, ministries and organisations was slow and inefficient. Governmental information systems were not taking advantage of the opportunities the internet presented and suffered from poor connectivity. It was clear that establishing new connections between governmental databases and systems was time-consuming and expensive. Both of these currencies Estonia could not really spare at the time.

And that’s not the final set of challenges. Battles were also held around organizational issues, as many legal entities were responsible for different registers and most of them were developed independently. The registers used various database back ends and had interfaces that weren’t standardized.

Despite all of this, the government still had to function efficiently and offer services to citizens. And since most of the registers contained data that was sensitive (or confidential), security of the system had to be built in by design.

Research and development

The government started to investigate ways to organize the communication between government entities already around 1998 — these seminars and debates led to the X-Road project in 2001.

The Estonian Government’s State Information Systems Department commissioned Cybernetica as part of a joint project (in partnership with Assert) to develop the initial pilot, which was launched in 2001. Cybernetica took the leading role in implementing the data exchange solution and developing the X-Road since.

The company was well suited to take on this challenge, as it had branched out from the Estonian Academy of Sciences and its Institute for Cybernetics in 1997. With a long history of working on the front lines of scientific advancement (the Institute of Cybernetics was founded in 1960), the company was able to deliver a state-of-the-art solution to Estonia by using different technologies under a government setup in a novel way.

In 2001, Arne Ansper concluded a deeper scientific research on the e-State “E-State from a Data Security Perspective.” With this, a model for the e-State architecture and the appropriate legal framework was presented. Thanks to the structure, which has security by design and distributed architecture, the data exchange platform has experienced virtually no downtime since its inception.

The paper concluded:

“… there is no single piece of technology or a solution that would guarantee the success of the e-State implementation project. However, there exist a number of technologies that, when not used, guarantee the failure of the project.”

The data exchange technology that enables governmental interoperability is one of those in the latter category (this was also highlighted in a World Bank Development Report written in 2016).

Throughout the years, Cybernetica continued development and improvement of the X-Road in Estonia, with X-Road version 6 being the latest. This version improved the integrity of data exchanged between organisations and introduced additional measures to comply with requirements set by eIDAS. It included support for using qualified certificates to certify digital documents.

In 2012 Cybernetica started a research & development project to develop the basis of the next generation interoperability platform, the UXP (Unified eXchange Platform), the core of which is also used in the X-Road version 6.

With the prototype completed in 2013, the basis of UXP was adopted to build X-Road version 6. Work on version 6 was done from 2014–2015. The R&D was carried out with the aim of other countries across the globe having the opportunity to use this foundational technology and pave the way for a smart and secure digital government.

A major change with the new generation interoperability platform was the opportunity to have shared services between governments. Estonia and Finland have connected their data exchange layers for cross-border data interoperability. Because of significant movement of people between the two countries, this opportunity has direct impact on the well-being of citizens in both nations. Estonia and Finland have started several cross-border public services, primarily in healthcare.

Global recognition

World Bank Development Report in 2016 highlighted two foundational technologies that enable a secure and smart e-government ecosystem: digital identity and data exchange. Cybernetica has developed solutions for both areas (digital identitysecure data exchange) and the main challenge for governmental data exchange has been how to ensure secure and reliable exchange of mission critical data in an adverse, complex and dynamic environment.

The report, written by Kristjan Vassil from the Institute of Government and Politics at the University of Tartu, goes on to describe some of the characteristics of the X-Road: „ … open design is accompanied by rigid security measures — authentication, multilevel authorization, high-level log processing and monitoring, encrypted and time stamped data traffic — the basic functionalities that are covered within the very structure of X-Road.“

Today, the X-Road in Estonia has connected over 670 institutions and enterprises and over 515 public sector institutions. There are roughly 52 000 organisations as indirect users of X-Road services and over 1600 interfaced information systems.

Over 2700 services can be used via the X-Road.

As a result of developing the X-Road and several other complex systems for the Estonian government and its various ministries (such as e-Police, e-Customs, e-Voting), Cybernetica gained invaluable experience in how to build an e-State and develop a digital society.

High security requirements

Secure governmental data exchange is a prerequisite to build seamless services that are used by public servants and citizens. The goal is to have a cross-agency information sharing capability that is effortless so government can offer the best services and be available 24/7. It is one of the fundamental pieces of a functional digital society. And in many cases, the underlying data is used to make decisions with high value and is needed in real time. The nature of personal data that various government bodies use for their services place very high security requirements on the solution.

Security by design therefore is the bedrock of governmental data exchange and several information security principles have been implemented in the data exchange solution.

The CIA Triad is at the heart of information security and is considered a basic building block. It stands for confidentiality, integrity and availability.


The CIA model was in line with what studies indicated in relation to the security requirements of the data exchange solution:

  • No third party or intermediary should gain access to the data;
  • High value decisions require that the data is accurate and consistent;
  • Business processes depend on the infrastructure — there can be no single point of failure or global performance bottleneck.

To achieve confidentiality requirements, all data exchanged over the system is encrypted with a security protocol to create a channel between counterparts. Furthermore, peer to peer data exchange only happens between parties that have reached an agreement to open up their data, which means they communicate directly with each other.

To ensure integrity and evidentiary value, the security server (a local component in the data exchange system) signs all the outgoing messages with the member’s signing key. All of the signed messages are saved to a log that is periodically time-stamped to ensure long-term validity of the signatures. The time-stamped signatures can be extracted from the log and presented to third parties for verification.

A distributed architecture gives the infrastructure high availability with a low number of coordinating services (governing components). Several security mechanisms have been built into the servers to give protection against denial of service (DoS) attacks. Redundancy and load balancing are used for critical components to guarantee continuous functioning of the infrastructure.

Scalability, reliability, non-repudiation, accountability, auditability, to highlight a couple of other principles, have also been built into the data exchange solution to ensure secure and reliable exchange of mission critical data.

In conclusion, although there is no single solution to this thorny and growing issue, the importance of secure data exchange to nations across the world cannot be overestimated. In Estonia, there are almost no paper documents and certificates that need to be carried from one government agency to another. Instead of relying on documents brought by the citizen, agencies make queries to the source and retrieve the most up to date version of the required information.

Kevin Tammearu is Head of Business Development for UXP in the Department of Data Exchange Technologies at Cybernetica. 

Cybernetica is a research and development intensive ICT company that develops and sells mission-critical software systems and products, maritime surveillance and radio communications solutions. Cybernetica has been an active counterpart in developing critical e-Government systems, such as the Estonian X-Road, i-Voting, e-Customs and others. Today Cybernetica delivers its systems to across 35 countries in the world. As part of its heritage, Cybernetica still focuses on research and development, especially in information security — its stand-alone Institute of Information Security works in collaboration with the top universities from Europe, but also with institutions from the USA and Japan.

This material was developed by LID Moldova experts under the project The Best Way: Periodic Bulletin funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). Opinions and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the authors and the experts and do not necessarily reflect the position of the funder.

Elements of text, images, tables or charts may be taken over provided that the source is cited, i.e. LID Moldova, and that the appropriate hyperlink is attached.

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