Does Belarus Need A Shadow Government in Exile?

Colonel Vladimir Borodach

Former Belarusian colonel Vladimir Borodach published his manifesto on 1 June in which he promised to overthrow the government in 3-5 years. The idea looks unrealistic both for his opponents and potential supporters, but received much publicity in the Belarusian press because it reflects the general fatigue of opposition "losers" and their unsuccessful actions.

As an example, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis said in his interview for Carnegie Europe on 15 May that he was tired of all the plans for supporting the opposition in Belarus. He suggested that it would be better instead to create a transitional council that might be backed by the U.S. But in fact direct support of Belarusian society at large is much more important and realistic than planning alternative government structures abroad.

KGB Officers As Advocates of Democracy?

Vladimir Borodach and his comrade Anufry Romanovich, a former KGB agent, claim that they have organised several meetings of retired officers in Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine over recent months. They aim at creating the Council of National Revival which would unite opposition forces to topple Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka.

They tend to use extremely radical rhetoric, saying that leaders of their organisation should be ready to sacrifice themselves and their families to win the battle against Lukashenka. From their point of view, only force is effective when dealing with the Belarusian regime.

What is more important, they say that almost all Belarusian opposition leaders are controlled by secret services and thus the Council should be situated in exile.

The Only Country With Opposition Military Junta in Immigration

It is better to gain voters' sympathy rather than threaten authorities with revolution without the proper support of the Belarusian public

Despite radical moods in some opposition organisations, most main stream Belarusian politicians, activists and analysts rejected the idea. They say it is better to gain voters' sympathy rather than threaten authorities with revolution without the proper support of the Belarusian public.

Prominent political observer Valer Karbalevich says with irony that the Borodach’s initiative is exotic for the world that has not ever seen opposition military junta in immigration. Former presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin highlights the need for opposition consolidation within the country, not outside it. And Alexey Pikulik from the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies (BISS) adds that survival of such immigration structures depends only on grant aid.

As analyst Yuri Chavusau noted, an opposition in immigration lacks legitimacy because authorities concentrate their propaganda on the opposition's detachment from Belarusian society. Moreover, voters may feel distance and think that such opposition does not reflect their interests.

Moreover, any transitory council outside the country would not be able to function effectively without international recognition. Borodach has already asked Washington, Brussels and Moscow for help. But Hans-Georg Vick from the organisation "Human rights in Belarus" (Berlin) thinks that such recognition is impossible, because it does not correspond to the interests of the main geopolitical actors in the region. 

And if it so, that’s for better: an attempt to create "a national unity government" on 19 December 2010 resulted in large-scale repression against civil society and political opposition. This crackdown could have been provoked by Russian intelligence services who manipulated several opposition figures to break off Belarusian contacts with Western countries, as former economic adviser to Russian president Andrei Illarionov suggests.

History of Belarusian "Shadow Governments"

Actually, there is nothing unique in Borodach’s proposal. Transitory councils have been used in Syria and Libya to prepare the ground for foreign intervention. But this scenario is not only undesirable but unrealistic in Belarus which is supported by the Russian military.

In the late 1990s Hienadz Karpienka led the National Executive Committee – a shadow government formed by ex-deputies of the 13th Belarusian Supreme Soviet (Parliament). But he unexpectedly died from cerebral haemorrhage on March 31, 1999. His colleague, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenko disappeared under suspicious circumstances a month later after his attempt to create the Union of Officers.

Both politicians were very popular and their example shows how any serious attempts to create alternative institutions of power may end in Belarus.

Belarusians already have the Council of the BNR – the oldest existing government in exile. The short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR) was declared on March 25, 1918 during World War I. Then its officials were forced to leave the country after it was taken over by the Soviets. The government serves as a symbol for Belarusian democrats, and many argue that there is no need to have another one.

It is important to support the existing institutions instead of multiplying new organisations

Finally, Belarusian opposition and civil society is largely represented in other countries. The Office for a Democratic Belarus functions in Brussels, the Solidarity with Belarus Information Office operates in Warsaw and the Belarusian Human Rights House had been set up in Vilnius. It is important to support the existing institutions instead of multiplying new organisations and thus widening the split between different opposition groups.

What Does Belarus Really Need In Place of A New Grant-Seeking Office?

The idea of uncompromising struggle against the regime gets some backing from radical activists. For example, Viacheslau Dzianau who is responsible for last year’s "silent protests" says that it is topical, because people are tired of indecisive politicians who are ready to coexist with Lukashenka for decades.

However, those who want to bring democracy to Belarus should not give money to a marginalised fiery-tempered group which does not represent any significant group of Belarusian society. The only reason why his initiative received so much attention in the Belarusian press is the weariness of Belarusians with both the authorities and the  opposition which were unable to change anything in their lives. This raises hopes that some external forces will magically transform or put an end to the Belarusian regime without the involvement of society itself.

But only Belarusians themselves are responsible for what is going on in the country. Thus it is much better to focus assistance efforts on society at large: to abolish visa regime with Belarus, to offer more opportunities for Belarusian students and youth professionals and to establish broader ties with Belarusian officials and businessmen. And of course, it is essential to increase support for Belarusian civil society.

Such long-term measures would not bring immediate results. The most promising means to help foster democratic transition is to help Belarusians view their country from a different perspective. As a result of more integration between Belarus and the rest of Europe by means of education and more openness, more and more will feel responsible for their country and capable of actually changing it, not just talking about it. And then they would be able to formulate alternative policies and form a truly influential government of national unity – from within the country, not from exile.

George Plaschinsky is a graduate of the London School of Economics where he studied under the OESS scholarship by European Comission.


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