A Pyrrhic Victory of Lukashenka

Bloody clashes in Minsk last Sunday were unprecedentedly shocking for many people even not interested in politics. And perhaps for the first time one can hear common people here in Belarus condemning police and authorities for beatings and maiming of undoubtedly innocent citizens, some of them were just young girls. While closely watching Belarusian politics since 1995, I cannot remember any other elections which caused such a massive rage against the regime.

There are so many aspects in which the Belarusian government has gone too far in its handling of the recent elections. The fraud was so evident and cynical that it was not news. However, the protests after the elections were unexpectedly large-scale. It means that this time the falsifications really embarrassed more people, that is the first defeat of the regime, even if not yet admitted by Lukashenka. And once again he may have won the elections in the second round, but preferred to help himself in winning it in the first round with fantastically unbelievable results.

That was his key mistake, since he possibly has taken more than he can digest during the next five years. Though quite numerous for Belarusian circumstances, the after-voting rally had been poorly organized by the opposition. The leaders failed to protect the event from provocations. However, it was truly difficult for the opposition to prevent provocations planned in advance. The Sunday's rally could end up peacefully with some tents installed in Minsk city center. The whole story could have silently finished in a few days due to cold weather and weakness of organized opposition.

Yet the regime's behavior more resembled maniac hatred than any reasonable conduct. The wide scale provocations which culminated in a mock-siege of the Government House were used as a pretext to launch attacks on the crowd. The films of the siege initially put up on the Interior Ministry website as a proof of 'opposition riots' have now been taken away since they apparently disclosed many suspicious details of the 'siege' pointing out possibility of provocation. The Belarusian Internet is now full of numerous videos and photographs exposing 'opposition militants' as police and KGB agents. The final and most dangerous accord was when the police forces have run amok and just berserked the people on the Independence Square. Broken legs, arms or teeth beaten away were not results of clashes. There were no serious clashes with the police. Just one-sided attacks by the regime forces.

The protesters were arrested even if immobilized, with broken limps or heads. Moreover, many – among them severely injured presidential candidate Uladzimir Niakliajeu – were taken away from their hospital beds despite their apparent incapacitation and need for medical aid. The cruelty became too apparent for the whole country, since no one could have explained which danger to the police could have posed young and unarmed girls or well-known scholars and intellectuals. Around 700 arrested, though there are reasons to suspect higher numbers. All major president candidates are now in the KGB prison. In addition, there is information, yet to be proved, about possible fatal cases on the Square. The real outcome of the elections for Lukashenka seems to be very bad.

Although the German Radio noted, that “only relatively small part of the population strives for political changes”, the last election showed the Belarusians that the problem with Lukashenka and his regime is not his political line, but his moral stance and inhuman cruelty. To lie, injure and incarcerate innocent citizens is different from playing politics. It is the red line which he crossed. Such details, of course, are nothing to big politics as some European officials understand it. Speaking to the Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle called detainment of the people participating in Minsk demonstration “unacceptable”, yet added that Brussels considers it necessary to go ahead with engaging Belarus into all-Europe processes.

The EU Observer quoted its diplomatic contact, as saying, "you've seen the Ashton line - it means we are going to do nothing. If there had been 100,000 people on the street or some corpses in the square then it might have been different." Will that help the Belarusian president? Or in some years, after regime change in Belarus these EU statements will be just a curious footnote, like the 'Chicken Kiev' speech made in 1991 by the US President George H.W. Bush cautioning Ukrainians against "suicidal nationalism". Some months later that year, Ukrainians voted to quit the Soviet Union. In any event, the Bloody Sunday in Minsk was the first time Belarusians have beaten other Belarusians so openly and so cruelly.

And not only police and KGB demonstrated that 'ends justify means'. The hospitals were willing to deny people medical care, the hotels near the Square reportedly cooperated with police in crushing the protests. The Belarusian politics get its new, more violent dimension. Violence happened earlier – as with disappearances in 1999-2000 – yet it was very much limited to certain segment of society. Others were not aware of it, or pretended to be. This time it is wide-scale and visible. SB

 

Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.

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