A Letter to a European Friend – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
The Belarusian expert community vigorously debated three topics last week: the EU-Belarus diplomatic conflict, the deepening dependence of Belarus upon Russia and capital punishment.
A Letter to a European Friend – Siarhey Dubavets uses physics terminology to make the point that by pressuring a substance, one cannot destroy it, but rather push the substance in any given direction. He argues that the EU policy of sanctions towards Belarus is pushing the country towards Russia instead of Europe. He questions why Europe is so focused on punishing the regime, forgetting to influence the people of Belarus. He thinks the most effective and cost-effective measure would be to open Europe to Belarusians and remove visa barriers.
Strategies, Consequences of the Conflict with the EU: What will Happen to the Country and Us? – BISS analysts Alexei Pikulik and Denis Melyantsou continue to explore the diplomatic conflict between the EU and Belarus. Experts believe that the current situation could have really serious consequences for Belarus, so the most important thing now is to stop the escalation of the conflict and to reflect on possible ways to resolve it. Accordingly, analysts urge official Minsk and Brussels to make concessions, and the democratic opposition – to the internal agreement.
Europe’s Dubious Business Business with Belarus (text available for active subscribers only) – Yuri Jibladze (spokesman for the Committee on International Control over the Situation with Human Rights in Belarus) and WernerSchulz (a German Green MEP and member of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee) wrote an op-ed for The European Voice, in which they argue that Europe must sever “the channels that the Lukashenko regime uses to finance itself”. The authors suggest that the EU’s sanctions have not halted abuses, failing in practical terms. On the contrary, they state that that Belarus exports to EU rose 221 per cent in 2011, exceeding exports to Russia. The authors seem to suggest that the EU should introduce targeted economic sanctions against “…a handful of de facto oligarchs…” and their companies, “…primarily those in important areas such as fertiliser production, steel and crude-oil processing”.
Belarus, EU Sanctions and the $1m Bounty – EUobserver notes that the EU capital is seeing an unprecedented amount of lobbying on Alexander Lukashenka's behalf before EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Friday 23 March. The website quotes a senior EU official who described the queue of NGOs, diplomats and companies telling him in recent weeks why billionaire Vladimir Peftivev should be excluded from the visa and economic sanctions list.
The Government is Dictated a Task: To Give Up Large National Business to Foreign Capital – Yuriy Shevtsov, a Belarusian political scientist, believes that EU sanctions against Belarusian businessmen are “an order” from interested representatives of foreign business structures. The author briefly examines the business interests of five Belarusian “tycoons” and argues that sanctions against them are a result of actions by their European competitors.
Sergei Lisichenok: Other Countries Get Funds Instead of Belarus – coordinator of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, Sergei Lisichenok describes the possible positive results for ordinary citizens of Belarus' membership in the EaP programs of the "Eastern Partnership" . He also mentions the inconsistency of the EU conditionality. He recalls that first the EU came up with 12 conditions, then they were cut down to 3-4 points and in the end seemed to disappear altogether.
Cracking Down, Cracking Up: Europe’s Last Dictator Relies Evermore Nervously on Russia for Support – The Economist publishes an article in which it lists the execution of the two men, found guilty in the metro bombing in Minsk, among a wider crackdown of the Belarusian government on the society. The article concludes that Russia is ready to extend support to Lukashenka at a higher price than simply an anti-Western stance, but that such support is unlikely to last forever.
Belarus’ Foreign Policy Index #6 – BISS presents a new issue of the Belarus’ Foreign Policy Index which covers January and February 2012. The focal points of the country’s foreign policy endeavour in this period were obviously the accession to the Common Economic Area (CEA) together with Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as the diplomatic scandal with the European Union that erupted at the end of February. Both events increase Belarus’ dependence on Russia and narrow the room for manoeuvre.
Belarus Monthly Economic Review #3 – The IPM Research Center presents Belarus Monthly Economic Review covering March 2012. The focal points of the Belarusian economy of this period are growth of dependence on Russia’s energy, new financing procedures for government programs, devaluation effect exhaustion, and reducation in exports to Russia.
Capital Punishment in Belarus
Execution of terrorists makes Lukashenka more dependent on power forces – Solidarity with Belarus Information Office analysts consider that the refusal of Lukashenka to pardon Kovalev, who appealed with an appropriate request, implies the growing influence of the power elite on the President. At the same time, by upholding the execution, Lukashenka lost the opportunity to meet the interests of a significant part of the population, who distrust the official outcomes of the trial.
Losing Your Mind Over the Belarus Executions – a prominent provocative Russian journalist Yulia Latynina writes for the Moscow Times, commenting on the reaction of people to the execution of Dmitriy Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalev in Minsk. The author suggests that those who are against the death penalty and those who believe that Lukashenka is a dictator should never turn the fight for freedom into a fight to prove that a convicted maniac and killer is innocent.
Elections Authorities Will Use the Lure of Political Reforms – Yauheni Preiherman discusses possible scenarios for the September parliamentary elections. The expert believes that one should not have hopes for political liberalisation and modernization. The parliamentary campaign of 2012 will be held under the baseline scenario, aimed at ensuring internal legitimacy of the election, as internal legitimacy is the main pillar of the political model of Belarus.
Bertelsmann Transformation Index 2012: Belarus Country Report – Bertelsmann Stiftung rolls out the BTI 2012 Belarus Country Report. Belarus received a high score in the “Stateness” category (monopoly on the use of force, state identity, basic administration etc). At the same time, on a scale from 0 to 10 (where 10 is the strongest) Bertelsmann’s scores Belarus at the level or slightly above 2 in such categories as stability of democratic institutions, political participation, private property and consensus building. Economic performance, socioeconomic level, welfare regime and sustainability received scored at the level or slightly below 6.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Why Does the “Last Dictatorship in Europe” Hold Elections?
Two things are already certain about the September 2012 parliamentary election in Belarus. First, the ballot will once again be rigged so that the “right” candidates are elected. Second, the West will not recognise the elections as free and fair.
The logical question, then, is why the Belarusian authorities still bother to organise elections and invite foreign observers to monitor them. Would it not be easier and cheaper to abandon elections altogether? Or at least, as the Head of the Central Election Commission Lidziya Yarmoshyna proposed a couple of weeks ago, not to invite "biassed" observers from the EU and USA. This is unlikely to happen because Belarusian elections play a crucial role for the internal legitimacy of Lukashenka’s regime.
A Beautiful Beginning
The electoral history of independent Belarus began in 1994. The first round of the first ever Belarusian presidential elections took place on 23 June 1994. None of the presidential hopefuls received more than 50 per cent of the votes, and in the run-off a director of a collective farm and parliamentarian, Alexander Lukashenka, fought the then Prime Minister Vyachaslau Kebich. After an impressive landslide victory in the second round Lukashenka was sworn in as the first president of the Republic of Belarus.
All major political forces within the country and the international community recognised the results of the first presidential election as legitimate. So far this has been the only case of free and fair elections in Belarus.
On the Way to Authoritarian Consolidation
All subsequent elections were marred by serious campaign irregularities and voting fraud. In 1995, the young president Lukashenka decided to hold his first referendum and ask the population four questions about the status of the Russian language, economic integration with Russia, the President’s right to dismiss Parliament and the introduction of new state symbols. The referendum was combined with parliamentary elections. According to official results, the President’s proposals were supported and the Parliament (that Lukashenka wanted to weaken) was formed. The Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) observers declared that the government had violated international election standards.
In 1996 Alexander Lukashenka initiated another referendum to consolidate his authoritarian rule. He proposed amending the Constitution, essentially to secure his political monopoly. In response, the parliamentary opposition initiated impeachment proceedings. Days prior to the vote, Belarus was on the edge of civil unrest and Russia interfered as a mediator.
Russia’s mediation did not prevent Lukashenka from carrying out his initial plan. As a result, the Belarusian opposition and the West called the referendum a coup d’état. It formally turned Belarus into a dictatorship. As a sign of that, Lukashenka immediately dissolved the parliament and appointed a new puppet legislature.
From that moment, elections in Belarus lost any significance because the whole political system was placed under the president’s full control. However, the country continued to conduct elections, at least formally.
No More Election Intrigue
According to the OSCE, the 2000 parliamentary and 2001 presidential campaigns failed to meet Belarus’ commitments to democratic elections. Their results were formally recognised by Russia and other CIS nations, but not by the West. Interestingly, in the 2000 elections several critics of the regime managed to get elected.
The parliamentary elections of 2004 were again combined with a referendum. This time Alexander Lukashenka asked the nation to allow him to run for an unlimited number of presidential tenures. According to the Central Election Committee of Belarus, the President’s proposition received overwhelming support. As for the parliamentary elections – not a single opposition candidate was elected. The OSCE Election Observation Mission held a different opinion: the elections and referendum fell significantly short of the OSCE commitments.
In 2006 the Belarusians elected a president for the third time. Now that Lukashenka had secured a formal right to run again, there was little doubt about the outcome of the campaign. Officially, he got about 83 per cent of the votes. But the massive protests that followed questioned that result.
The 2008 elections to the parliament took place in the context of a rapprochement of Belarus with the EU and USA. The Belarusian authorities even unofficially promised to let three opposition representatives into the parliament. However, they did not keep their word. The OSCE concluded that the elections were undemocratic and the work of international observers was seriously hindered.
Finally, the 2010 presidential elections also coincided with a period of thaw in Belarus’s relations with the West. Until the very polling day on 19 December the campaign looked untypically democratic (at least by Belarusian standards). However, the eventual massive rigging of the voting and unprecedented crackdown on the demonstrators eliminated all the progress of the campaign.
Why Organise Elections and Invite External Observers?
The electoral track record of the Belarusian regime leaves no doubt that the 2012 parliamentary campaign will fall short of national and international standards. Central and local authorities across the country will again have to strain themselves in order to produce the results ordered by the top ruler. While pursuing that goal they will resort to all possible measures, including violent pressure on the opposition. In the end, lots of state resources and bureaucrats’ efforts will be wasted just to have the official results not recognised by the West.
In this situation it would definitely be easier for the government not to have any elections at all, or at least not to invite external observers. But the important function of the elections in today’s Belarus is to sustain the internal legitimacy of the incumbent political elite. Each electoral campaign is supposed to unite the nation around its leader and to demonstrate how miserable his opponents are.
For that purpose the government needs to create a picture of openness and transparent democratic procedures. The presence of multiple observers, including those from Western countries, is a minimal requirement for that. That is why the regime continues to extend invitations even to "biassed" monitoring missions from the EU and USA. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing diplomatic war with the European Union will change this.