An Action Movie Accompanied by Balalaika
Very few remember that in 1993, the Belarus House of Government was stormed by some Alexander Lukashenka who was then a member of the Belarus parliament. Police did not let Mr Lukashenka inside the building, but he was breaking through with persistency, pushing the men in uniform at the entrance and waving his arms. He also had a support group with him. The journalists were filming the event. Lukashenka's jacket was damaged during that clash. He loudly appealed to the nation, demonstrated the "survivor" jacket, condemned the freedom strangler Vyacheslau Kebich, who was then a prime minister, and shouted that the police served the regime and was strangling a fighter for democracy.
But when Lukashenka was storming the Government House with his supporters, he was not beaten with a baton on his head. The police did not break the equipment of journalists filming the event, those present were not dragged into jails, were not laid down with their faces on the asphalt. Savage riot police did not rush to beat up the "mad rioter". He was just thrown out as a puppy, and the people around were laughing and joking as the sufferer for democracy was condemning the regime atrocities waving his torn jacket.
Now I am wondering why Lukashenko believes that he could break into the Government House, and anyone else – cannot? How come that he has forgotten these heroic facts of his own biography? Why then he was praising himself as a freedom-fighter and truth-seeker and now shouting: "Bandits! Terrorists! Thugs!"
Mr Lukashenka admitted that he was watching everything happening on the 19th of December from the operation control headquarters in Minsk. He was informed of all events and was personally giving orders to act in the cruelest way. The riot police was beating people with batons on their heads, without even looking whether these were women, passers-by, journalists. Mr Lukashenka has succeeded according to his understanding of democracy. His "democracy" has two components – lie and violence.
Lie – this is when he says that the Government House had been stormed. Personally, I carefully and repeatedly watched the official Belarusian Television footage – but could not find any storming there. The official propaganda keeps showing the same scene from various angles. They show it again and again to make it appear that the "storm" has been long and persistent. In fact, it is just one short scene – someone is breaking the glass. If Lukashenka is unhappy when the media focus on what he sees as isolated individual cases of disappearances of Hanchar, Zakharenka and others – we can draw another analogy. How many glasses per day are broken in our country? Five, ten, hundred, thousand … I do not know. But this is never called an assault or riot.
The storm was successfully staged by the authorities but they failed to get other "nice" pictures with protestors. For example, on the election day suddenly re-appeared mobile foreign currency exchange minibuses on the main street of Minsk. The same minibuses, which were removed a few years ago from all central streets of Minsk. Apparently, it was just a pure coincidence that on that particular day they happened to re-appear again on the way of tens of thousands of protesters. The people, however, unfortunately for the show directors, neatly bypassed these fragile minibuses filled with cash. The protestors simply went on carefully avoiding to cause any damage.
I can imagine how outraged Mr Lukashenka was in his operation headquarters – such a "nice" TV picture was missed.
Mr Lukashenka apparently thought that he succeeded in luring the protestors into a trap, when he got the picture of the glass doors being smashed which gave him an excuse to unleash the security forces. But in fact these were the security forces who lured him into a trap. In any event, had there been no cruel and ruthless crackdown, these elections could have been recognized by Europe and the United States. That way, Mr Lukashenka could have gotten the legitimacy and more room for maneuver. And now – no. He himself gave the order to ruin everything that was had been done for years to decrease his dependence upon Russia.
As a result, the day which was supposed to be the day of his triumph, Mr Lukashenka was holding an aggressive press conference in the spirit of "We will get them all!," "I am not afraid of anybody". Many have noticed that the "winner" on his cheeks flushed hysterically. The guys under his command waved their batons, supplied the courts with work and packed the prisons. He was watching the monitors observing the beating and humiliation of his rivals – an interesting "movie", which he certainly loved. But what is the price of that movie?
The guy got himself on a hook from which he will be unable to jump off. The door to the West is now closed, and the key to the East door had been lost, but they keep making an appearance that they are still looking for it.
It is just a classic illustration that in the absence of a real parliament and real media, the president is manipulated by his security apparatus. Had Mr Lukashenka acted like Mr Kebich did during the first storm of the Government House he would be now listening to the words of satisfaction from the United States and some soft criticism of the OSCE. But the Belarusian president is now guided by information and advice of "knowledgeable analysts" who like to stretch their muscles on live human subjects. They enticed him and he has has made the decision. And now he will have to dance under the Moscow balalaika without any room for maneuver.
This is why the most important documents to shed light on the current situation are not some secret documents about the West financing the Belarus opposition. Much more important are the details of close and constructive relationship of top Belarusian security services officers with their Russian counterparts. If a medal was given to Anna Chapman, then the Hero of Russia medals could secretly have been given to her collages in Belarus. To win a little cold war with Belarus as a result of a seven and a half minutes special operation is a very good result.
Read the full version in Russian on Svyatlana Kalinkina's blog.
European Foreign Ministers: Lukashenko the Loser
Foreign ministers of Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland published a strongly worded opinion in the New York Times. According to them, Europe has not seen in years anything like what happened in Minsk on bloody Sunday of 19 December 2010. Below is the full text of their statement:
Lukashenko the Loser
There can be no business-as-usual between the European Union and Belarus’ president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, after what has happened since the presidential election in Belarus last Sunday.
In recent months, the hope grew that his words could be taken seriously. He promised to invite international observers to the election, and he delivered on the promise. He talked about giving the opposition some space during the election campaign, and there were some improvements.
The E.U. responded by suspending sanctions and with a generous offer of conditional political dialogue, economic cooperation and the possibility of financial assistance. It would have been in the interests of both Europe and the people of Belarus to continue.
Then everything changed.
Mr. Lukashenko probably understood that he would not get the required 50 percent of the votes needed to avoid a humiliating second round against a single opposition candidate. All independent exit polls gave him significantly less than this. While the voting proceeded in an orderly fashion, the counting of the votes turned into a charade. The report of the independent observers assessed the counting as “bad” or “very bad” in nearly half the polling stations they could observe, and it is not unreasonable to assume that it was even worse in the others.
It was obvious that there were orders not to count the votes, but to deliver a predetermined result. There is no way to know what the real result of the election was. The exit polls give interesting indications, but no more. What is abundantly clear is that the announced result has no democratic legitimacy whatsoever.
But worse was to follow.
Opposition candidates were beaten, dragged away and detained. Hundreds of campaign workers were also rounded up and taken to prison. Summary trials produced sentences without any basis in facts. Political prisoners have become the new reality. Repression is the stated policy.
Europe has not seen anything like this in years. The combination of vote rigging and outright repression makes what Slobodan Milosevic tried to do in Serbia in 2000 pale in comparison. What we have seen brings back memories of the introduction of martial law in Poland in 1981.
Where will this end? The forces of repression might carry the day, but the wounds in society will not heal, and a siege regime will clearly not survive forever. Prospects of money from the West to save a deteriorating economic situation have in all probability gone up in smoke. Investors will be wary of a country that has so spectacularly shown its contempt for the law.
The European Union is founded on values of human rights, democracy and the rule of the law. It will not stand indifferent to gross violations of these values in its own part of the world.
Continued positive engagement with Mr. Lukashenko at the moment seems to be a waste of time and money. He has made his choice — and it is a choice against everything the European Union stands for.
But there are many in Belarus who know that his clock is ticking — and are discreetly preparing for a better future.
Our many conversations with representatives of different parts of Belarus society have convinced us that the country wants to be part of a free and prosperous Europe. We must now deepen our engagement with the democrats of Belarus and those inside the government who disapprove of the fateful turn their country has taken. They must not be abandoned or betrayed as their country enters what might be a new dark era.
The best test of our own values is what we do on behalf of the powerless. Europe must not be mute.
Carl Bildt, Karel Schwarzenberg and Radoslaw Sikorski and Guido Westerwelle are the foreign ministers, respectively, of Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany.