Belarus Elections in the Focus of Polish Press
The recent presidential elections in Belarus have received significant attention in Polish press. All major media such as Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita followed the events related to the elections. In Poland, those events bring back the memories of oppression, lack of freedom and poverty of 1980s. Back then, free elections resulted in mass beatings and arrests just like in Belarus these days.
It was a Polish politician Jerzy Buzek, the President of the EU Parliament, who was the first top European official to ring the bell about major election fraud, massive beatings and arrests in Belarus. Mr Buzek requested an immediate release of all detained and in particular presidential candidates.
Polish press began to follow Belarusian events closely as they unfolded. On the 21st December Gazeta Wyborcza, the leading Polish daily, wrote that Lukashenko did not win the elections. It quoted Radoslaw Sikorski, Foreign Minister of Poland, that in reality Mr Lukashenko received between 30 and 40% of the votes. Mr Sikorksi said that perhaps that was the reason for such a violent and irrational reaction which followed the elections. “Someone who wins honestly does not have to jail its competitors in prisons”- Sikorski stated in his interview.
Later that month, Gazeta Wyborcza described Mr Sikorski statements as "the strongest blow to the reputation of the Belarusian leader. " It emphasized that none of the foreign politicians have denied Lukashenko’s victory. Other foreign leaders only admitted that the elections were not fair.
According to the Polish press, Adam Rotfeld, a former Polish Foreign Minister, said that he was certain Mr Lukashenko did not win in the first round of the elections. He thought that Mr Lukashenko remains in power because he realizes that whoever comes to power after him, would hold him responsible for his misconduct such as the death of the disappeared opponents of the regime. "He who has blood on his hands, obviously is afraid of this responsibility” – said Rotfeld.
Mr Sikorski also spoke over the telephone with Olga Nieklaeva – the wife of Vladimir Nieklaev, an opposition presidential candidate. He shared his words of encouragement with Olga Nieklaeva according to the website of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Gazeta.pl writes about Polish contribution to improve the situation in Belarus. Mr Bosacki, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that Poland would double its support to Belarus from PLN 20 to 40 mln (around US$13mln). The money is to be spend on helping the repressed, providing young Belarusians with scholarships, supporting mass media, radio and television such as Belsat broadcasting from Poland. According to Rzeczpospolita, the government is also considering abolishing visa fees for Belarusians, not only for Poland but also for the entire Schengen area.
Poland devoted more attention to the recent Belarus events than any other European country. It appears to be serious to commit significant resources to help democracy in Belarus. Poland is likely to play an active role in the EU institutions advocating sanctions against the Belarusian regime on one hand and stronger support for civil society in Belarus on the other hand.
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.