Belarus-Kyrgyzstan Tensions Rise after the Murder of Kyrgyz Mobster in Minsk
On 18 February, Kyrgyz crime boss Almanbet Anapiyaev was found dead in a car boot in Minsk, an event that heated up tensions between Minsk and Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan claims that former Kyrgyz president Bakiev and his retinue are responsible for murder. Kurmanbek Bakiev fled to Belarus after a 2010 uprising in his native Kyrgyzstan, where he found refuge and received Belarusian citizenship.The incumbent government of Kyrgyzstan blames Bakiev for numerous crimes and repeatedly demanded to extradite him over recent years.
However, Minsk prefers to ignore these demands. The two countries have few economic and political ties which makes any compromise on the issue unlikely.
In 2014 Aliaksandr Lukashenka also agreed to shelter the deposed Ukrainian president Yanukovych, who preferred to stay in Russia instead. In doing this, the Belarusian head of state is showing his solidarity with other toppled dictators, understanding he may himself one day find himself in their shoes.
A High-Profile Murder in Quiet Minsk
Almanbet Anapiyaev showed up on Interpol's wanted list as a leader of organised crime in 2011. The Kyrgyzstani Ministry of the Interior accused Anapiyaev of a number of crimes of varying severity. According to them, he had allegedly built close ties with deposed president Bakiev’s family and was even appointed head of the wrestling federation “to create an informal organisation to support the Bakiev clan system”. He was also said to have engaged in intimidating opposition politicians.
A few days after his murder, Anapiyaev’s companion Gulzhigit Abdualzizov arrived in Bishkek from Minsk and surrendered to the authorities, saying he feels his life is in danger. He claims to have witnessed the murder and identified Anapiyaev's three killers, all from the Bakiev clan.
On 26 February Kyrgyzstan president Almazbek Atambayev publicly accused Minsk of sheltering the Bakiev family. Unusually for an official note, the speech was full of emotional language: "Who else do the Bakievs have to kill before Belarusian authorities will at last see the bestial and cannibalistic nature of this criminal family? Those monsters will shed blood anywhere, where they are, including Belarus, who has provided a shelter for them".
Atambayev also criticised Minsk for taking care of the Bakiev family and its repeated refusals to extradite them, calling it a “disgrace to the international image of Belarus”. The next day the Belarusian foreign ministry issued an equally unfriendly statement saying that "these kinds of overheated emotional statements cannot come out of a civilised country's leader." It also accused the Kyrgyzstani authorities of being in non-compliance with international standards of criminal justice and being incapable of protecting their own citizens’ rights.
The Russian web site Prime Crime, which studies criminal affairs in the post-Soviet space, says that Anapiayev may have been murdered as a result of a conflict between local criminal groups in Kyrgyzstan who frequently clash over drug traffic control in the country. However, the current Kyrgyz government places all the blame on the Bakiev family.
According to the Kyrgyzstani newspaper “Evening Bishkek”, the government is trying to play the Bakiev card ahead of the autumn parliamentary elections and capitalise on tensions with Belarus. As far as a motive is concerned, these angry statements erupting out of Bishkek towards Belarus would appear plausible, as the official notes appeal more to emotion than facts.
Fugitive President Sheltered in Belarus after Mass Murder
Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power as the result of the 2005 Tulip revolution in Kyrgyzstan. However, the former oppositional leader turned out to be as corrupt as his predecessor Akaev, and unable to promote the nation’s welfare. On 7 April 2010, a violent uprising in Bishkek ousted Bakiev, who fled to Kazakhstan with his family and retinue.
Later on, Aliaksandr Lukashenka's personal security services safely delivered them to the Belarusian capital where the Bakiev family received Belarusian citizenship. Today, Kurmanbek keeps a low profile, living in a mansion on the outskirts of Minsk, according to unofficial information.
The Kyrgyzstani government accuses Bakiev of shooting at protesters during the 2010 uprising, which left 85 people dead. However, as long as he is in Minsk, he cannot be tried. In 2010 Aliaksandr Lukashenka not only agreed to provide refuge to Bakiev, but he also stated that he supported the use of firearms against the Kyrgyzstani opposition. "If the authorities cannot defend themselves and their people – what kind of authorities are they?”, he said.
Meanwhile, Bishkek seems to be satisfied with taking advantage of a remote public enemy in their domestic political games. As the two countries have few economic ties or other interests, Kyrgyzstan does not feel it is obligated to manage bilateral ties in a more congenial manner. However, as Kyrgyzstan seeks membership in the Eurasian Economic Union, Belarus may influence its accession perspectives due to Bishkek's harsh rhetoric.
Why Belarus Harbours Toppled Dictators
Aliaksandr Lukashenka claims he saved Bakiev out of sheer mercy. “I called him and asked what was going on, and he started to cry. He said they were not friends, but was asked to save at least his children". He confessed in an interview to Ksenia Sobchak in June 2014 to saying he would save his whole family.
In June 2014, the famous Ukrainian prank caller Vovan managed to get through to Lukashenka on the phone and pretended to be Yanukovych's son. He was inquiring whether Lukashenka could provide shelter to Yanukovych should the need arise, and received a positive response.
Lukashenka, apparently, has a sense of solidarity with leaders deposed by a “revolutionary mob”. Despite his rhetoric, he is clearly concerned. The vast security measures that the Belarusian leader has put in place to prevent such an outcome is evidence of his underlying concern. By welcoming in other deposed leaders, he may well be hoping that in hard times he might also receive a helping hand from other like-minded heads of state.
In a recent interview with US professor Grigory Ioffe, Lukashenka openly made this point. To Ioffe's question “Provided that the regime changes in Belarus, you do not have any 'reserve aerodrome'?", Lukashenka replied: “Unfortunately yes, I do not have such “reserve aerodrome”…I sincerely think about it, but I do not bother with it too much. I hope those thugs (meaning the opposition) will not seize power”.
In 2014, Vladimir Putin, in a similar fashion, decided to harbour Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych, ousted by Euromaidan protests in 2014. Post-Soviet authoritarian leaders have been building an alliance against coloured revolutions over the past decade and have even agreed to use their military union – the Collective Security Treaty Organisation – to prevent potential coups. But if oppositional powers appear to be getting stronger, the least they can do is to hide their colleagues from desperate mob.
Belarus Foreign Ministry Toys With The Belarusian Language
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenka said in 1994 that the Belarusian language was a poor one, unfit for expressing anything grand. His senior diplomats appear to be proving him wrong.
On 19 February, Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei publicly recited the poem "Motherland" written by Janka Kupala, a famous Belarusian poet. Two weeks later, his deputy, Alena Kupchyna, inaugurated an art exhibition in perfect Belarusian. Both of them share an internal conviction that Belarusian should play a greater role in public life.
The foreign ministry has long been a vanguard of the progressive Belarusian bureaucracy. However, despite these and other examples of changing attitude towards the national language, most diplomats still scarcely use it – more out of indifference and lack of proper guidance than because of any policy restrictions.
The Belarusian Language as a Cornerstone of the Country's Independence
Moscow's ideological coverage of its actions in Ukraine should have warned the Belarusian ruling elite of the vulnerability of having a weak national identity. Russia has been clearly demonstrating it is eager to stake out a claim in lands where Russian remains a predominant language.
Russian still heavily dominates Belarus' foreign ministry Read more
The authorities have finally heard the warning shot across the bow. President Alexander Lukashenka spoke in Belarusian at a National Day holiday celebration in July. It sent a signal to the nomenklatura that they should not regard the use of national language an apanage of the opposition. Later on, Lukashenka and other senior officials advocated for a greater role of the Belarusian language and culture.
Many expected that the foreign ministry, as one of the country's showcase institutions, would take the lead in this process. This government agency has the advantage of employing many well-educated and open-minded people.
However, the results thus far have been mixed. While some changes are under way, the Russian language still heavily dominates the ministry's communications and internal workings.
The Belarusian Language: Personal Choice, Institutional Indifference
In mid-1990s, the prospects of the Belarusian language in the foreign ministry seemed much brighter. Piotr Krauchanka, the then foreign minister, conducted the meetings in Belarusian. Many diplomats, from attachés to Krauchanka's deputies, studied the language with a ministry-paid coach.
Language use depends on enthusiasts Read more
Everything changed when Lukashenka arrived. The ministry has never expressly prohibited or penalised the use of Belarusian by diplomats in their work, though it has long failed to encourage or promote it either.
In fact, any advance or retreat of the Belarusian language's usage in the foreign ministry has rarely been an institutional decision. It mostly depended on personal choice or preferences of individuals working there. Here is a brief anecdote to support this point.
The foreign ministry has always had two telephone directories, one for the headquarters in Minsk and the other for its foreign missions. In 1995, a minister's assistant, a Belarusian-language enthusiast, translated both directories into Belarusian. The foreign ministry used them until 1998, when it merged with the ministry of external economic relations.
Then, another official, in charge of creating a unified directory, translated the old MFA's part back into Russian. Since then, the HQ directory has always been in Russian. As the merger never affected the foreign missions' network, their phone directory still exists and gets updated in Belarusian.
There have been no reports of the ministry preventing its staff from speaking or writing in Belarusian. The author of this article, while serving in the ministry from 1993 to 2006, drafted most of his correspondence in Belarusian – both internal memos and documents addressed to other government agencies.
These included a few memos to President Lukashenka on standing issues between Belarus and the US. Ural Latypov, the then foreign minister (born in Russia), signed them without posing any question with regard to the choice of the language. The author's preference for Belarusian never affected his career.
Two Waves of Belarusianisation?
Back in 2010, the foreign ministry adopted a set of measures to promote the use of Belarusian in its internal workings and external communications. (Ironically, they wrote the internal Belarusianisation plan in Russian).
The ministry failed to implement many of these measures, i.e. the provision on promoting the Belarusian language in the activities of the MFA-controlled National Centre for Marketing and Price Study. The plan died in December 2010, together with the thaw in relations with the West.
Only a handful of Belarusian embassies communicate in Belarusian Read more
The 2010 plan included, among other things, a provision regarding the Belarusian-language versions of the ministry's and its foreign missions' web sites. The foreign ministry's web site acquired a Belarusian-language version only in July 2014, in the 23rd year of the country's independence. Now, the MFA's press service runs all news reports in three languages, Belarusian, Russian and English.
Previously, the Russian-language section of the web site hosted rare news items written in Belarusian. They came almost exclusively from a narrow circle of embassies – in Bonn, Budapest, Paris and Warsaw – as well as the permanent mission to the UN in New York.
MFA's spokesman reassured Belarus Digest that the ministry "remained committed to wider use of the Belarusian language" Read more
All of Belarus' foreign missions, with the exception of the embassy in Moscow, have their web sites based on the same template, which allows one to choose between several languages. However, only four embassies out of over fifty – in France, Germany, Hungary and Poland – have Belarusian-language versions of their web sites.
MFA's spokesman Dzmitry Mironchyk reassured Belarus Digest that the ministry "remained committed to wider use of the Belarusian language in its daily activities and communications to the outside world". However, he stressed that the ministry embraced the principle of "reasonable sufficiency and maximum efficiency" when choosing the language for its communications.
In July 2014, the Belarusian-language newspaper Zviazda started a series of interviews with Belarusian ambassadors and other senior diplomats. The fact that it happened simultaneously with the emergence of the Belarusian-language web site would seem to indicate that a new wave of Belarusianisation is likely ahead.
However, it seems that the ministry is putting little effort into this process. Indeed, some steps do not even require any financial support or a much in the way of perseverance and could be quite symbolic, such as using Belarusian-language nameplates during official meetings.
While some changes in the foreign ministry's language policy are encouraging, they are happening much too slowly. For a new wave of Belarusianisation to succeed, the ministry's senior officials must show more determination, while rank-and-file diplomats need to show more interest and personal involvement. So far, these factors are largely lacking.