Pyrrhic Victory of Lukashenka
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.
The Consequences of the April 11 Minsk Bombing
The explosion in Minsk underground is the most tragic terrorist act, which Belarus has seen since the end of the Second World War. The bomb exploded at the busiest station of Minsk subway on Monday evening. Over two hundred people injured and eleven reported dead as a result of the rush hour bombing in the capital of Belarus. It was clearly a terrorist act. Who is behind it is a more difficult question. Belarus is not waging any wars, has a homogeneous population and no unsettled territorial disputes.
Belarusians were regarded as the most peaceful and non-violent nation in the former Soviet Union. But with the second terrorist act over the last years this perception of stable and peaceful Belarus is changing. On 3 July 2008, there was another explosion at a public celebration in Minsk. No-one died then but over forty people were injured. Today, eleven people are already confirmed dead and the number may grow.
Until recently, the main threat of instability in Belarus was irresponsible economic policies of its government which made itself completely dependent upon Russian subsidies in the form of cheap oil and gas. But 11 April 2011 has changed that. In addition to threats of imminent economic collapse and loss of political independence the threat of terrorism has actually materialized.
Instead of looking for real threats to Belarus, its people and statehood, the authorities had been focused on eliminating and marginalizing their political opponents. Following the December presidential elections, they imprisoned a number of opposition activists for participation in a largely peaceful demonstration against election fraud, which resulted in minor damage to a government building in Minsk. Many consider that the authorities staged that provocation – either actively or passively by leaving the main government building in the center of Minsk completely unprotected when tens of thousands of protestors were out on the streets.
The current regime in Minsk used that event as an excuse for wide-scale political repressions against Belarus opposition and civil society, which still continue. Some already fear that the authorities will use the today’s tragedy to eliminate any remaining signs of political pluralism and to distract people’s attention from economic problems.
The terrorist act is likely to make Belarus even more vulnerable to pressure from Russia to which it already turned for assistance in investigation. Regrettably, Russia is one of the least peaceful countries in the world. It suffers from terrorism, wages a war against islamic insurgents in its south, and actively supports separatist regimes in Georgia and Moldova. Currently, there is no border or customs control at the Belarus-Russia border.
It remains to hope that as a result of the post-election political and economic instability, Belarus will not turn into a new South Ossetia of Eastern Europe.