You could pretty well imagine how it feels today to be a Belarusian.
Think of your influential neighbouring country, one that is very close culturally as well as politically. After a government green light, the media starts a propaganda campaign against your president, who has always been its friend. According to the reports he is corrupt and authoritarian, controlling cash flows and killing his challengers.
This campaign to oust him has to do neither with investigative journalism nor with the sleaze itself. It’s just a means to discredit a head of state. The two governments are all too close and in fact pretty similar – telling the entire story behind its previous support could be far too revealing for the accusing side.
The neighbouring leadership has even threatened to publish a transcript of talks behind the closed doors, where other presidents were present. That’s an unacceptable step in terms of diplomacy and international relations. But your mighty neighbour doesn’t care.
And it’s not very pleasant, whatever your attitude to your president.
After the recent gas and media wars between Belarus and Russia, sociologists speak of a new geopolitical trend. Since May 2004 and EU enlargement the number of pro-Russian Belarusians is bigger than that of the pro-European side. For the first time after six years the statistics balance out again, heralding the comeback of traditional, bivectoral geopolitical preferences.
It shows that you can hardly beat Lukashenka on his own territory. Even if you are Russia. Belarusians watch filtered Russian TV and have only a few of Russian newspapers to buy. The majority of those who find Russian reports on the Internet are too critical and too knowledgeable to believe the recent TV documentary series and the reports describing Lukashenka on his knees, in despair, being ready to beg for forgiveness and to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia within a matter of hours. This campaign is aimed at the Russians. And at Monsieur Lukashenka, of course.
Strange as it may seem, the people of Belarus are uniting around Lukashenka, as he is the guarantor of the country’s independence. Even nationalists see the Kremlin as a far more awful evil than the president, whom they have gotten used to anyhow.
The trying-to-be-impartial Western media views Belarus with Russian eyes. Foreign correspondents in Moscow report on the defeated Lukashenka, saying, between the lines, “it serves him right.”
Sorry, but have you thought about the consequences? Do you believe, dear Western colleagues, that Russia is thinking of getting rid of Lukashenka (even if only in the long run) in order to foster democratisation in Belarus? If Russia comes, we’ll have even more Russia, not human rights.
The question is, what is the Kremlin’s plan – especially for the upcoming Belarusian presidential election? Russia can’t put forward a candidate, it has no political influence on the structures of power in Belarus. Experts worry what may happen if Russia doesn’t recognise the results of the elections and the West is forced to follow suit. The whole nation, not just the leadership, will be ousted and isolated.
And, as you look back, unlike the case of Ukraine or Georgia, there’s neither Brussels nor Washington, absolutely nobody behind you.
Scary, isn’t it?