Everything is possible, the impossible just takes a little longer. As a Belarusian I can say it again: the impossible is possible.
The upcoming presidential election in Belarus shows how different things might be. Two months before the 19 December vote, activists under the white-red-white opposition flags peacefully collected signatures in the vicinity of the Presidential administration. As a result, 11 (wow, 11! usually three or four) hopefuls have announced that they have raised the necessary 100,000 signatures to be registered as candidates. We will see how many will actually get through the registration formalities.
It was highly visible in Minsk how Belarusians actively signed up for the opposition candidates – giving over their passport details without any apparent fear. Of course, most of the hopefuls are completely unknown to the wider public. They got the signatures primarily on the grounds that they are an alternative to the 16-years-in-office president.
Having collected more than enough signatures for himself within the first few days, President Lukashenka asked people to sign up for the other hopefuls as well – to give them a chance, he said. This could also help explain why they got so many singatures.
Belarusians are not overly passionate or desperate people. They are rational and pragmatic. Due to the situation in the country and the sad state of political culture following years of Soviet regime, apart from the president there aren’t many politicians who are actually that well known. Only the President is genuinely popular. One can’t really expect that an opposition candidate will get a lot more than five or seven percent of the vote and that crowds will take to the streets to celebrate his endeavour.
It’s the economic crisis and the crisis in relations with Russia that is pushing Minsk in the direction of more democracy and making people look for an alternative.
Minsk is aiming to show the EU that it shares common values and merits increased economic and financial co-operation. That’s why the elections should be as free and transparent as possible. And indeed, nothing is impossible.
Recent development shows that Brussels is willing to put up with the re-election of the Belarusian President and with a vote which has basic credibility, even if it is not spotless. It should already be quite satisfied with the free signature campaign and the plurality of the candidates.
On 2 November, the German and Polish FMs, Westerwelle and Sikorski, will be in Minsk to campaign for democratic elections (“Yes, you can!”). This was difficult to imagine some years ago, now it’s possible. Lukashenka will probably even shake hands with a gay minister!
Meanwhile, it’s Moscow which is indirectly influencing the electoral campaign, far more than the West ever could. Kremlin boss Medvedev has even commented in his podcast on the stagnation of what were once considered brotherly ties. Recently he coldly told journalists that he doesn’t expect anything good from the elections in Belarus in December, but corrected himself, adding that he was joking. In return, Lukashenka and the opposition hopefuls compete on who is more nationalistic and more anti-Russian.
Belarusians authorities need to be careful when opening the Pandora’s Box of rights and values, however. Controlled democracy and increased co-operation with the West has the potential to undermine the old system. As the example of Moldova shows, today you take up European values and tomorrow you will have a new government, and the day after tomorrow another one.
We have yet to see, how much stability Belarusian people want.