Archive for December, 2010

F for Frustration

It was over pretty quickly with the election tension in Belarus. Now it’s post-election blues.

Nobody expected the Spanish inquisition: it was beyond logic that some 20 thousand would gather in the centre of Minsk after the closure of the polling stations to protest against rigged votes, that more than 600 would be detained or arrested, dozens would be beaten up. The presidential candidates were virtually abducted from the street or from the hospital.

The demonstration was violently dispersed after a group of youngsters attacked the building with the Central Election Commission and the parliament. There are no lists of those detained.

Journalists argue that the attack was a stage-managed government provocation in order trigger detentions. Probably, not. But some candidates were beaten and taken to the KGB detention centre before the attack on the government building.

Some official numbers:  More than 90% turnout, almost 80% supported Lukashenka and 14% was shared by the rest of the candidates.

Some more big numbers: 5 ex-candidates and several prominent opposition activists are still under arrest. They might be penalised for the organisation of mass riots (up to 15 years), but nothing is yet clear.

Meanwhile on Tuesday (21 December) searches and detentions went on.

Why would months of  “democracy” end up so abruptly? The protest potential and the cold wouldn’t keep Belarusians in the city centre too long. The demonstrations on the following evenings gather dozens people, no thousands. The police violence was excessive and rather pre-emptive than anything else.

The advantage of the authorities is their pro-active stand. Oposition leaders didn’t have any plan, they were undecided and disagreed whether to stay in the square or move to the Election Committee. And what to do there.

Even more so, the opposition knew that provocations were prepared but never took means of precaution to protect the action and the people who dared to join it.

President Lukashenka called a rather negative OSCE assessment a huge step forward. He pointed out that “too much of this stupid democracy is over” and he won’t let “tear the counrty into pieces“. He promised to publish within a week information on the operation of opposition parties and NGOs and the backstage data on their financial sources.

Journalists will also be made fully responsible for every word they write, he said. The election-time heyday of free and easy reporting is over.

Lukashenka remarked that it’s not manly for people to complain that they have been beaten up: “You want to be a president? You have to bear it!”

The president-elect now has compelling problems to tackle, such as foreign debt, the export deficit, urgent demand for economic modernisation.

The country needs money. EU ministers coming to Minsk before elections have talked about €3 billion for projects and reforms in future. Russia’s conditions for $4 billion dollars in indirect aid are unclear but the offer seems to have been snapped up by Minsk as both sides are very optimistic about the oil and gas deliveries.

Was one of the conditions sending a clear signal to the opposition via the use of police batons?

Russian Dmitry Medvedev voiced hope that as a result of the elections Belarus will continue to develop its state on the basis of democracy and friendship with its neighbours (!).

The EU seems perplexed and for a reason. It’s yet to be seen if this will influence relations between Brussels and Minsk. But so far the reaction from the neighbouring EU capitals was very moderate.

Me, I am pretty frustrated… Another election, another democratic flop… My hope is  that every exit is an entrance to somewhere else.

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Postmodern Dictatorship of Europe

You can hardly believe your eyes as you watch the Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on TV sort-of-dancing to the punk hit that was intended as political satire: “Sanya [a very informal way to address Alyaksandr] will stay with us, he will stay with us and everything will be OK.”

For weeks it’s played several times a day on the radio, appeared on TV and has a video. Now the song is also visually associated with the president and his electoral campaign. Is there such a thing as bad PR?

Belarus on the eve of presidential elections on 19 December is a postmodernist world. On the internet, observers tot up irregularities in the early voting that started on 14 December, for e.g. that officials, students and employees of state-owned companies are made to vote early. On TV, Lukashenka demands democracy and says forced early voting is inadmissible. He jokes that he has become too democratic and his colleagues won’t understand him.

And in real life? People generally are planning not to show up to vote because they believe they already know the outcome of this little game.

A lot of first-evers and big numbers: 10 registered candidates; just one quarter of one percent of members of electoral committees who are opposition-linked; 400 accredited foreign journalists; a European scandal (on cruelty to animals); a car crash with one candidate (no harm done); a lot of peaceful demonstrations (not dispersed); meetings of candidates with voters all around the country (not prevented).

Yes, even first-ever live TV debates, but without the incumbent President. Meanwhile, as the expert counted, coverage of his activities on TV outweighs that of his nine opponents by a ratio of more than 1,000:1.

British actor Jude Law together with opposition leaders have invited Belarusians to a rally after polling stations close on the big day. As usual, the authorities have accused Lukashenka’s rivals of plotting violence and have promised to prevent it. Media reported of dozens of assorted military machines and water cannons (it’s -15C now!) moving into position in Minsk.

The President has stated that Belarus used up its quota of revolutions last century. He expects the cold weather to cool the ardour of protesters even as he promises to protect them.

According to media reports, the Lithuanian president sees the victory of Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a safeguard for the stability of Belarus and against Russian influence. Nobody wants Russia or a “second Russia” as a neighbour, Dalia Grybauskaite was quoted as saying.

Dalia, Sanya will stay with us, don’t worry.

Worried seemed to be Russian Prime Minister Putin. Yesterday (16 December) he counted the costs of Belarusian friendship: Russia annually loses $3 billion in revenues due to duty-free gas deliveries to Belarus; oil duty abolition will bring Belarus $4 billion in extra revenues in 2011. What he ‘forgot’ to mention is the Customs (!) Union (!!) of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan that Moscow is trying to push an unwilling Minsk towards.

Apropos of Russia. WikiLeaks text on Belarus reveals that the US allegedly won’t compromise its principles (regarding criticism of Belarus’ human rights record for e.g.) in the name of better relations with Moscow. The EU is said to be looking into possible support Belarus worth two to three billion dollars.

None of this will be decisive. The important thing is that the people are generally satisfied with their uninformed lives and moderate wages. They are all part of the system created by Lukashenka, a system which still works well enough to make the pain of transition, transformation and liberalisation unnecessary and offers no alternatives.

The last dictatorship of Europe? Belarus? Noooo! We are the best dictatorship in Europe.

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