Eastern Europe has been a big news-maker recently. As a Belarusian I say: been there, seen that.
Is the political leadership trying to sell their loyalty to Moscow amid massive protests in Kyiv? Yes, crowds are a perfect scarecrow, a bargaining chip to press for solid support from Russia. It’s not about the long-term future of Ukraine, but about the short-term well-being of the political elite. Yanukovich is even clever enough not to try to disperse the demonstrations any more. Why? One day they will get tired, cold and leave by themselves. They don’t hurt anyone.
Khodorkovsky gets released? Sure, why not. Together with all those whining girls and activists. Putin feels like the king of the world, he can act generously, forgiving. But he is not. He just knows that none of them has ever posed any kind of threat to his regime. It was symbolically important to lock them up back then, now it is important to set them free. It’s Christmas after all, no? And Putin is a leader with a big heart.
Belarus has an exceptional experience with protests and political prisoners; Lukashenka has been perfecting the craft of making advances towards the EU and Russia one after the other, playing them against each other for his own benefit.
With political power being a lot more consolidated and for some 20 years already, Belarus is an bad example, a political deadlock, a case of “What happens in your neighbouring country if you don’t care enough.”
Lukashenka would also be happy to put all dissidents on planes and let them disappear. Belarusians know already that it’s impossible to judge a political prisoner, who sought pardon. They are doing it in Russia now? They will come to understand it too.
So the news is: there’s no news from Eastern Europe. No new tendencies, no positive signs. Yes, civil society is invigorated In Ukraine, yes, a bunch of people are being released in Russia. But apart from that, the EU hides behind declarations and still has no idea how to deal with this part of Europe.
Dear Europe, don’t be hoodwinked. Partners who can’t be trusted should be treated accordingly. With respect, caution and a lot of strategic thinking. Please.