Posts Tagged Belarus crisis

Autocrat Autumn

Autocratic regimes often hit the ground running.

The October Revolution in Russia in 1917 was hailed by intellectuals as a socialist and a social coup. Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and Cuba’s Fidel were also promising revolutionaries at one time.

But any great idea can fail in its implementation. If there are x ways to get from starting point a to point b, the choices need to be examined and debated, but this is impossible in autocratic regimes. There are no roads in the authoritarian jungle. The socialist revolution and the road to Communism were followed by almost a century of passionate struggle against individualism. The fist of Soviet autocracy crushed free spirits. It is the same story with Cuba and Libya.

Where are these countries going? Against the flow? Going their own, unique way, not giving a damn about America or EU? But who do they listen to? An inner circle of wise counsellors? Righto – the masses are already inert and can be easily ignored.

Authority is inherently so dangerous and prone to corruption that no system can stay healthy without division of power, elections and rotation of leaders. The problem is that any change is a challenge for autocrats. For them, a one-man protest could have a butterfly effect and bring everything crashing down.

But let us come back to Europe.

Belarusian leader Lukashenka won the first presidential elections in the country when it became independent and broke away from Soviet rule. He wanted to end corruption and to improve the economy. Seventeen years later his regime is heading into a cul-de-sac. “Cul” means “arse” in French and “sac” is “bag” – they literally describe the situation.

Inflation in Belarus in the first seven months of 2011 was between five and 103 times higher than elsewhere in post-Soviet countries. In 2011 consumer prices have gone up by 41%. A shortage of foreign currency prompted mass sales of Belarusian products to Poland and to Russia in order to get hold of Polish zlotys and Russian roubles. There are shortages in the shops. Now people go to queue up in the morning to get meat. Meanwhile, the upward leap in prices saw Belarusians stockpile sugar, cereal an sunflower oil. They say, it’s temporary that there’s not enough meat sold in Belarus. Well, was economic stability temporary as well?

And what does this panic show? It reveals the lack of trust and lack of empathy of ordinary people toward the leadership. People need an alternative and they cannot find one. It’s natural – an autocratic regime presupposes no alternative. As we say in Minsk, there’s no grass where the tanks drive. But discontent and distrust do not automatically bring autumn to the patriarchs. There’s panic about failing economy in Belarus, but no mass protests, no walkouts.

EU is now thinking to revive the conditional dialogue with the regime to help the country out. That would be the right thing to do for your neighbour, even if stabilising the country means stabilising the regime. When negotiating, one can trade help for necessary changes.

The colossi are heavy and not easy to move. But they are bound to fall in the end. Sometimes after 42 years, sometimes more quickly.

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Clap Your Hands, Say Change

Picture this: My granny regrets having voted for Lukashenka in the elections half a year ago. It’s not the end of the world, but looks like the beginning of it. As we say, meaning that a certain fate is unavoidable: Annushka has already spilled the oil.

Isn’t it ironic? The name of my blog has changed its meaning several times since I started it. The spring of 2009 brought the thaw, the winter of 2010/2011 looked like an Ice Age and summer 2011 has it all: economic breakdown, complete loss of direction on behalf of the authorities and creative protests. My personal Oscar goes to the sense of humour skyrocketing these months in Belarus.

And it is ironic indeed. Now that the opposition is in jail or morally devastated, Belarusians all over the country are organising themselves with the help of social media (and use of the Internet is fairly widely spread) for silent protests. During three consecutive Wednesdays Belarusians gathered on the central squares of 20 cities, without chanting any slogans, and simply clapped their hands.

Each time more people came (several thousands only in Minsk) and even more were brutally detained or arrested. The next demo is on 29 June. On 3 July – on our Day of Independence – there is another one. Police have already announced that clapping hands will be considered a violation of public order.

Meanwhile, the EU has introduced its first ever economic sanctions against the regime. They needn’t have bothered. They regime already did that to themselves: problems with availability of foreign currency, imports and foreign debt are drastic.

In the time of economic crisis it’s finally evident  – even for my granny  – that the country badly needs structural reforms.

Belarus’ economic model has run out of steam, the World Bank says. Devaluation of the national currency to 56 percent is a blessing for an export-oriented economy, Lukashenka says. He is embarrassed to see how Belarusians reacted, with panic buying, to rumours about possible shortages of sugar and sunflower oil … (the oil, yes, the oil, Annushka).

A quarter of Belarusians believe they are to blame for the economic crisis in the country, Lukashenko also says. Aha, the nation responds, now we know how many Belarusians really voted for the president in December.

You can’t choose a nation to govern, Lukashenka adds. But you can choose a president is my reply.

Russia? Its involvement in the whole story of the economic deterioration in Belarus is not so clear. After years of brotherly help, it sharply raises energy prices, denies indirect subsidies, demands back debts and remindes about the Belarusian enterprises it could buy.

In terms of political pressure, the Russian government has publicly deplored politicised trials and state Russian TV is closely following our protests. For his part, Russian President Medvedev didn’t even bother to come to the Brest fortress to commemorate 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic war.

This is what Belarusians are saying with their silence. That changes are taking place and more is to come. It’s scary. It’s unbelievable. It’s unexpected. But it’s real and it needs to be done.

Hey EU – all eyes on Belarus for 3 July.

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