ISSUE 2-2002
Александр Куранов
Иван Задорожнюк Екатерина Щеткина
Виктор Коган-Ясный Илья Гайдук Игорь Некрасов
Yurai Marushiak Владимир Воронов
Роман Майоров
Игорь Некрасов
Olga Homolova

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Yurai Marushiak | Historian, Institute of Political Sciences, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia | Issue 2, 2002

       The Belarus presidential elections, which took place just two days before the attacks on the USA on September 11th, 2001, were won by the autocratic incumbent, Aleksander Lukashenko (in Belarusian Alyaksandar Lukashenko), with 76% of the votes. The events that followed meant that Belarus found itself on the periphery of public interest despite the obvious rigging that had taken place behind the polls. In any case, the media also ignored post-election developments in this country, which were characterized by continuing repressive measures. Despite the fact that numerous authoritarian regimes like China, Pakistan, Russia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia stood beside the US in its war against terrorism, as the media called it almost as soon as the Twin Towers in New York came down, this war is often seen as one to defend the values of Euro-American civilization, i.e. democratic values, human rights and the freedom of the individual. This is precisely the reason why in the interests of maintaining special alliances the public in the democratic world should not remain indifferent to the dismantling of these values in the immediate vicinity of Central Europe.
       The repressions carried out by the Lukashenko regime have been the subject of criticism for several years now from non-governmental human rights organizations and international organizations such as the EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN. The election campaign was accompanied by a wave of arrests and intervention against the independent press. For example, in September 2001, before and immediately after the elections, members of the election committee for the united opposition candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk and a large number of activists for the Zubr youth movement found themselves behind bars. Immediately after the elections, the Baptist pastor Piotr Mazejko was arrested for expressing sympathy with the victims of the terrorist attacks in the USA. All the electronic media and most of the press in Belarus are still in the hands of the state and support the official political line. The promotion of independent opposition opinions is restricted to a small number of titles in the periodical press, which have come under the constant scrutiny of the censor and the president's Administration. On 17th August, 2001, the State Press Commission confiscated 400,000 copies of a special issue of the opposition daily, Nasha svaboda, devoted to U. Hancharyk.
       The state authorities use other forms of manipulation, claiming that they are the initiatives of local authorities. Thus for example in Vitebsko, the state printing house refused to print the Viciebsk Business News because one issue contained articles on the opposition presidential candidate. The tax inspectorate also confiscated computer equipment from the most widely read opposition daily Narodnaya volya and the regional weekly Kuceyna. Narodnaya volya had to deal several times with temporary censorship and in the case of the weekly Pahonya, published in Grodno, the intervention of the censor and court actions led in November 2001 to a ban on the magazine. The court justified its verdict with the publication of an allegedly incorrect report on the falsification of election results in Grodno, although the printing house had refused to publish the article in question, which had never actually got to the readers. The Lukashenko regime tries to avoid politically motivated charges against journalists and opposition activists, and persecutions are frequently officially justified on the grounds of alleged financial irregularities. The state financial investigation department, under the direct control of the President, has turned its attention to democratic non-governmental organizations, from which it has confiscated computers and other equipment. Just before the elections, Lukashenko managed to paralyse opposition activities and those of independent observers. State telecommunications blocked access to the observers' web-pages, foreign television channel signals and the telephone lines of non-governmental organizations trying to independently monitor the presidential elections. According to information from the Belarus opposition, Hancharyk's radio speech was stopped in many regions of the country and regional newpapers had to print Lukashenko's pre-election platform. In spite of the law officially in effect, the electronic media published Lukashenko's speech the day before the elections took place.
       There was also manipulation involved in the election process. A considerable number of voters were compelled to vote in what was called the pre-term period, which began on 4.9.2001. This included, for example, members of the armed forces and university students, who only received food coupons or accommodation in halls of residence after they had shown that they had taken part in early voting. A similar situation came about in state enterprises, where the great majority of the population works. Although the elections actually started several days before the official term, independent monitoring of polling stations was not permitted at that time and on the election day itself independent observers faced harassment.
       Unexpectedly, after the rigged presidential elections, Lukashenko did not launch into a full frontal attack against the opposition but chose the "salami tactic" of applying different specially targetted actions, particularly outside the capital Minsk – nor do the repressions target the main opposition political bodies but rather the non-governmental youth organizations. Thus in his efforts to overcome the international isolation that he has brought on Belarus, Lukashenko tries to present a settled political atmosphere in the country to the outside world.
       At the same time he continues to concentrate power in his own hands and strengthen state control in all areas of life. Two weeks after the elections the president set up the Ministry of Information. Censorship, which hitherto only affected the press, was now extended to include electronic media and the Internet with ideological supervision of the media controlled by the president's Administration. Another blow was aimed by Lukashenko at academia, where the opposition has strong support. He has taken the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus under his personal control and under a Presidential Decree of 17.10.2001, the President himself appoints the Chairman and members of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences. The importance that Lukashenko attaches to control of the academic world is shown by the fact that he immediately appointed the previous head of his Administration, Michail Myasnikovich, as the new Chairman of the Academy. "This means the loss of independence of the only remaining democratic institution...even in the darkest days of totalitarian rule under Stalin, the Chairman and the Presidium of the Academy were elected by the General Meeting of the Academy so this is another step towards totalitarian rule," says the geologist academician Radzim Haretski.
       Selected individuals are prosecuted for "criminal" acts that would result in a conviction for anybody who is or has ever been involved in an opposition party. Such acts include the distribution of opposition newspapers and leaflets supporting U. Hancharyk as the "expression of a political interest opposed to the election of A. Lukashenko as the President of the Republic". Similarly, in order to intimidate the opposition and create a precedent on the basis of which he will soon be able to "deal with" anybody at all, the authorities use quite banal excuses to liquidate inconvenient organizations. In early December, 2001, an action of this kind was taken against two youth organizations. The activities of the Youth Information Centre was halted because of its relations with a Czech journalist and a member of the "Man in Need" organization, Michal Plavec and other Czechs, Slovaks, Poles and Serbs, who were interested in the human rights situation in Belarus as this organization had allegedly damaged "national interests". The Belarus Students Association and its magazine, Studentskaya dumka, were prohibited because the English name on their letter-heads was the Belarus form Belarusan instead of the officially sanctioned russified version - Belarussian. Another reason for the prohibition was that the organization used a logo of a different size to that registered with the Ministry of Justice.
       Post-election reprisals for support of the opposition presidential candidate in the form of dismissals from work and prohibitions on singing at official music festivals and on television affected, for example, the deputy manager at the State Chamber Orchestra, the singer Zinayda Banedarenkova and Anatol Yarmolenk, the "Belarusian Karel Gott". Out in the country in particular, opposition activists are dismissed from work and there are purges in state administration, education and at universities. Two youth organizations were banned in early December 2001 and action continues to be taken against opposition gatherings. One of the most significant and brutal interventions was carried out by special units of the OMON militia against demonstrators who were protesting in November 2001 against the widening of the Minsk by-pass in the Kurapatski Forest. They were demanding the conservation of crosses that had been put up to commemorate victims of the Stalinist repressions in the 1930s, who are buried in mass graves in the forest. OMON intervened with similar brutality against participants in an anti-fascist demonstration to mark the 60th anniversary of the first execution of members of the anti-Nazi resistance in Minsk on 26.10.2001. It is not by chance that the present Belarusian government takes action against the nation's historical heritage. In the 1980s, it was the discovery of mass graves in the Belarus Kurapaty that triggered off the whole process of perestroika and national emancipation, though paradoxically for the first time in several decades, the prohibition extended last year to cover the 7th November anniversary celebrations, whose organizer, the Belarusian Communist Party (BCP), is in the opposition against the President. The methods of the Lukashenko regime were fully revealed on 17.1.2002, however, when the Zubr activist Andrei Zaytsau committed suicide because he could no longer take the pressure from the KGB, which was urging him to become an agent.
       The Lukashenko administration continues in its policy of unifying Belarus with Russia. This trend does not actually meet with as much explicit resistance from the Belarus opposition as the dismantling of civic freedoms. This is all to do with the uncrystallized national identity of Belarusians, which can turn into cultural conflict in the country. Belarusians make up 81% of the population of the country but according to research into public opinion conducted in March 2000, only 49.8% of Belarusians are of the opinion that they form a separate nation while 42.6% consider Belarusians to be a part of a Russian "trinity" of nations consisting of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. The present government supports russification processes in all spheres of life and this involves not only electronic media but also official communications. After a short period during the early 1990s, when the Belarusian language saw a revival, schools with Belarusian as the language of instruction are again being liquidated. According to the 1999 national census, up to 62.8% of citizens use Russian at home and only 36.7% use Belarusian. Paradoxically, supporters of an independent, democratic and pro-European Belarus are mostly to be found in the cities, where linguistic russification and the ethnic Russian population predominate. On the other hand, the social base for the Lukashenko regime is the countryside, where Belarusian is much more widespread. The Russian-speaking citizens of Belarus thus become Belarus patriots. Belarus national consciousness has not yet become clearly defined but it is possible that linguistic russification will not result in cultural and ethnic assimilation of Belarusians; even nationalist circles are reconciled to the reality of the dominance of Russian in public and private life, and as in the case of the Irish, the Belarusians will remain a people speaking two languages.
       Nationality plays a much greater role in the creation of a Belarusian national consciousness than ethnicity or language. The special problem involved in creating a Belarusian national identity is the absence of its own state traditions, in contrast to Ukraine, for example, which can refer back to its tradition of Cossack hetmen. Ever since the Middle Ages, the territory has been the subject of disputes between the two regional powers, Poland and Russia. The Belarus People's Republic, which came into being at the time of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty in 1918 under the auspices of Germany, only lasted for a short time. Nationalist circles hark back to the tradition of the Great Principality of Litovsk, whose insignia are used in the symbols of independent Belarus. On the other hand, the Great Principality of Litovsk and the period of Polish domination in the Middle Ages and in the 20th century between the two world wars, as well as the Belarusian language itself and the idea of the Belarusian nation are associated in many Belarusians' eyes with national, religious and social repression that was far worse than in the period when Belarus was part of the Russian Empire or the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, civil society is more highly developed in those areas that used to belong to Poland. National identity and the level of independent organization in Belarusian society was also determined in the past by the interfusion of ethnic and social factions. While the rural population consisted primarily of Belarusians, the towns had a predominance of Poles, Jews and Russian populations. This results on the one hand in the population's scepticism towards politics, and on the other hand in an association in people's minds between linguistic and ethnic "Belarusianism" and the lower social classes. After the Second World War, a large number of Belarusians left the country and settled in other parts of the USSR while on the other hand the Belarusian towns and cities, which had been decimated by wartime losses, saw a considerable influx of Russophones so that before the fall of communism, most of the Belarusian population identified first and foremost with the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that after the fall of the USSR, democratic reforms, Belarusianization projects including the attempt to revitalize Belarusian in public life and decommunization were promoted by a marginal, approximately ten percent fraction of the national democratic forces in the Minsk Parliament, to which the startled Communist nomenclatura formally handed over power for a short period (1991-1994), the situation has now substantially changed with independence and the top three quarters of the population considers Belarus to be its homeland, 12.4% place the USSR in first position and only 2.2% favour Russia. The establishment of an independent Belarus at the time of the collapse of the USSR in 1991 was more a result of external factors than a demonstration of the will of the Belarusian population or the outcome of efforts by dominant elements in the local political cliques.
       The Belarusian writer, Vasil Bykav, who currently lives in Frankfurt and ever since the 1980s has come in favour of the democratic and national opposition, points out that in the eyes of a considerable number of Belarusians, Russia remains the highest authority: "The Belarusians have got used to the idea that everything good and bad comes from Russia...that Russia can give or refrain from giving the Belarusians freedom and independence. Everything depends on relations with Russia and the Russian Federation." Even the opposition has been prone to this stereotypical way of thinking when, for example, it turned to Russia with its complaints about breaches of human rights in the hope that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, would exert his influence on Lukashenko and make him moderate his policy. Naturally enough, neither Putin nor his predecessor Boris Yeltsin responded to the appeals of the opposition. However, the democratic forces have identified with Belarusian sovereignty whereas the BCP has hitherto declared the annulment of the Belovezh Treaties of December 1991 (whereby the leaders of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia at that time definitively sealed the fate of the USSR) to be a part of its programme.
       It currently appears that it is the Belarusian leadership that is showing the greatest interest in strengthening integration within the Union of Russia and Belarussia, which came into being in April 1997. In Russia it is mainly the Communists who are promoting unification with Belarus. In 2002, a joint constitution is to be adopted and elections are planned for the Union parliament, which according to the President of the Russian State Duma, Gennady Selezhnyov, is to take up its mandate in 2003. In late November, 2001, Lukashenko presented Putin with a draft constitution document. Although he wishes each partner to retain its own constitutional system, the adoption of his version of the constitution would de facto mean the loss of sovereignty for Belarus, as he anticipates the establishment of a common economic space, a joint foreign policy and joint defence of the borders, a common currency as well as a common customs and tax policy. Work is going on at the highest level on the integration processes but Lukashenko and Selezhnov accuse the Russian executive structure, particularly in the economic sphere, of taking a sceptical stance towards the new state.
       State Secretary of the Union of Russia and Belarus, Pavel Borodin, presented the Belarusian Chamber of Representatives1 not with a federative state project but with a confederacy model with prospects for gradual transformation into a federation. Deputies in the Chamber of Representatives rejected his proposal. As deputy Natalya Masheravova said, although "they promised Belarusians a full union state" in reality there is no "political will". Lukashenko openly accuses the Russian leadership of unwillingness to create the union state. P. Borodin criticises the authorities in Minsk that they are not paying their contributions to the joint union budget. Russia has a strategic interest in acquiring the Belarus economic area as well as in strengthening its military and political influence in the country. The Russian rouble is to become the official Belarusian currency in 2005, and three years later it is to be replaced by a common currency but Borodin does not rule out the possibility that the Russian rouble will actually be valid in Belarus from as early as 2002 or 2003. At the same time, however, the Russian side is reluctant to finance the inefficient central management of the Belarusian economy. Further integration measures are subject to the implementation of market reforms to make the Belarusian economy compatible with the Russian, hence the Russian attitude to the full integration of both states and the creation of joint supranational institutions is somewhat lacklustre. According to the Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian opposition United Civic Party, Jaraslau Rananchuk, the Kremlin may keep up the rhetoric but it won't give Lukashenko any money. There are no funds in the Russian budget either for elections to the Union Parliament or for economic programmes." So Seleznyov assures the Belarusians that nobody is planning to make Belarus the 90th state in the Russian Federation. Similarly Lukashenko is hedging his bets when in one breath he urges the creation of joint Russo-Belarusian supranational state bodies and then assures his citizens that "Belarus will never cease to be a sovereign independent state". In view of Russia's interest in developing good relations with the West, Lukashenko's authoritarian regime is an embarrassment. Still it supports him because it has not found a more suitable partner elsewhere in Belarus to realize its integrationist objectives. In view of the increasing authoritarian tendencies in Russia itself, the embarrassment caused by Lukashenko will probably fade into the background.
       The present regime has brought Belarus into deep international isolation. With the exception of the Russian President Vladim?r Putin, no European leaders meet with Lukashenko. The Chamber of Representatives, which has never seen free and democratic elections, is likewise boycotted. Delegations from the dissolved Supreme Soviet and Lukashenko's unrecognized 'parliament" regularly meet at OSCE and Council of Europe parliamentary assemblies and the travel expenses and hotel accommodation of opposition representatives are paid for by the parliamentary delegations of other European states. Until last year, the West took a united stand against Lukashenko. The most important European organizations such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the EU have maintained a uniform position towards the ruling regime. The immediate reaction of Western leaders to the procedure of the presidential elections in Belarus was unanimous. The day after the presidential elections, the OSCE together with the Belarus opposition condemned the conditions in which they took place. The OSCE declared that the elections took place in an atmosphere of fear. The EU foreign and security policy coordinator, Javier Solana, declared that because observers had determined that the elections were rigged, the EU could not "normalize relations with a country that did not respect the freedom to vote". The European Commission expressed its readiness to liaise with Belarus to improve the level of democracy and respect for human rights. The USA formulated its standpoint more cogently: it described the elections as a nonsense and also raised the question of the disappearance of several opponents of the regime in the past. In contrast to the European leaders, however, it addressed the Belarusian people and so the USA continues in its support of democratic forces in Belarus.
       Lukashenko is particularly inconvenienced by the position of the OBSE, which is at present practically the only forum through which communication is possible with the current Belarusian leadership. He described the head of the OSCE consultative observer group in Belarus, Hans Georg Wieck, as the "leader of the opposition" because of his principled stand. The four-year mandate of this experienced German diplomat, who was the West German ambassador to Moscow from 1977 to 1980 and then later, in the latter half of the 1980s, the head of West German intelligence, expired at the end of 2001. His successor has not yet been appointed, but is expected to again be a German, the former West German ambassador to Ukraine, Eberhard Heiken. Lukashenko is currently trying to gain as much as possible from the changing of the guard in the consultative observer group. Although Heiken has a reputation as a moderate politician, the Belarusian President is trying to obtain a more substantial voice for the Belarusian leadership in the appointment of Wieck's successor. At the same time, the Minsk authorities are seeking to have the new group representative appointed after a review of his mandate, which is considered to be too "broad". The OSCE has so far refused such a resolution and insists on retaining the previous formulation of the mandate, which entails "liaison" in the development of democratic institutions in Belarus and observation of the fulfilment of obligations involving the OBSE.
       However, European states in particular are beginning to doubt the fairness of this policy towards Belarus. Even before the presidential elections, several Polish and Western observers expressed the opinion that the long-term future of Belarus in tow behind Russia and with a dictator at the helm was already decided. Clearly as a result of the renewal of the alliance between the West and Russia in the "war on terrorism", a more pragmatic approach to Belarus is increasingly being signalled. Despite the clear stand against the elections and the de facto international boycott of Belarus, nowhere has it been explicitly stated that Lukashenko's regime is illegal and not recognized by the international community. Even though the likelihood of the existing regime being accepted as democratic by European structures is negligible, the latter are willing to work together with it, as Wieck says, if it is willing to take measures to facilitate democratization. When discussing the mission statement of the new Polish government on 26.10.2001, Prime Minister Leszek Miller declared in connection with Belarus that Poland would seek all means of dialogue and "if possible, rapprochement between the two states". The Minister Designate for Foreign Affairs, W?odzimierz Cimoszewicz, enlarged on Miller's words when he stated before deputies that "the policy of the democratic states of Europe towards Belarus has had no effect," and on the contrary has contributed towards its close alignment with Russia. The standpoint of the Policy Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of 21.11.2001 is also very ambiguous when it puts forward two new conditions for the Belarus government to meet in order to improve relations with the European Community - abolition of the death penalty and the introduction of the institution of an ombudsman. The line taken by European institutions in the past has always added another two requirements on democratic electoral legislative reform and the creation of an atmosphere of trust. The Belarus opposition responded to this declaration in a very sensitive manner. It concurs in the idea that Belarus-European dialogue should still be maintained in a "troika" format while for foreign relations with the Belarus government, it puts forward the formula of "all minus two", i.e. keep boycotting Lukashenko in person and the National Assembly as a body.
       According to many analysts and several representatives of the Belarusian opposition, the main inspiration behind this shift in the European stance towards Belarus comes from Germany. Germany shows great interest in the future of Belarus. This is borne out by the fact that two German diplomats have had a turn as head of the OSCE consultative observer group, which is unusual for the appointment of officials in this organization. The Belarusian politologist, Alyaksandar Patupa, and his German colleague, Reiner Lindner, point out Germany's special interests in Belarus, i.e. the most important pipelines from Russia which carry gas and oil through it to Central and Western Europe. Moreover, Germany perceives Belarus as a transit state between the West and Russia as well as a promising market for its products and it is interested in taking a role in the privatization of Belarusian businesses. However, the prospects for economic collaboration are limited by the need to implement market reforms and to create a favourable investment climate so Lindner believes that political reforms are of secondary importance: "We know that in a certain sense these elections [the presidential elections - author's note] do not conform to European standards but we are compelled to come to terms with this and to reassess our position, including the policy of limiting contacts.
"        Although the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schr?der, met up with the opposition candidate, Mr Hancharyk, on 20. 11. 2001 and the leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic party (National Assembly), Mikol Statkievich, there is some speculation that after the electoral defeat, Germany is prompting the Belarusian opposition to initiate a dialogue with Lukashenko. This would allegedly lead to a revival of contacts between Europe and Belarus and put a halt to the authoritarian tendencies. Statkievich sees this as a case of political pragmatism and realism: "German politicians are seeking dialogue with everybody. That is their principle. I don't think this situation can go on forever where they only deal with people who do not have real power." The leader of the Conservative Christian Party - the Belarus Popular Front, Zianon Pazniak, who presently lives in exile in Warsaw, accuses Germany of coming to an agreement with Russia, and of having a foreign policy on Belarus which is primarily governed by the interests of the gas concerns, Ruhrgas and Gazprom.
       Regardless of whether or not the above interpretations of events are correct, there are likely to be disastrous consequences for Belarus and for the West. Ambivalent signals from the West allow Lukashenko to argue that his regime is acceptable, and as long as he is sure of his position, he will not willingly enter into any dialogue with the opposition, if only because he does not need it and is in no way compelled to go along with it. Even if Lukashenko acceded, for example, to the requirement for the appointment of an ombudsman along the lines of the recommendation of the Policy Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, under the conditions of his unlimited power, he would be able to appoint whomever he likes to the position, and the role of public protector of human rights would be merely decorative. At the same time, the citizens of Belarus and other Central European states where undemocratic forces are in the ascendancy (Ukraine, Moldava, Russia and the trans-Caucasian republics), will again begin to adapt to undemocratic regimes and might see the stance taken by Western Europe as a repetition of the appeasement policy practised towards Germany in the 1930s and towards the USSR soon after 1945, which will result at least in a temporary aggravation of the feeling of isolation and rejection. The feeling of disenchantment with the West, no matter how justified or unjustified it may be, may lead to open expressions of hostility. Subservience to national egotism or the interests of a few businesses may thus take its toll on the future expansion of the EU; nothing of this kind is in the interests of the states neighbouring the former Soviet republics, alongside which they will have to work even in the case of successful integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Not least, we have to agree with V. Bykav that by recognizing the Lukashenko regime, the West would deny the democratic principles on which it bases itself.
       The feeling of isolation and rejection is already beginning to show itself, particularly among the pro-Western intelligentsia in the republics of the former Soviet Union. In the case of Belarus this has so far not meant any increase in active support for the Lukashenko regime but there are no few cases of conformism in society, including among the younger generation. The Belarusian opposition is also going through a certain crisis. After the presidential elections, for which it was not sufficiently prepared, it has found that it does not have the base of support from the population that it anticipated. In the words of Vincuk Viachorka, President of the Belarus Popular Front, one of the strongest opposition groupings: "I think we overestimated the readiness of the average Belarusian to make a drastic change in his own situation. "
       The weakness of civil society and the meagre interest in community affairs is, however, a historical characteristic of Belarusian political culture. The national and democratic movement in Belarus was weaker at the beginning of the 20th century than in neighbouring Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia, as well as later when Belarus was divided up between Poland and the USSR. During the Soviet era, Belarus was one of the most stable republics and had practically no dissident movement. The leadership of the Belarusian Communist Party was remarkable for its conservatism and loyalty to Moscow practically right up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in contrast to the Baltic and Caucasian republics. The public has a strong feeling of disillusionment from the election results, which has to a large extent paralysed their willingness to engage in mass resistance. Despite appeals by opposition groups, the demonstrations in October Square in Minsk against the rigged elections of 9th to 10th September, 2001 were attended by barely five thousand people. It is significant, however, that despite police violence similar to that seen in Yugoslavia, the opposition demonstrations have not ceased, though their frequency is subject to ebbs and flows.
       The electoral defeat has naturally brought about discussions among the ranks of the Belarusian opposition about the direction that is now to be taken. One of its problems is its considerable heterogeneity. Since 1999, it has formed a Consultative Council (KSOPP) of opposition parties, which on 16.1.2002 adopted a "renewed platform", i.e. a minimum programme of primary objectives. It remains a priority of the KSOPP to hold free and fair elections at all levels, to launch negotiations between the authorities and the political opposition, to create an atmosphere of trust in the country, to give the opposition access to the state media, to amend electoral legislation and to broaden the functions and powers of parliament. The Council represents a broad spectrum of political parties, from the old nomenclatura from before 1991 to conservative and anti-Communist intellectuals. Paradoxically, Lukashenko's authoritarian regime, which harks back to the tradition of the Soviet era, is also opposed by the Belarusian Communist Party (BCP) led by Sergej Kalyakin, even though it also identifies with the Soviet tradition and supports the process of integration with Russia. Lukashenko did not need a strong Communist party independent of himself so in 1996 his authorities created their own Communist Party of Belarus (CPB). The KSOPP also includes the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly) led by M. Statkievich, the Belarusian Labour Party comprising the trade unions and the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly led by the former Parliamentary Chairman, Stanislav Shushkievich. The right is represented by the Conservative-Christian Party, the Belarusian Popular Front of Zianon Paznyak, the Belarusian Popular Front of V. Viachork and the United Civic Party led by Aleksandra Lebedyek. In November 2001, the Social Democratic parties proposed transforming the KSOPP into the Council of Democratic Parties, which would act as a coordination body. This was rejected by the Conservatives and Communists.
       The Belarusian opposition is not united either over the question of retaining the country's independence. Most opposition parties including the Greens, the Ecology Party and the Women's Party "Nadzeja" reject integration with Russia and any participation in elections for the joint Union Parliament, and these opponents have set up a Coordination Council of Democratic Forces (CCDF). Amongst the opposition, integration is supported by the Communists while Statkievich's Belarusian Social Democrats (National Assembly) avoid the adoption of a clear position on the elections. This means that this party has begun to lose credibility amongst the democratic forces and has been expelled from the CCDF. In early December 2001, a group of its members accused Statkievich of insider wheeling and dealing and the imposition of a regime of personal power within the party, the sabotage of the election campaign to support the opposition candidate Hancharyk and efforts to become a part of Lukashenko's establishment. They have set up a new Belarusian Social Democratic party whose President, Alyaksei Karoly, has shown interest in a merger with Shushkevich's party.
       Political analysts and sociologists in the Belarusian opposition also point out the inadequate level of organization and efficiency, which they consider to be one of the main reasons behind their failure in the presidential elections in addition to the rigging itself. According to sociologist Alyeksandr Sasnou from the Independent Institute for Social-Economic and Political Research, the opposition at present lacks a leader and a programme. "Our research indicates that the opposition is itself to blame for losing the elections....It is remote from the people, it has to work on just that problem of getting the people to recognize it, accept it and support it," said Mr. Sasnou. The opposition parties are not yet sufficiently well defined and the people are not familiar with their activities. That is why Sasnou believes they should communicate more with the ordinary people.
       The latest targets of repression in Belarus are the economic elite, or to be precise, managers of large state enterprises who have hitherto shown loyalty to the regime, but Lukashenko has started off the process of privatization of the economy and the main parties interested in Belarusian businesses are, naturally enough, Russian businesses, which causes considerable dissatisfaction not only amongst the opposition, who demand they stay in Belarusian hands but clearly among the local business chiefs too, and of course, the authorities respond to this dissatisfaction with force. The present Belarusian President came to power on a wave of nostalgia for the Soviet era. One of his first acts in office was to restore the old Soviet insignia. His declared programme of "market socialism" meant in practice the suspension of all economic reforms and drastic restrictions on the activities of private entrepreneurs. As his latest economic measures have shown, however, the basis of the policy behind his resovietization of the country is an authoritarian regime and the promotion of the interests of Russia in the country. Another tool used to exercise control over the population is the Soviet symbols that have been retained - not only the state flag and the state emblem itself but also statues and street names. Their popularity among the middle-aged and older generations does not only lie in nostalgia for a period of relative plenty and equality before the introduction of democracy in the early 1990s but also in locations associated with the Second World War (still called the Great Patriotic War by Belarusian traditionalists) in the people's historical memory. The war caused great destruction to Belarusian towns and cities, where very little historical heritage was left standing, and the death of one inhabitant in four. However, the traditional phraseology of the Soviet era clearly has its limits, especially for the young people and in a situation where the country is preparing for large-scale privatization. The regime is increasingly appealing to patriotic, Great Russian and Slav sentiment. The pro-government youth organization set up by Lukashenko is called the Belarusian Patriotic Union of Youth, and state propaganda will often even talk of how Belarus belongs to some kind of Slavic civilization. The regime also expects a mobilizing effect from its vehement verbal support of Orthodoxy. Lukashenko has even declared himself to be an "Orthodox atheist", and as a former KGB officer he declared: "We are an Orthodox country and we will always remain attached to Orthodoxy." In the west of the country, however, there is a strong pro-Western Catholic minority. When the propaganda tries to embarrass the opposition, it often refers to the Catholicism of its members, which is linked in the popular mind with Poland or Polish origins.
       Belarus differs from classic regimes of the Soviet type run by a party nomenclatura and a system of "collective leadership", particularly during the time of Leonid Brezhnev, in that when Lukashenko was elected President in the first and so far last free elections in 1994, he did not depend on any political party. Support for his regime of personal power is provided primarily by the "power structures" of the KGB, the army and the special OMON militia divisions, as well as the President's Administration, in whose hands power is increasingly accumulated at the expense of government or regional structures. This "party of power" also includes top representatives of the economic nomenclatura, managers of state enterprises and heads of collective and state farms, who act as untrammelled lords out in the country, as well as some of the former party nomenclatura, although this traditional nomenclatura now mainly holds executive positions and has been excluded from actual decision-making.
       A Communist Party of Belarus (CPB) which is loyal to the regime has been created by diktat from above. This neo-Soviet regime is thus increasingly acquiring conservative characteristics and coming to resemble Eastern and Central European authoritarian regimes from before the Second World War, while of course still using Soviet symbols, which have become a part of the local conservative tradition.
       The political opposition in modern Belarus has been weakened to a considerable extent by the election defeat and internal tensions. This does not mean, however, that the position of the regime is particularly strong, as a new factor has emerged on the scene and social discontent is on the rise in Belarus. This was a mobilizing factor in 1990 when demonstrations against price increases led to a declaration of Belarusian independence, and in 1995, when a wave of discontent swept the current President to power. He then managed to persuade public opinion that the economic crisis and poverty were a side product of democracy and the price to be paid for independence. The retention of a centrally run economy certainly helped to alleviate the fall in living standards for a short time but difficult economic problems have again risen to the fore and the regime no longer has sufficient resources to mobilize to deal with them. As a result, there are now indications that Lukashenko's regime is trying to obtain funds from dubious sources and Jane’s Defence Information now considers Belarus to be an important arms supplier. According to Jane’s Intelligence Digest, in the first half of 2001 alone, Belarus supplied Arab, Palestinian and Albanian extremists with weapons worth USD 500 million. Belarus might officially support Russia's policy in Chechnya but at the same time it is alleged to have secretly supplied weapons to Chechen separatists through Turkey and Georgia. Similar information has been provided by the Polish weekly G?os and other periodicals. The Belarus Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michail Chvastou, denies these allegations.
       The number of loss-making and insolvent enterprises in the country is growing, and the authorities are trying prevent an increase in unemployment by shortening the working week or declaring mandatory holidays. In some regions such as Mohilevsk, almost half the enterprises are making a loss as are up to 65.4% of collective and state farms in the country. People's savings are losing their value and from January to October, 2001, the consumer price index rose 65.3%, the largest rise in the Commonwealth of Independent States. On 28.9.2001, workers at the Minsk Tractor Factory held spontaneous protests for several hours against wage restrictions.
       It is significant that trade unions are becoming increasingly involved in opposition activities. Hancharyk himself was Chairman of the official Trades Union Council. Obstacles are placed in the way of the activities of the democratic unions and in some state enterprises the authorities refuse to register them. Trade union demonstrations are forcibly suppressed.
       There is currently a stalemate situation in Belarus. The social base for the regime is beginning to narrow. The economic reforms and privatization programmes which Belarus is forced on all sides to undertake will be accompanied by a further deterioration in the social situation of the population and the regime will no longer be able to argue that this is the price to pay for democracy and independence. At the same time, the number of supporters of an independent Belarus is growing, particularly among the young, who do not remember the Soviet era. Hitherto it has principally been the young and the educated urban population that has contributed to the upsurge in opposition sentiment but it is now possible that broader sections of society will start to show discontent. The Lukashenko regime currently has nothing to offer them. It remains to be seen to what extent the opposition is able to take advantage of this potential disaffection.
       In view of this stalemate situation, it is difficult to anticipate subsequent developments in Belarus within a time-frame of the next few months and years. It currently seems rather unlikely that the opposition should quickly consolidate, gain the support of the majority of the population and bring down the Lukashenko regime. This could come about if the economic situation deteriorated rapidly in the country or if the special measures taken by the regime passed tolerance levels, i.e. if some unexpected event stirred up public opinion. The worstening economic situation in the country and the pressure to implement economic reforms do not say much in favour of the second scenario – the stabilization of the current regime and the definitive marginalization of the opposition. One possible scenario involves the gradual growth of disenchantment with Lukashenko's regime, which will lead to the loss of its legitimacy in the eyes of the public. One result would be the enhanced prestige of alternative groups – not necessarily identical to the current opposition. This process would take a long time and would be accompanied by repeating confrontations and probably by disputes within the opposition itself, and the authorities would then have to take the existence of the opposition into greater consideration than it has previously, while at the same time, both sides in the conflict would have an interest in gaining political dominance. An attempt to forcibly suppress the opposition cannot be ruled out, particularly on the part of Lukashenko.
       One risk factor for the stability of the regime could be dissensions within Lukashenko's "nomenclatura" (i.e. the entire "party of power", not just the pro-government elements within the traditional Communist nomenclatura), which could lead to a certain restriction on the liberalization of public life, or even to attempts to replace Lukashenko with a more moderate version of authoritarianism. However, this scenario is only possible if the hypothetical opposition to Lukashenko within the "nomenclatura" and the internal power structures in particular are strong enough to hold Lukashenko in check. Such developments in events might be possible if a dissatisfied wing of the "nomenclatura", which is currently too weak or does not exist, felt Moscow's support behind it or if there were a considerable strengthening of Western influence in the region, e.g. through the participation of Western companies in Belarusian privatization. Lukashenko's character and past have shown that he is not a consensual politician in the Brezhnevite mould, willing to accept the activity of several power cliques and factions. As a type he is closer to Stalin or Andropov and his regime has a pyramidical structure. At the apex of this pyramid stands the President himself. He cannot be expected to be able or willing to accept the permanent presence of a threat to his position of power, unless he is forced into this. Fears of a potential rival from the establishment itself is the reason Lukashenko often undertakes personnel and organizational changes in the offices of the President's Administration and at the level of state bodies, as well as repressions of members of the nomenclatura. A wing of dissent within the establishment would have to form very suddenly and confront Lukashenko with a fait accompli. Otherwise Lukashenko would get to nip its challenge right in the bud, as occurred in connection with the presidential elections when efforts by Uladzimir Hancharyk to get at least some of the "nomenclatura", from which he himself came, onto the side of the opposition proved to be unsuccessful. Suppression of malcontents within the establishment may in the final analysis lead to a renewal of the hardline approach.
       The scenario of restricted liberalization, albeit together with the risk of an upheaval, comes into consideration if the Lukashenko regime loses Russia's support. As has already been mentioned, it is not too realistic to expect this to happen as a result of human rights failures, but rather in connection with Lukashenko's excessive ambitions involving the planned Union State, if in the interests of strengthening his position or reinforcing the state union he joined up with Communist and/or ultranationalist forces in Russia, which might then become potential rivals to the Russian establishment. Lukashenko could also become an embarrassment to Russia if his antipathy towards the West or his dubious financial sources marked his regime as a threat to Putin's foreign policy. In either case, however, one has to bear in mind what is known as the Tocqueville Paradox, whereby a regime is at greatest risk when it starts to reform. Just like Russian democrats such as Vladimir Javlinski, V. Viachorka points out that the democratic option in Belarus would be substantially supported by the abolition of the visa requirement for travel to European democratic states, including those countries which in the past were part of the Soviet block. Small or relatively small states such as Slovakia, Poland or the Czech Republic can play a very positive role on the international scene by supporting the processes leading to democracy in Belarus and at the same time they can be seen as defenders of the interests of the nations of the former Soviet Union in the various fora of the future expanded EU. They can support democratic forces in these countries, initiate bilateral cultural liaison (with the actual representatives of Belarus culture, not just with the nomenclatura cadres put in place by the regime), initiate regional collaboration, youth exchanges and so forth. They also have the opportunity to speak much more openly about the problems with democracy and human rights there, to point them out and so to create pressure on the public throughout the democratic world. One example of this is the Polish policy towards Belarus. Another is the relationship between the Czech President, V?clav Havel and the Tibetan Dalai Lama, or the courageous gesture made by Iceland in 1991 of unilaterally declaring its diplomatic recognition of Lithuania, which was at that time brutally occupied by units of the Soviet OMON. In contrast to Germany or the USA, for example, these countries cannot be accused of superpower ambitions or economic expansion.


1 One of the chambers of the so-called National Assembly, a parliament which is boycotted and not recognized by the international community, set up by Lukashenko on the basis of the fixed elections after the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet of the 13th electoral period in 2000.

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