Monday, March 20, 2006

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Don't expect Orange Revolution II

Belarus had a presidential "election" over the weekend, which current president Aleksandr Lukashenko won handily.. I use quotations because the OSCE reported:

The Belarusian presidential election on 19 March failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections, despite the fact that voters were offered the potential for a genuine choice between four candidates.

Arbitrary use of state power and widespread detentions showed a disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression, and raise doubts regarding the authorities' willingness to tolerate political competition.

The full text of the OSCE report can be found here.

There have been some protests in Minsk because of the outcome, but as I've written before, I'm not expecting a Orange revolution in Belarus anytime soon. This Times of London report by Jeremy Page doesn't make me feel any more sanguine:

President Lukashenko of Belarus declared yesterday that he had thwarted a Western plot to overthrow him, pouring scorn on the thousands who protested against his election victory.

About 5,000 opposition supporters protested again last night, setting up a dozen tents in central Minsk, after Western observers said that Sunday’s presidential poll had failed to meet international standards.

The US, which has branded Mr Lukashenko “Europe’s last dictator”, denounced his victory and backed opposition calls for a new election. The EU said that it would impose more visa bans on Belarussian officials.

But President Putin of Russia quickly congratulated Mr Lukashenko, highlighting the Kremlin’s determination to prevent another revolution in a former Soviet state. “The results of the election testify to the fact that the voters trust in your course,” he said.

Mr Lukashenko brushed aside his critics at a two-hour celebratory news conference. “The revolution that was so much talked about, and so much prepared for, failed. It couldn’t be otherwise,” he began, prompting applause from the 600 audience members — mostly state officials.

He derided the 10,000 people who demonstrated on Oktyabrskaya Square on Sunday night despite driving snow and a threat from the KGB chief that they could face the death penalty. “You saw the people who went on to the square. They were good-for-nothings.” He even suggested that God had intervened by sending a blizzard at the height of the protest. It was a vintage performance by the former collective farm manager who has resurrected Soviet-style economic and political controls since he was elected in 1994.

He sat alone beneath a giant plastic model of the Soviet-era national emblem, which he revived after taking power. A map of Europe showed Belarus to be about the size of France.

In one particularly stage-managed exchange, Sergei Gaydukevich, a candidate in the election who was widely regarded as a stooge, stood up to congratulate Mr Lukashenko. The President responded that he had voted for Mr Gaydukevich. “I have a tradition that I don’t vote for myself,” he said.

A Serbian woman asked if she could kiss Mr Lukashenko, on behalf of all Serbian women, for travelling to Belgrade while it was being bombed by Nato. When a French journalist asked about his threat to “break the neck” of anyone organising protests, he responded: “Is your neck broken?”

One thing I love about British papers, however, is that they can be much more blunt than comparable American papers. Take this paragraph:
Shown on national television, the conference was sure to appeal to his supporters in the countryside and the elderly. However, it only reinforced his image among younger Belarussians and most Westerners as a deluded megalomaniac.
UPDATE: A Fistful of Euros has more... including a link to a this fake Belarusian news blog, which is apparently being used as part of a policy simulation exercise for University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy.

posted by Dan on 03.20.06 at 06:16 PM


I lived in Minsk in 1998-99, and it was a strange place then, having spent the previous 3 years in Ukraine and Russia. I was working on administering US exchange programs, and there was distinct feeling that there were parts of the government did not want us doing what we were doing. It was interesting in that meeting rooms that had been reserved all of a sudden became "unavailable" as well as articles in the local papers where we were working talking about us in ways that made it clear that the people should be careful if they associated with us.

The people I worked with were great, and I saw that there was a distinct difference between the young/old and urban/rural in the way they viewed the government and where the country was going.

There will be no "Orange" revolution in Belarus, at least not in the near future, but I believe over time pressure will grow. The real problem is that Russia still supports them, when that changes, Belarus will change almost overnight.

Just my thoughts

posted by: BCN on 03.20.06 at 06:16 PM [permalink]

Does anyone have this map showing Belarus the size of France(area of Belarus Does anyone have this map showing Belarus the size of France(area of Belarus

posted by: lee on 03.20.06 at 06:16 PM [permalink]

Does anyone have this map showing Belarus the size of France(area of Belarus

posted by: lee on 03.20.06 at 06:16 PM [permalink]

Can't get more than one line to post

posted by: lee on 03.20.06 at 06:16 PM [permalink]

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