T Nation

US Helping to Overthrow Belarus


Belarus KGB Says Opposition Planned School Bombings on Election Day

Created: 16.03.2006 13:51 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 13:51 MSK, 8 hours 21 minutes ago


Belarusian State Security Committee Chairman Stepan Sukhorenko has accused the opposition of conspiring to stage a coup, news agencies said Thursday. Sukharenko said he had evidence that the United States and Georgia were backing efforts to overthrow the country?s current regime by force in Sunday?s presidential elections.

Stepan Sukharenko showed a press conference in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, a video of an interview with a man he said was one of those involved in the plot, RIA Novosti reported. The man said he had been at a training camp in Georgia at which training was provided by ?four Arabs [and] officers of the former Soviet army?.

The man also said a colonel from the Georgian security services and American instructors had conducted examinations, and that the Americans had told them to bomb four polling stations at schools in Minsk during voting Sunday.

?The Americans told us to organize four explosions at schools. The place and time [of the attacks] were to be told [to us] later. Concrete locations were not indicated,? the man said.

Sukharenko also showed video footage he said was of Georgian nationals confessing that they were to deliver money and ?everything necessary? to create disturbances on March 19. He said it was possible other attacks were being organized.

?We know maybe only a part of what was being prepared,? he said.

?We are in no way interfering with the rights of candidates, but we are obliged to state that an attempt to take power by force is being prepared in the country under cover of the elections,? Sukhorenko said.

?Preparations are underway not for peaceful protests but for violent actions including the use of explosives and arson with the aim of sowing confusion,? he said.

Sukhorenko said all attempts to destabilize the country in the run-up to Sunday?s elections would be seen as terrorism.

?Anyone who will take to the streets in a bid to destabilize the situation will face terrorism charges,? he warned.

President Lukashenko, labeled by Washington ?the last dictator in Europe,? is running for a third term on Sunday against three other candidates and is not expected to lose…

Good. Belarus still retains much of its Soviet past. Let’s get a democracy going there!

Geez. It’s Belarus KGB. They didn’t even bother to change their name after the Soviet Union fell. You take their words at face value?

I work with a woman from Belarus, and one of our co-workers was going there for his previous job. I mentioned this and her response was, “It’s good that he got a new job”

Some protesting going on over there – because at least the dictator, and probably Moscow, a la Ukraine, were fixing the election:





And a WSJ op-ed:

Europe’s Last Dictator
March 20, 2006; Page A17

Who will cry, after yesterday’s fiasco of a presidential election, for Belarus? More to the point, who can find this nation of 10 million (mostly delightful) Slavic souls without a peek at a map? Safe to say, not many, which is good news for Alexander Lukashenko’s career plans.

In the club of democracy’s enemies, Mr. Lukashenko is an elder statesman, a Hugo Chavez of the steppes. He is a clever populist who cultivates other pariahs and holds an old Bolshevik’s contempt for opposition and political compromise. The 51-year-old collective farmer is widely known, thanks to Condi Rice, as “Europe’s last dictator,” though that nickname sells Vladimir Putin and other recent arrivals short.

This election will likely even the score, so to speak, in the democracy battles of the former U.S.S.R. After Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan tossed out authoritarian regimes, the Kazakh and Azeri strongmen last year held on after their own rigged polls. Mr. Lukashenko, with Russia cheering him on, looks to make it three apiece. Official exit polls released two hours after voting started yesterday – it was that sort of election – gave Mr. Lukashenko over 80% in his bid for a third term, while his leading challenger Alexander Milinkevich, who’d scored up to 25% in opinion polls, got around 5%.

Mr. Milinkevich, a bearded physicist with a soft voice and pleasant manner, last night called the outcome a “farce” and his people onto the streets. He talks of a peaceful “denim revolution” to match Ukraine’s orange or Georgia’s rose. Jeans are still the symbol of youth, freedom and the West out East. Don’t hold your breath. The riot police usually outnumber anti-Lukashenko demonstrators at opposition rallies. This time, taking no chances, the regime threatened to execute, on terrorism charges, anyone who dares take their grievances to the streets.

For promoters of democracy, Mr. Lukashenko is a reality check. Twelve years ago, he came out of nowhere to win nearly three in four votes in the country’s first and last free elections. The young country’s institutions were too weak to resist his frontal attack – and the populace too scarred by decades of Soviet repression to care. Charismatic, to a Belarusan peasant at least, Mr. Lukashenko made wild allegations of corruption against the post-Soviet rulers. In power, he repressed in the name of fighting graft, proving a point I recently heard made by the Venezuelan editor of Foreign Policy magazine, Mois?s Na?m, that “anti-corruption campaigns” often end up subverting democracy in developing countries.

In addition to his KGB (the Soviet anthem and flag stayed the same, too) and selective murder of opponents, President Lukashenko used a series of popular votes – the very symbol of suffrage – to short-circuit democracy. In 1995 and 1996, the regime rammed through referendums that neutered parliament and boosted presidential powers. Independent polls show him to be the country’s most popular leader, who has delivered strong economic growth, powered by Russian subsidies, while playing to nostalgia for Soviet days. With no independent press or TV widely available, most people don’t know any better.

So things will stay as they are? Naturally Mr. Lukashenko, like a Milosevic or Saddam, wants nothing more than for the world to resign itself to a few more decades of him. A tyrant’s best ally is fatalism.

Mr. Milinkevich at least recognizes the terms of the fight. “A majority of Belarusans want a change and want democracy,” he said over dinner in Brussels recently. “People must start to believe that change is possible.”

The Milinkevich candidacy was in itself a step forward. Last October, the opposition – small except for the egos – for the first time backed a single man to lead them. (Nothing moved in authoritarian Croatia, Serbia or Slovakia of the 1990s until the fractious democrats united.) Mr. Milinkevich surprised everyone by shooting up from nowhere in credible polls. He had no national media exposure, but word spread by mouth and blog, largely thanks to a lively student movement, Zubr. He went door to door to win votes, a first for a politician in Belarus. “Half the doors remained closed to him,” said Vintsyuk Vyachorka, who leads the largest opposition party. “The main problem is the fear of the people. To overcome it, we must show this hesitant majority that there is a responsible leader who has no fear himself.” A fortnight ago, Mr. Vyachorka, a key Milinkevich campaign aide, was jailed for 15 days for organizing “unauthorized rallies.” Supporters fear for his life.

Belarus is as fallow ground for democracy as exists anywhere today, the Arab world included. Support from abroad helps make the playing field slightly less skewed against the opposition. The U.S. this year provided $21 million for democracy in Belarus. This money is best spent on media, Mr. Milinkevich told me, to better inform people about their own country. But foreign cash didn’t bring the bodies out on the streets in Ukraine or Georgia, and can’t do so here. That’s up to Belarusans themselves.

In discussions of democracy-promotion today, it’s fashionable to say, “Forget Poland.” By that, skeptics mean that the experience of 1980s Poland, the first European Soviet satellite to fall, doesn’t apply to “non-Western” cultures – Arab or Russian or Central Asian. Try telling that to the Belarusans, who are the Poles’ eastern neighbors and once shared a state with them. On hearing the early results, Mr. Milinkevich yesterday said that “People will laugh at those figures. In Poland people began laughing at communist authorities and this is when Solidarity won. We are getting there.”

It may take longer than Mr. Milinkevich might wish. Democracy isn’t inevitable in Belarus, Europe or anywhere else. But nor is another 12 years of rulers like Mr. Lukashenko. “We are not romantics,” Mr. Vyachorka told me before his arrest. “We are pragmatics.”

Mr. Kaminski is editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe.

The EU and the U.S. can agree occasionally:


EU denounces Lukashenko’s poll victory
By Neil Buckley and Stefan Wagstyl in Minsk and Daniel Dombey in Brussels
Published: March 20 2006 18:57 | Last updated: March 20 2006 18:57

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ authoritarian president, declared on Monday that foreign-backed attempts to overthrow him had failed, claiming a crushing victory in elections that international observers condemned as seriously flawed.

More than 3,000 demonstrators had gathered in the capital, Minsk, by early evening for a second night-time protest, as Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition leader, continued calls for a rerun of Sunday’s poll.

But the numbers were initially fewer than the 5,000 people who defied official threats of violence and arrest to rally on Sunday night ? the biggest demonstrations in Minsk for a decade. The protests seemed unlikely to escalate to the levels that brought about revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia.

Mr Milinkevich said opposition exit polls suggested the Belarus president won less than the 50 per cent required to secure victory in a single round of voting, though official figures on Monday gave him 82.6 per cent. The opposition said their data showed Mr Milinkevich scored 30 per cent, five times his official total.

Mr Lukashenko’s victory is likely to increase the international isolation of a regime the US has labelled “Europe’s last dictatorship”. The White House said on Monday night it did not accept the vote, and European Union foreign ministers denounced the elections as “neither free nor fair”.

Though EU ministers failed to agree on an immediate response, targeted sanctions, including broadening of existing visa bans on top Belarusan officials, as well as possible asset freezes, are likely to be agreed next month.

The Belarus poll also suggested the wave of pro-democracy revolutions that swept Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan has lost momentum. In three recent elections in former Soviet republics ? Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and now Belarus ? the opposition has failed to overturn regimes accused of authoritarianism.

Diplomats and civil society groups have warned that Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power for 12 years, is likely to use a new five-year term to crush remaining opposition and independent media.

“What is important is the trend away from democracy and towards dictatorship and a totalitarian regime,” said one senior Western diplomat in Minsk. “The significance of the election lies in the psychological impact it will have on Mr Lukashenko.”

The Belarus president on Monday exuded confidence, telling a Soviet-style victory press conference the elections were “honest and free”.

“The revolutionary project that was talked about and was prepared in Belarus has not happened,” he said. He dismissed demonstrators in Minsk as “freaks” and said the idea of international sanctions against Belarus was “absurd”.

“You can’t isolate a country at the heart of Europe,” Mr Lukashenko added.

But EU ministers endorsed the damning findings of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s 476-strong observer mission.

The mission’s report found that Mr Lukashenko had “permitted state authority to be used in a manner which did not allow citizens to freely and fairly express their will”.

It said statements by the Belarusan KGB associating the opposition with terrorism and accusing it of planning a coup had led to a “climate of intimidation”. Campaign workers and opposition figures had been subject to “physical assaults, detention and even imprisonment”.

“I would have liked nothing more than to be able to make a positive statement about the election,” said Geert Ahrens, head of the OSCE mission. “Unfortunately, there were too many serious violations.”

It is not hard at all for me to believe that the students of a hard-line totalitarian government have learned their lessons well.

I do worry that some or most of the former Soviet Union will end up as sham democracies.