20 March 2006

Belarus on tenterhooks - freedom or bloodshed

This blog rails against attacks on freedom in NZ, the UK and other western countries - but we must be grateful for small mercies - I wont get arrested for what I say here. To the right is the regime's official flag, and the banned pre 1995 flag.
In Belarus I'd be arrested, imprisoned and maybe tortured or executed - 20 years ago, half of Europe was like that, today Belarus is one of the few left which tolerate absolutely no dissent. Not heard of Belarus? Well it enjoyed receiving most of the fallout from Chernobyl, and with the breakup of the USSR it slipped quickly back into dictatorship - its early elections were dominated by Alexander Lukashenko, who supported the communist past. He may have abolished the commnist party, but he will win the rigged election in Belarus today, because, like North Korea and Myanmar, opposition isn’t really allowed. Lukashenko is Europe’s last remaining Marxist-Leninist leader, in effect. Belarus has a state owned and run economy, and as a result is a stagnant, scared and impoverished people. Well not entirely, a reasonable proportion of Belarussians support him, because they haven’t faced the reforms of their neighbours – nobody is starving, and there is stability (and low levels of crime – if you exclude Lukashenko’s goons abusing their unlimited powers). Belarus still has Soviet era factories producing Soviet era goods, including bicycles, one of which collapsed under Lukashenko when it was presented to him. If you like a boring existence where you don't starve and don't rock the boat, Belarus is for you. It is anti-capitalist after all.

Putin is backing Lukashenko, in fact if it wasn’t for the cheap gas and oil he provides, the regime would be a goner. Lukashenko has repeatedly called for reunification with Russia, but Putin is smart enough to not want to be brought down with Minsk.

Tonight as I write this, snipers have been placed around Minsk, so Lukashenko can aim at demonstrators as the results come out, which of course, appear to support Lukashenko’s overwhelming re-election. The latest report indicates no violence, although the regime has been good at ensuring the disappearance of opponents.

The UK Liberal Democrats are supporting the campaign for liberal democracy in Belarus, as is No Right Turn (the LibDem Youth wing has a magazine called the Free Radical hmmmm), and I agree. The first step towards freeing Belarus is freeing politics, allowing dissent and elections – beyond that we’d probably disagree.

I hope the people of Belarus can effect change, as has happened in Ukraine and Georgia, but I am not optimistic. If they try, many will die – as Lukashenko is not shy about shedding blood. Belarus threatens no one, except its own people, all that western countries can do is support the opposition and continue funding broadcasts of uncensored news from sources such as Deutsche Welle, BBC World Service and Radio Liberty. I wish the people of Belarus freedom – they deserve nothing less, I hope if they stand up against the heartless, lifeless evil of the current regime tonight - the puppets of Lukashenko turn their guns against the regime instead of the people. I doubt much will change.
Read more about Belarus at the Belarus Virtual Guide and Lonely Planet guide report. If you want Lukashenko's side, the site of the Belarus Embassy and Radio TV Belarus in English will fill you with Pravda - traditional Soviet style.

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