30 December 2010

Belarus’s Lukashenko to the West: What Did You Expect?

The following is an FPI bulletin (wish I had the link to the text), written by Ellen Bork, FPI Director of Democracy and Human Rights. It talks about Belarus, but let's not forget their big bad neighbor...

The dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, must be thrilled that his country is not in West Africa. The presidents of three countries in that region have gone to Abidjan, the commercial capital of the Ivory Coast, to confront Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivorian leader, over fraud and violence in the November 28 election and demand that he leave power or face military action.

Belarusian democrats so far await a similar level of attention from leaders of neighboring countries. Many of them are waiting in jail, including at this writing the presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, who finished a distant second to Lukashenko in the rigged election, Vladimir Neklyayev, and others. These opposition figures were picked up, and some badly beaten, in a sweep by Belarus security forces after the polling. The crackdown has continued with raids of homes and offices of opposition leaders and foreign media outlets.

Fortunately, the latest outrages from Minsk have brought about uniform condemnation from Europe and the United States. Stung by their earlier suspension of sanctions and offer of financial inducements, the foreign ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Germany have declared that there will be “no business as usual” with Belarus. Perhaps the ministers meant that they will no longer alternate pressure with inducements, a policy to which Lukashenko has responded by tacking between Moscow and the EU and Washington. With the “elections,” he has reverted to type, taking the opposition effectively as hostages for which he will presumably cut future deals and forestall pressure for systemic change, and move again closer to Russia. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed Lukashenko in Moscow this week, dashing the hope that Mr. Medvedev might try to support democracy abroad, even if he can’t or won’t at home.

Lukashenko seems impervious to pressure or persuasion. He rejected the critical assessments of the election. ''We did just as you demanded,” he said, referring to the admission of international election observers. “What complaints could you have?'' he said. ''Openness and transparency were so high that people mistook these elections for a reality show.''

Inadvertently perhaps, Mr. Lukashenko made a good point. Outsiders who press for real elections, and thereby encourage the political opposition and ordinary citizens to bravely confront a brutal government, incur an obligation to stay involved. All efforts, sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and support for the opposition should all be intensified. When the U.S. Congress convenes in January, it should take up the case of Belarus and the democrats held in jail by Lukashenko. No one knows what further actions might work in Belarus. That is always the case with dictatorships, as many of Mr. Lukashenko’s neighbors know.