Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Who is Mr Lukashenko?

From Financial Times comes this editorial comment Bully boy of Belarus:

Mr Lukashenko, brightly dubbed Europe's last dictator, made sure he won by a margin unprecedented in the region since Soviet times. His 82 per cent vote is an insult to Belarusans and a reminder to other Europeans that even their own continent is not yet free of the scourge of dictatorship.

Not true. Mr. Saakashvili in Georgia had 97% vote and FT editors were treating that result as an unprecedented victory of democracy and freedom.

Apologists for Mr Lukashenko argue he has genuine support among Belarusans who value political and economic stability. This is true. But the country is heavily dependent on subsidised Russian oil and gas.

Statement on Russian subsidized gas is weak. Until 2006 Ukraine paid the same price for gas as Belorus but it didn’t bring political and economic stability. Price of $110 that Moldova, Georgia or Armenia pay for Russian gas should also be considered subsidized but it doesn’t help these countries.

Lukashenko's 82% of vote is quite probable although I think 70-75% is more realistic. There are several important reasons for this result:

1. Lukashenko is a super-populist. First, he doesn't stick to any ideology or rather his ideology fully coincides with a way 'a man from the street' thinks. He almost never does anything 80% of Belorusans don't agree with. Second, he's a very talented speaker who is not afraid to answer any kind of questions - and he does it well. Third, almost everything he does is focused on everyday needs of 'ordinary' people. Forth, in their everyday life only police or government officials suffer from the dictatorship. I'm not sure if I should add journalist or opposition leaders here. ALL Belorusans I know personally don't believe in their sufferings.

This is very important – I would say 90% of Belorusans PERSONALLY don’t feel like any of their freedoms are limited including freedom of speech: newspapers, radio, internet are fully available and unrestricted. Revolutions are made by people who personally feel that they are not free. Belorusans can and do travel to their neighbor countries and they can see for themselves that their living standards are higher.

2. Lukashenko's economic system is a kind of capitalism with a human face. For example, companies with high profits should buy underperformers. It takes a lot of time to register a business but rules of play are clear and corruption or racket are almost non existent. CEO of a large company is happy with $1500 monthly pay - a low skilled worker at the same company gets $400 monthly (in comparison in Russia it's $100 000 on one side and $100 on the other).

3. Social security is much better than in anywhere in the post-Soviet state including the Baltic States, although GDP per capita in Belorus is several times lower. Pensioners (the most active voters) enjoy quality of life many full-time working Russians don't have.

4. Lukashenko's war on corruption brought incredible results - in Belorus I often met government officials who were as helpful as waiters at American restaurants. Organized crime is very low and could be found only around drugs or illegal gambling.

5. The country is open - there are no problem going to work in Russia, for example. Belorusans don't need visa, work and residence permit to find a well-paid job in this country.

Ok, I can go on but as I said I'm not a Lukashenko apologist. All above mentioned points are necessary to stress the following argument:

1. Opposition in Belorus has nothing to offer to an ordinary person. They can only appeal to "capitalists" so to say who could make much more money without Lukashenko or to youth who sincerely believe that only Lukashenko is guilty they cannot become filth rich "capitalists" right now.

2. Lukashenko always points an accusing finger to Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgystan or Moldova saying, "Look! Those idiots believed in a Western-type democracy! What did they get? Total chaos, poverty, inequality, corruption and wars. We are poorer economically than Russia but we live better." Opposition has no arguments here.

3. Opposition in Belorus is anti-Russian. Actually Western NGO's all over post-Soviet sphere subsidize ONLY anti-Russian opposition. No exceptions. This is a great mistake. The same as being anti-Semitic in Israel.

Knowing all this take yet another comment from the FT editor:

Also, Mr Lukashenko's approach is politically unsustainable. As incomes rise, Belorusans are demanding the same freedoms as others. It is no accident the greatest opposition is in Minsk, the richest city.

I doubt it strongly.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would say 90% of Belorusans PERSONALLY don’t feel like any of their freedoms are limited including freedom of speech: newspapers, radio, internet are fully available and unrestricted.

Who are you kidding? Should I remind you the reports of how entire newspaper issues were confiscated? Radio - well, how would you know what free radio is if even 70% of Russians don't know what it is? Or you mean we are all free to listen to that pop and shanson which is what on almost every station outside SPb and Moscow?

Second, he's a very talented speaker who is not afraid to answer any kind of questions - and he does it well.

Yeah, questions like "how is you dog". Any other question most wouldn'd dare to ask.

The country is open - there are no problem going to work in Russia, for example.

How sweet. just cause Belorussians can freely go to Russia they can be considered open. Typically Russian way of thinking.

Lukashenko's war on corruption brought incredible results - in Belorus I often met government officials who were as helpful as waiters at American restaurants.

Right, now after this so-called war there will soon be only ONE restaurants owner left and all people will be listening to Сябры praising him.

Lukashenko's 82% of vote is quite probable although I think 70-75% is more realistic.

So you mean they just added those extra persents cause they wanted to?? How can that be in such a "model" democracy.

Anyway, wish you to move to Belarus soon to experience all the greatness of living there first hand.

Sean Guillory said...

Opposition in Belorus has nothing to offer to an ordinary person.

This is the impression I get. The NY Times did an article this weekend on Lukashenko's support in the countryside. He supplies stability, he get support.

In addition, in all the articles I read about Milinkevich over the past week, I found little by way of what he stands for besides fair elections and abstract ideals. This is probably why the little actual support the Opposition has is concentrated in Minsk and among intellectuals, Westerners, and students. Abstract ideas about democracy are all fine and dandy, but they don't win elections even under fair conditions.

But Lukashenko didn't help his cause by making the elections appear so blatantly false. 92% turnout and getting 82% of the vote is ridiculous. By all the estimates I've read his support is about 60%, which is pretty damn high. However, I think he made a big mistake that I think will only embolded the Opposition. Milinkevich knows he won't spark a revolution in this round (Denim Revolution was a fantasy of mostly Zubr, Charter 97, and western pundits, many of the latter, it seems, only recently discovered that Belarus existed. Today's editorial in the Washington Post is just one example), but I think he has a future, especially if Lukashenko's authoritarian populism begins to fracture.

jin said...

'Mr. Saakashvili in Georgia had 97% vote and FT editors were treating that result as an unprecedented victory of democracy and freedom.'

A case of double standards. Happens all the time. From some western reporting, Pakistans president is a role model of a democratic leader, while anyone, even widely suported (as Hamas, or Ahmadinejad) is a dictator.

Nonetheless, I think Belarus would be better off if Lukashenko would be replaced. In few years time he would be elected back to power. The same will happen soon in Ukraine where the so called orange revolution has left people disaponted.

As of Europe, OSCE and US, they will never like anyone who doesn't bow down to them and will proclaim him as dictator; there is no escaping that.

Tim Newman said...

From some western reporting, Pakistans president is a role model of a democratic leader

Care to link to any major Western publication that makes this statement? Or can we dismiss it as being nonsense?

European Express Editor said...

Hi, I complitely agree with you, there is a good article in the European Express about it, where the US & Europe call for release:
http://europeanexpress.blogspot.com/2006/03/us-europe-call-for-release-of-jailed.html
I recomend you this page and it's mainpage http://europeanexpress.blogspot.com

jin said...

'Care to link to any major Western publication that makes this statement? Or can we dismiss it as being nonsense?'

When was the last time Perwez Musharaf was declared a dictator? I can watch German, Austrian and our chanels and they always say he is a president. CNN says the same. Is it not so? Never a dictator, who came to power in a very nondemocratic way. OK, but then he alows some democratic institutions. Lukashenko does the same, if he alows elections.

I hear almost no questions about that anymore. But I do remember, that his coming to power and the end of the previous Pakistani government was not so well received at the begining. It all changed after he joined the fight against Al Kaida. This tells something about so called independence of our western media, doesn't it?

OK, maybe some US or Candaiadn stations report something else, I don't watch them, so I wouldn't know.
Maybe in some western media they are calling for his removal and for a democratic revolution in Pakistan ;) No?

But what I es commenting about were the double standards, not some nonsense remark by Tim Newman :)

Tim Newman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tim Newman said...

Jin,

So the answers to my questions are:

1) No you can't.

2) Yes we can.

Thanks.

Sean Guillory said...

Hey Konstantin, your Lukashenko post was included in today's David Johnson's Russia List. #76. Very cool.

Anonymous said...

All the fuss is because the Guantanamo-Democratic Coup failed for the second time. Belarus is a hope for the millions of idiots that were brainwashed by western propaganda. The real wepon of mass-destruction was Holliwood and not the pathetic military might of Uncle Sam.
Go Lukashenko Go....

Anonymous said...

It's funny how people write about Belarus, and don't even bother to learn the correct spelling of the country's name. Konstantin its BelArus, not BelOrus.

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