A domino effect in Belarus? Brussels must play its role

Article published on Dec. 17, 2004
community published
Article published on Dec. 17, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

After, Kiev, might Minsk be next? The Belarusian opposition are hoping so. But this time the European Union cannot just emerge from the shadows at the last moment. Here’s why.

A democratic ‘domino effect’ is perfectly possible and President Lukashenko can see it coming. After the collapse of the USSR, Belarus ended up in the hands of the tyrant of Minsk who preserved everything from the old system, including the most authoritarian of customs. However, from the moment when Yushchenko’s democratic opposition began to make headway in Ukraine, Lukashenko has been quaking in his boots. He fears the next elections in his own country might get rid of his regime and consign him to the same fate as Ukraine’s president Kuchma, who was effectively imprisoned in his own palace for days by thousands of protesters.

The enfants terribles of Minsk

As a result, the situation in Ukraine is being scrutinised minute by minute from the presidential palace in Minsk: Lukashenko knows that the destiny of Belarus is often linked closely to the destiny of the Ukraine, and would rather not pay the price. The ‘number one enemies’ of the regime are no longer the opposition parties but non-violent democratic movements, such as those that have filled Independence Square in Kiev and forced the Putin-Yanukovich train to be stopped in its tracks. The Belarusian presidential administration – that exerts an almost total control over the country and its economy – understands all too well that the young members of the Belarussian Zubr organisation are serious about what they do, following the ways and teachings of the non-violent Serb movement Otpor (‘resistance’ in Serb).

Secret weapons: pamphlets in your jacket and clicks galore

The ‘secret weapons’ of Zubr are the ones which have already been used against Milosevic’s Serbia, Shevarnadze’s Georgia and Kuchma’s Ukraine by the enfants terribles of organisations such as Otpor, Kmara and PORA. The first of these weapons is called Vybar (‘Choice’). This newspaper-pamphlet is carefully designed so as to be hidden between the folds of one’s jacket even at several dozen degrees below freezing. The second is called Internet. By way of a few clicks, the web allows the mobilisation of ‘dormant’ activists from the deepest Belarusian countryside to the Western capitals. From this follows an avalanche of demonstrations halfway between student pranks and serious disobedience. On December 6th in Nemiga Street in central Minsk, a Zubr militant (later arrested) enjoyed 8 metres of freedom for a few minutes as he hung a banner proclaiming: “today Ukraine, tomorrow Belarus!”.

The tyrant of Minsk talks back: repression, repression!

Meanwhile, today in Belarus the government has decided to go for the hard-line approach. Just a few hours after the announcement of the results in Kiev, Lukashenko named his new leader of the presidential administration: Viktar Shejman (who has been implicated in a series of political assassinations). The top priority: seek out and break down attempts by the West to put the regime in crisis with ‘populist tactics’. Indeed, on their return from a meeting with “revolutionary” colleagues of the regime in Kiev, three dissidents were sent to prison.

And yet in Minsk, Aliaksandr Atroshchankau, one of the leaders of Zubr, is encouraged by the firm position shown by the European Union on the situation in the Ukraine. However, he hopes that when it is the turn of Belarus, Javier Solana (the EU foreign policy representative) does not just show up when all is done and dusted. Lukashenko has personally declared that he excludes for Belarus a “Ukraine scenario”, since “wise people know how to interpret the errors of others”. Let’s hope the European Union and its governments are wiser than Lukashenko and do not just enter on stage at the very last possible moment (as they did in the Ukraine) – for the sake of making the icy ground of Belarus fertile for democracy, and knocking down the last domino on the borders of the Europe of 25.