Andrei Sannikov: Strategy and political will are needed to bring freedom to Belarus
20:03, — Politics
International Brussels Forum will be in the Belgian capital from 15 to 17 of March.
It is attended by well-known and influential politicians from Europe and the U.S. Our country in the Forum will be presented by the leader of the civil campaign "European Belarus" and former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov. His article about the situation in Belarus was published on the website of Forum:
For almost 19 years, Belarus has been ruled by one of the most ruthless dictatorships in the world. The regime of Alexander Lukashenka has survived using what in Belarus is called the "East-West Swing": whenever there is pressure from Russia, Lukashenko seeks Western support claiming a threat to independence; whenever the West applies pressure on human rights, the dictator swears allegiance to Russia. Such tactics helped him usurp power through a rigged referendum on the constitution in 1996, using a moment when the ailing Boris Yeltsin needed his help to be reelected. In time, Belarus found that international legitimacy and recognition through elections were not even necessary to preserve its East-West Swing.
The West’s softness on Lukashenko invariably results in the regime becoming more aggressive, both domestically and internationally. In 2009, there was an unprecedented effort by the West to legitimise Lukashenko’s rule. EU High Representative Javier Solana, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Pope Benedict XVI, and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite all met with him. Belarus was invited to join the Eastern Partnership, and several other high-level meetings took place before Lukashenko’s bloody crackdown of December 19, 2010.
Today, the dictatorship in Belarus is better equipped than ever, and is contributing to international problems. It has established ties with other rogue states around the world. The authoritarian practices of Lukashenko’s rule in Belarus are also being replicated in neighboring Russia and Ukraine. For the leaderships of those two countries, Belarus is a successful example of how to maintain power and counter the liberties and basic human rights that threaten an authoritarian regime.
The search for a solution to the situation in Belarus is hampered by several myths.
Some say that the people of Belarus are not ready for democratic change, as if Belarusians enjoy living under a dictatorship. Others argue that Lukashenko guarantees the independence of Belarus, but the same was said about Romania’s Nicolae Ceausecu and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and is still said by supporters of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. Another myth is that the opposition to the regime is fragmented and weak. But such an opposition exists despite persecution, beatings, exile, torture, jail, and killings, and despite little funding or Western support. Nevertheless, it managed to produce the heaviest blow yet to the legitimacy of the regime during protests following the sham presidential election of 2010. The shock waves from those events still reverberate, as demonstrated by the miserable turnout at last year’s polls.
Unfortunately, the window of opportunity created by the failed elections was wasted. Moreover, Europe risks falling prey to the East-West Swing again: there is no real taboo on having political or commercial dealings with Lukashenko and there are enough people to serve his needs in the West. But history is against them.
The Arab Spring has proven that supporting dictatorial regimes for the sake of stability eventually leads to the opposite. The only solution is to invest and support democratic movements. That is what Belarus needs today. Sporadic measures taken in reaction to crackdowns will not address the problem in the long term. There has to be a strategy, backed by a political will to implement it, in order to bring freedom to Belarus.
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