The main outcome of the year for the Belarusian state is legalization of Lukashenka in Europe, a well-known Belarusian journalist Iryna Khalip writes in “Ezhednevnyj zhurnal”.
Soon after the “parliamentary elections” held in September according to the usual, well-tried scheme of falsifications in Belarus, the West announced them non-transparent and undemocratic, but for a change decided to use carrot instead of sticks. And for half a year the European Union lifted visa sanctions against Lukashenka and a dozen of other officials, who in 2006 were announced persons banned to enter the EU countries for human rights violations. And Javier Solana even talked to Lukashenka on the phone, for other to stop from shrinking by force of habit from the person called nothing but the last dictator of Europe by all of them in recent years. Such things happen when everybody sat around the table, but nobody dares to clink by a fork first. But as soon as one dare spirit jabbes his fork into a pickled cucumber, all others happily snatch cutlery and glasses, and general merriment starts. Solana’s call is a kind of fork’s cling.
Though the border has been opened for the Belarusian leader, he is not invited anywhere. However now the word “Lukashenka” can be pronounced aloud in decent houses of the West, and it is not considered mauvais ton any more. Though the term of is favourable situation is just half a year, Lukashenka has enough time. For instance, it would be possible for Lukashenka to give a long song and dance to Europeans for the period of half a year successfully, so that their hearts would be touched and they would admit Belarus not only to the Council of Euopre, but to the European Union, and the NATO would be running after Belarus with all its gunnery, begging: “Join us, do not treat us ill, it’s great here!”
Two years ago the European Union laid down 12 conditions for Lukashenka beginning of the dialogue. There was nothing new in those conditions: abolition of the capital punishment, halting persecution of journalists and opposition, release of political prisoners, holding free election, investigation of oppositionists’ abductions, or in brief everything the international structures like the Council of Europe and the OSCE have been calling upon Belarusian authorities. But earlier these calls were formalized in a form of numerous resolutions and statements, and only the European Union explained in an understandable language: Lukashenka, you should fulfill our conditions, and we will open a normal dialogue with you, and it is not excluded that money would be given to you.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka quickly put two and two together and grasped that if he would demonstrate readiness for concessions to the West, his value on the Russian market would grow greatly: from a devoted Russian ally who is simply needed by no one else, he would turn into a marriageable girl, and a serous fight would start for his favour. The both sides would sweet-talk him in every possible way, trying to win him over to their side. And he started the game: Alyaksandr Kazulin, Andrei Kim and Syarhei Parsyukevich were released from prisons in summer. Europe announced that to be a positive signal, a demonstration of serious intentions, and now only fair parliamentary elections should be waited for. But nobody saw fair parliamentary elections. To allow even a few oppositionists into the retinue of those who eagerly adopt all novelties invented by him, and improve his self-esteem and revive his spirits every day by their manageability, was impossible for Lukashenka. Nevertheless, inert Western structures who had got tired of the necessity to persuade that democracy is better than dictatorship and gives more opportunities, didn’t maintain their agenda. The issue was decided within two weeks after the election: first the OSCE recognized the elections unfair, and in a few days the EU lifted sanctions.
And now the phrase “old lady Europe” sounds literally, and not as figuratively. Having become tired of the light fight for human rights in belarus, Europe decided to take a time out to have a rest (the age shouldn’t be forgotten!), and at the same time, to give Lukashenka a chance to think about advantages of Western democracy, and to make his epoch-making choice between Russia and the West.
Like the Ural Mountains divide the European and the Asian parts of the continent, Belarus divides the European and the Russian civilizations. And now Lukashenka has been given a right: West or East, cheap gas or IMF loan, recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia or Western investment, trips to Russian provinces or the open world. And it is difficult for him to make this choice. Not only because he feels himself a monkey from the funny story, which after a command for the clever to go to the left, and beautiful to the right, says: “What should I do? Should I be torn into two parts?” It is difficult to make a choice also because Lukashenka is quite satisfied by the isolation from the West, but he really wants money. He not only “wants” money, he won’t be able to hold out without it. The US is not going to lift its sanctions against the Belarusian enterprises, and now the crisis started at the wrong time. Russia applies pressure for South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be recognized, and is willing to deploy missiles in Belarus, and in return offers gas on internal prices. But Lukashenka has become skilful in cheating Russia over these years: to agree, to promise and not to fulfill, and then pretend that he hadn’t understood what had been meant; to tell in the Kremlin he is ready to hurl down under NATO tanks, stopping their aggression to the East, and in Minsk he said that the empire from the East threatens independence of the little Belarus, and that this independence should be protected by everyone jointly. And he knows that Russia would endure anything: it does not have other allies (Nicaragua is far away, and has anyone ever seen Nicaragua? Maybe it is a myth by Columbus) and he is nearby, though he lies a lot. But when necessary, a hand would be raised in the UN in the right way, and even a bad sheep gives a bit of wool and “Beltransgaz” too. But Lukashenka does not know so far whether such a con would succeed with the EU.
And though the European Union has opened the border as an advance, it has been done for only half a year. Besides, you cannot spread a Schengen visa onto the bread, it would be better to get it in the form of money… and it would be better to receive it at once, as later, after advances and curtseys, the EU could demand real democratization in exchange for investment and loans. And whether it would be possible to deceive Europe like it was with Russia all the time, is not clear for Lukashenka yet. So he prefers to ask immediately what he needs, taking the advantage of the good intentions declarations by the West (“if we are real friends, give me your Mickey Mouse sticker!”). And beside obvious Western investments, 2 billion dollar IMF loan is necessary fro him. And after a two-months’ work in Minsk the IMF mission which had no relations with Belarus since 1995 because the economic policy of the government was out of line with the Fund’s recommendations, adopted a decision to grant the loan of 2 billion! And meanwhile Lukashenka informed the both sides what else he would like to receive in the next year.
As Lukashenka confessed recently, he wants 5 billion dollars from the US Santa Claus. “Yes, I have asked 5 billions from the US. And what do these billions mean for the US with all their trillions?” he shared his thoughts with the people. And he wants 100 billion rubles from the Russian Father Frost, though Belarus has received the Russian 2 billion dollars loan already (the first billion was sent in November, the second is promised in February). But is would be nice to be given heaps of rubles, and twice and many, and as soon as possible, as long as the ruble hasn’t been devaluated completely.
So, Alyaksandr Lukashenka named his price. It is indifferent to him, it doesn't matter for him would it be democratization or Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s recognition. He is going to realize neither one thing, nor another. But he will apply best efforts to drag out the negotiations with all parties, at the same time receiving money and sweet things. Are there any political prisoners in prisons? No! so, the requirement of the EU has been fulfilled! And as for the 14 persons sentenced to correctional labour for participation in a protest, these are repressions-light! And let young oppositionist be beaten up, taken outside the city and thrown by the roadside there, fired and expelled from universities – this does not mean prison. So, it is possible to open a dialogue. He asked 100 billion rubles from Russia, and immediately promised South Ossetia and Abkhazia issue to be considered next year. It means that the ally could be given money, leaving jobless a few millions of teachers. But Russia and Nicaragua would have Belarus as a partner. And three are a good company.
This process can be a long one. And the practice of cheating the West could be as successful as with Russia. Against the background of unhurried dialogue’s murmur, the Belarusian opposition could be wiped out quietly, until it would be eradicated completely. Indeed, why people should be imprisoned in public, with unnecessary attention attracted, when it is possible to beat, discharge, intimidate on the sly? Prisons would be free from political prisoners, and it is great progress. The EU would be happy over having assisted Kazulin’s release, and European officials would start (or they have already started) carefully recommend those whose lives and careers had been destroyed by Lukashenka’s regime, to cooperate with the authorities, as liberalization has become evident. In such a case, the opposition would be excluded from the political process, as the dialogue with Lukashenka would be carried out by the West directly, without its participation. And if the opposition disappears, the both sides engaged in the dialogue would pretend it was a natural death. However, the dialogue is unlikely to be endless. Even if Lukashenka would be given money, from Russia if not from Europe, the choice should to be done anyway. Mending holes for the short term won’t solve the economic problems, but just temporarily stops mouths of people.
But people have experienced things which were much worse than that. In December for the first time in many years salary was cut in Belarus. (“For people not to buy up foreign currency,” Lukashenka explained on TV). And on January 1, without war declaration, the Belarusian ruble was devaluated by 10%. And what have the people done? They took comfort easily: though they have no money, the New Year has come right on the midnight, without delay! Isn’t is a bliss?..