20 January 2018, Saturday, 12:28

Georgian lessons for Belarusians


Transparent elections recognized by the West are so rare on post-Soviet space, that considered to be a historical event.

Tendency to establishing mixed presidential-parliamentarian or parliamentarian ruling hes been noticed in recent years in CIS countries. Such form was established in Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine. According to amendments to the Constitution, Georgia is turning to this form of ruling as well. Georgia was the first country where «colour revolution» happened, frightening authoritarian regimes. After realizing revolutionary threats these regimes started to look for ways to neutralizing political opposition and to strengthen ties between themselves. One of the instruments of ahieving this aim is advancing military and political union OTCS (Organization of the Treaty on Collective Security). Six CIS countries are members of this treaty. But defensive OTCS, failed to prevent another revolution and save Bakiev's regime in Kyrgyzstan in spite of attempts to endow it with repressive police functions. The regime has fallen, Lukashenka gave shelter to Bakiev and his family. Democratic elections were carried out in Kyrgyzstan, that resulted in legitimate multi-party parliament and new president with limited powers. Such situation is about to happen in Georgia after sensational victory of oppositional coalition «Georgian Dream» in parliamentary elections and in view of the presidential elections in one year. According to amendments to the Constitution new president in Georgia will be with limited powers. Ukraine is about to continue the process of growing role of parliaments on post-Soviet space. Very important elections to multi-party parliament are scheduled for the end of October. Unlike Georgia, Urainian president Victor Yanukovich is planning to carry out political reform in opposite direction – strengthen presidential powers, creating analogue of Belarusian presidential vertical, that allows Aleksandr Lukashenka to carry on his personal rule for more than 18 years.

Political events of September that were carried out under the name of «parliamentary elections» became just another proof of absolutism dominating in all spheres of life in Belarus.

It is becoming more and more obvious that in case of movement towards democratic standards the system of power in Belarus is doomed. Both for Belarusians and for Lukashenka political earthquake in Georgia, where president Saakashvili acknowledged defeat of his party «United national movement» came as a total surprise. Rapid reaction of Lukashenka, and his as ever original estimations of this events prompt one to go back to the chronicles of development of relations between Minsk and Tbilisi, which have been mainly latent during recent years.

After Mikhail Saakashvili became a president, some of his representatives started various activities on spreading their revolutionary experience on wave of democratic euphoria. They were also contacting Belarusian opposition, which provoked a negative reation of Lukashenka. But many things changed in relations between Minsk and Tbilisi after August Georgian-Russian war, when Lukashenka took a position different from Moscow and did not recognize outcomes of agression that lead to losing of two territories by Georgia. Belarus has never recognized independence of South Osetia and Abkazia. Behaviour of Belarusian diplomats in UN, OSCE and other international forums can be estimated as supportive for Tbilisi. For example, during the voting Belarusian representatives were leaving the venue without taking part in voting. Moscow qualified Lukashenka's behavior as direct breach of allied obligations. Tbilisi took this position with gratitude, trying to neutralize usual criticism of Lukashenka's regime and its consequences on international arena.

«We had also some sort of political contacts with Georgia in spite of our support of Russian Federation in all this conflicts. And we are grateful, I was telling it in public to Mikhail Saakashvili and all Georgian politicians who were supporting us on international arena – in Eastern Partnership, UN, in front of Americans, Europeans,» – said Belarusian president.

«Saakashvili was in fact an advocate of Belarusian policy, and it is true. I am gratefull to him and I was telling it to him in public many times,» – Lukashenka said. It is unlikely that Saakasvili would be grateful for such a confession from his Belarusian colleague, who remains in political self- isolation. Reputation of Lukashenka's henchman in unacceptable for pro-Western politician Saakasvili.

As far as it is known, Lukashenka was supported by Tbilisi not only on above mentioned fora. According to some data special emissary of Georgian president Vano Merabishvili, known among Belarusian offiials as «president's boss», who was coming to Minsk both openly and secretly, was speaking among all about Belarusian opposition, sharing information, valuable for Belarusian special services. It seemed as payment for official non-recognition of separatist territories, occupied by Russian forces. It was known to some politicians who turned to opposition to Saakashvili. In private conversations they were confessing immorality of such actions from Saakashvili inner circle, saying that such relations should become lesson for those Belarusians who faithfully believed in ideals of «rose revolution». But there is a consensus about occupied territories in Georgian establishment. This is also the reason why there was no open criticism of Lukashanka from Geotgian opposition as well.

Today Georgians acnowledge that one of basic reasons of Saakashvili's party defeat is harsh policy of president and his team during almost 10 years in power. Speaking about success of their reforms, authorities were asking judgments from people, who gained something from this reforms. But there were many of those who lost, and authorities were not interested in them enough.

It should be noted that policy of such sort also lead to inactivity of Belarusian voters during last parliament elections. They are definitely fed up with their president. It won't be a big exaggeration to say that behavior of both presidents can be compared with desire to be a fiance at every wedding and a deadman at every funerals. Meanwile opponent of Georgian president Ivanishvili did not irritate anybody trying not to show up in front of journalists and in public events. But everybody knew that his wealth earned in Russia is bigger that GDP of Georgis. In fact he earned money in Russia and bought power in Georgia.

Is it possible that some Russian oligarch emerges in Belarusian opposition? It would be unwise to reject this opportunity after sensational victory of Ivanishvili. Moreover, information about connections between some Belarusian opposition politicians and Russian businessmen appears from time to time.

Process of privatisation of state enterprises is unavoidable in Belarus. Vladimir Putin is persistently promoting interests of Russian business, some of its representatives are ethnic Belarusians. Of course, this circumstance can have less meaning for Belarus than for Georgia. But triumphator Ivanishvili, who was deprived of Georgian citizenship when he joined opposition and could not even vote in parliamentary elections, can become a good illustration of this fact that anything is possible in political struggle. In hypothetical Belarusian scenario absence of citizenship can be substituted by citizenship of the union state. After some break provoked by Eurasian plans of Putin, Minsk is raising talks about union state with equal rights of both business entities and citizens.

It is necessary to mention that Georgian parliament in spring of 2012 adopted amendments to the Constitution allowing billionaire Ivanishvili to take part in the election.

According to the amendments to the basic law, citizens of EU can be admitted to voting. Citizens of EU, who were born in Georgia and have lived in Georgia for last 5 years can vote till January 5, 2014. For the moment Ivanisvili is a citizen of France. He lives in Georgia since 2004, not in the capital, but in his native village generously giving fruits of civilization to his country-men for his own money. President Saakasvili didn't interfere in such philanthropy. It is impossible to imagine that his Belarusian colleague would allow such «isle of welfare» in his state. Though there were attempts to create «city of sun» for business and residents in small town of Maladechna. Mayor of Maladechna Gennady Karpenka was considered to be the most dangerous opponent for Lukashenka. But he suddenly died under unrevealed circumstances at the age of 49. His former right-hand man Viktar Hanchar simply disappeared. Until now Lukashenka is suspected to be connected with this tragedies.

There was time when Belarusian opposition was hoping on publishing allegedly existing video- records of non-judicial executions of Victar Hanchar, his friend businessman Anatoly Krasouski and former minister of internal affairs Yuri Zakharenka.

But this did not happen. And nobody can say, how would such materials influence the atmosphere in Belarusian society. But much less offensive records of violence and tortures in prisons, demonstrated by opposition channels played substantial role in voter's sentiment, who voted against ruling party. It is important to add that Ivanishvili's wife created TV-channel, which became another way of distributing information and made him feel more confident.

There is no alternative television in Belarus, but demonstration of such record in Internet with about 3 million users could also be enough. The regime acknowledges this danger. Today Lukashenka has special service to control it – Operative and Analytical Center (OAC) with generous financing. Speaking of oppositional financial resources of even hopes to get it from national business, they simply don't have neither, unlike their colleagues from Georgian opposition.

Today Lukashenka is personally forming controlled business environment in Belarus. Thanks to Western sanctions Belarusians learned about oligarchs, on whom Lukashenka's regime leans. Their interests are often too far from interests of Russian business in common economic space. Judging on development of the situation in this sphere, growing aggressiveness of Russian business makes it more and more difficult for Lukashenka to promote interests of his own business. This can provoke not only discontent, but protest sentiment in Belarusian business surrounding as well. That is why pre-election program of Ivanishvili and his real steps towards Georgian business were of particular interest in Belarusian society. One of the first steps of candidate for prime minister was meeting with businessmen. Georgian products will come back to Russian market, business-sphere will be free, these are priorities that were mentioned by Ivanishvili during that meeting.

«I gave guarantees to participants of the meeting that authorities won't interfere in private sector and business. We will do everything to secure private property. I listed both plans on creating real investing environment and development of business. This is basis for rebirth of economy of the country and for fighting unemployment... We will also fight against monopoly and cartel bargains, anti-monopoly committee will be created,» – Ivanisvili said.

There is no doubt that this words will become ground for serious discussions among Belarusian businessmen. But there is serious doubt in ability of Belarusian presidential administration to extend words of new Georgian leader to Belarusian reality. Opinion about necessary state control over all spheres of life including business is still dominant in Belarusian ruling group. It is obvious that it had influence on economic relations between Belarus and Georgia that were estimated by Lukashenka as «not bad». In spite of presence of Georgian embassy in Minsk, there is no Belarusian embassy in Tbilisi, though there are embassies in Azerbaijan and Armenia. Probably explanation is in «not bad» economic relations between two countries. For the moment Belarus is not showing any intention to open embassy in Tbilisi and it is unknown if Lukashenka is going to strengthen his presence in Tbilisi on the eve of his chairmanship in CIS. Probably unexpected statement of Lukashenka about his intention to bring Georgia back to CIS demonstrates such interest. At the same time he didn't pay attention to negative reaction to this statement in Tbilisi and bewildered silence in Moscow. Such off-the-cuffs of Belarusian ruler can clearly contradict obligations on coordination and aligning foreign policy between Belarus and Russia. It is important for Belarus to renew dialogue with united Europe. At the same time Moscow's task is to rearrange dialogue with Georgia, though many people there think that Russia is playing very destructive role in South Caucasus. Nevertheless advisers of Ivanishvili believe that dialogue with Moscow is necessary. But it will be difficult steps and difficult process. First steps will be in the field of economy. It is first of all necessary to renew economic relations and put the end to militant rhetoric that goes from Saakashvili. He was acting as an authoritarian technocrat from the politics, convinced that all problems can be solved with effective management combined with efforts to limit the activity of the opposition that is «constantly getting under his feet». He prefered not to seek agreement with the opposition, but to «break» their resistance, using his control over law-enforcing structures. As a result he «ruptured» himself because of his self-confidence. At the same time, according to experts, political culture of Georgia is characterized as non-authoritarian. It is the country that respects people, who are able not to force somebody do something, but persuade people about their rightness. At this conditions Saakashvili's authoritarianism was rejected not only by those, who lost something as a result of reforms, but broader layers of population – from students to the church. It is also important that significant part of intelligentsia which is historically enjoys moral authority turned away from the president.

Speaking of Belarus, experts usually mention tolerance of Belarusians. But psychological tiredness and rejection of Lukashenka's authoritarianism are felt more and more.

It is difficult to say, what lessons can other authoritarian technocrats learn from Georgia. It takes time. But Georgia itself entered a period of peaceful transfer of power that, as they promise, will last till the next fall and presidential elections. Of course, it can change if coalition «Georgian Dream» falls apart and winners decide to send Saakashvili to political rest by means of impeachment. Such opportunity is also discussed.

Meanwhile, Matthew Bryza, former Deputy Assistant State Secretary of US on European and Eurasian affairs, expressed opinion that Saakashvili still can save influence in the country. «IsPutin happy to see Saakashvili go? But Saakashvili didn't go. Saakashvili will remain president for one more year,» – he said.

There is also issue about efficiency of broad political coalition like «Georgian Dream». It consists of various politicians with their ambitions. They had enough rationalism to unite before elections, but work in parliament demands more responsibility and understanding of priority of common strategic tasks over instantaneous issues. There is also question if oppositional «dreamers» are able to fulfill their generous pre-election promises. Ability of Ivanishvili to establish effective dialogue with Moscow during peaceful transfer of power. Today different reactions can be seen in Russia – from mistrust to envy. It is obvious, that Vladimir Putin will play key role in the process, in spite of fact that Dmitry Medvedev will be his partner.

Some observers don't exclude that Aleksandr Lukashenka will try to interfere in this process as mediator. At least his statements about his role of CIS chairmanship demonstrates his interest in the process.

Aliaksandr Martsinkevich, «Belarusian Analytical Workroom»