News / Europe

    Analysts: Belarus Moves From Authoritarian to Totalitarian

    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko addresses the Parliament during an annual state of the nation speech in Minsk, April 21, 2011
    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko addresses the Parliament during an annual state of the nation speech in Minsk, April 21, 2011
    James Brooke

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, long called the last dictator of Europe, is cracking down even harder on freedoms of speech, assembly and representation.

    Struggling with an economic crisis, Lukashenko seems to be taking his country back to its totalitarian past - as a Soviet socialist republic.

    Last week, he closed the last two opposition newspapers in the country. An editor of one, Narodnaya Volna, vowed to keep printing, either in exile or underground, echoing the samizdat  [clandestine dissident] printing of the Soviet Union.

    Then, Andrei Sannikov, a leading democratic politician, went on trial, standing with other democracy activists in a barred cage in a Minsk courtroom. His mother whispered to a foreign reporter that her son was going through a "show trial."

    Stifling dissension

    On Tuesday, the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, KGB agents greeted people attending an unofficial rally. Agents searched and photographed each participant.

    For Natalia Koliada, a theater director who fled Belarus after last December’s post-election crackdown, the trials and newspaper closings make clear the increasingly totalitarian nature of the country's long-running dictatorship.

    Speaking from New York, she said, "Finally the world understood that after 17 years of Lukashenko’s existence in power, that he is the last dictator in Europe."

    President Lukashenko’s fear of free speech and assembly comes as anecdotal reports indicate many people believe that government agents were behind the April 11 Minsk metro bombing that killed 14 people and wounded 200. The president portrays the suspects as apolitical young men fascinated with explosives.

    Sowing suspicion

    Jana Kobzova, Belarus expert for the European Council on Foreign Relations, sees great skepticism on the Belarus Internet.

    "It’s a lack of trust to the government. And I think if I were Lukashenko, I would be totally alarmed," said Kobzova. "Because basically he didn’t manage to sell well what he offered as an explanation, which means there are people who just don’t believe him any more."

    Last week, a former Belarus KGB colonel, Vladimir Borodach, told Russia's NTV television that the two suspects "were used as mules who simply carried the bags."

    Speaking from exile in Germany, he charged that the men were asked by the KGB to carry out the strike in a bid to deflect attention from the nation’s mounting economic problems. On Friday, the two men, still not publicly identified, were formally charged with terrorism - charges that can carry the death penalty.

    Koliada agrees with this theory, saying, "I do believe it happened only because authorities wanted to take away attention of people of Belarus from economic problems."

    Economic woes

    Lukashenko clearly is feeling pressure. Last week, when asked by reporters why he did not attend a Chernobyl memorial ceremony in neighboring Ukraine, he lashed out, using locker room vulgarities to describe foreign political leaders.

    As he spoke, the value of the Belarusian ruble fell, losing about half of its purchasing power in two days. With only enough hard currency to pay for two months of imports, Belarusians are seeing imported goods vanish from store shelves.

    More importantly, factories are shutting down because managers are unable to buy imported parts. The state statistics office reports that the import shortages forced Belarusian companies last week to lay off 600,000 people -13 percent of the nation’s total work force.

    UBS bank economist Jonathan Anderson said Belarus currently has the world’s fastest credit growth - and the fastest growing external deficit.

    "This is patently and even rabidly unsustainable the way the numbers are shaping out now and you can’t just run an economy like this too long before you actually hit the abyss," said Anderson.

    Moscow intervention

    Moscow says that it will probably extend a $3-billion loan to Belarus this month - eight months after Minsk first made the request. Russia seems to be moving slowly in hopes of buying Belarus state assets on the cheap. Russia wants to buy Belarus’ oil refinery and its energy export pipelines.

    Moscow is talking about extending the Russian ruble zone to include Belarus. But Anderson, speaking from Hong Kong, said Moscow’s planned loan would only buy Belarus six months before it is broke again.

    "We have got a pretty fast moving train, right? And the tracks seem to end up ahead. That is the worry we have," said Anderson.

    No help is expected from the West.

    Last January, the U.S. and the European Union imposed travel restrictions on President Lukashenko and 158 aides.

    Additional sanctions possible

    Next week, the European Union is to debate matching American sanctions on two state companies that provide Belarus with most of its hard currency earnings [from sales of potash - a substance used in fertilizers - and petroleum products].

    Kobzova talked last week with Belarus experts in Brussels. "EU will press hard with the economic sanctions if the political trials continue. That is the clear message that comes these days, and they are ready to do it."

    At present, 12 political activists are on trial in Belarus. A second group goes on trial this week. At the same time, the main opposition party - the Belarusian People’s Front - is losing its headquarters, one of the last remaining venues in the capital for opposition events.

    With an economic crisis bound to increase social tensions in the coming months, Lukashenko seems to be regressing to a political atmosphere familiar from his youth - creating a Soviet Belarus. He has ordered Belarus police to speed up completion of a project to fingerprint all adult men in the nation.

    You May Like

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, the history of take-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora