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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs