News / Europe

Belarus President Races Sanctions to Inauguration

Incumbent Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko before a news conference after preliminary election results show him overwhelmingly winning a fourth term in Minsk,  Dec. 20, 2010.
Incumbent Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko before a news conference after preliminary election results show him overwhelmingly winning a fourth term in Minsk, Dec. 20, 2010.
TEXT SIZE - +

One month after presidential elections disintegrated into a massive crackdown on democratic rights in Belarus, the country's president faces a rising tide of international opposition.  

Alexander Lukashenko appears to be scheduling his inauguration for a fourth term as Belarus president for Friday.  The timing is so hurried that no foreign leaders or journalists are expected to attend.

The burly mustachioed leader, often called the last dictator in Europe, is suddenly racing the spreading skepticism about his claim to victory in the December 19 presidential elections.

Last weekend, Markus Loening, Germany’s highest ranking envoy to visit Minsk since the vote, bluntly told the Belarus government the only way to avoid sanctions will be to release all political prisoners and to hold new elections.

The European Parliament is expected to approve a resolution calling for a free and fair repeat of the presidential vote.  The resolution will also condemn the ongoing wave of arrests in Belarus, a crackdown that jailed seven of the nine opposition candidates.

In neighboring Poland, the vicious nature of the Belarus crackdown evoked memories of 1981 when the communist government declared martial law against the Solidarity trade union movement.  Backed by public opinion, Poland is doubling its spending on dissident broadcasting to Belarus, is opening universities to students expelled from Belarus universities, and has abolished visa fees for Belarussians.

Polish media reports Warsaw has banned travel to Poland by President Lukashenko and top government members.

On January 31, EU foreign ministers are expected to approve similar travel bans for all 27 member nations.

European Council on Foreign Relations Belarus expert Jana Kobzova watches the growing sanctions movement from London. "The overall purpose of the sanctions is to punish.  It is not to change the regime, it is to punish those who took part in the crackdown or who okayed the crackdown," she said.

She said the European Union wants to take clear action on Belarus, in order to gain credibility with governments that crack down on human rights in other places, such as Tunisia, Ukraine and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have issued a joint statement condemning the elections. Separately, Clinton and Ashton met recently with Belarussian human-rights activists.

In face of this growing isolation, Sovietskaya Belorussia, a government-owned newspaper, charged Friday the secret services of Germany and Poland plotted last fall to overthrow the Lukashenko government.  The next day, the newspaper charged Western ambassadors encouraged the mass protest demonstration after the election.

Riot police broke the protest up so violently that Belarus’ opposition now call December 19 ‘Bloody Sunday.’  The opposition has petitioned the Guiness Book of Records to have President Lukashenko recognized for arresting a record number of presidential candidates.

Conducted by a security agency still called the KGB, the raids and arrests continue daily.  KGB agents have closed an independent radio station, seized computers from human-rights groups, and threatened to disbar defense lawyers for opposition politicians.  They have detained and interrogated thousands of people simply because cell phone records show they were near the protest the night of December 19.

A reporter for opposition newspaper Nasha Niva, Aleksandr Kidritsky, spoke by telephone from Minsk. "The circle of people are who are being targeted, or even better to say, affected by this wide-scale harassment, this circle is really big right now.  I cannot predict when it will stop," he said.

President Lukashenko’s fear may be that economic hard times are ahead.

A former collective farm manager, he long subsidized his country’s economy by buying oil cheap from Russia and then reselling it at higher prices to Europe.

But now, the Kremlin is putting the squeeze on Belarus.  Last year, Russian oil exports to Belarus dropped by 40 percent.  On January 1, they stopped altogether.

Belarus’ Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich is to meet Thursday with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow to try to establish a new price.

When the oil starts flowing again, it is expected to be at a price that will starve the Belarus budget of billions of dollars of subsidies.  Last week, gas and gasoline prices were hiked by 10 percent.

Foreign help is not in sight.  Last week, Belarus’ prime minister reported that since 2008, the national public and corporate debt of Belarus has increased 10 times.

Kobzova, the Belarus expert, said the Minsk government looked at the worsening economic picture and decided to tighten political control. "People basically stopped fearing Lukashenko and the regime the way they did before.  There were so many people on the square who came not to support the opposition, but basically to express their disappointment with the system, the way the vote is always rigged, the way they do not have a say in the way the country is going.  That is why the regime had to crack down - to spread the fear again," she said.

For some, this tactic is not working.  The opposition, which was split among nine candidates last fall, united last week creating the National Coordination Council of the Democratic Opposition.

Charter 97, the main website of the opposition, now routinely refers to the Belarus president as ‘the usurper."


James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid