||2010 Election: Dictatorship Strikes Back
The 2010 Belarusian presidential elections presented the world with a showing of the Belarusian regime’s true colors. Before the vote, some observers and European politicians had a faint hope that Alexander Lukashenka’s dictatorship-style rule might be changed. They thought that he would be more cooperative in the area of human rights and democratization due to a recent economic hardship and lack of Russia’s support. Indeed, some positive changes in electoral legislation have been made this year and an unusually high number of alternative presidential candidates (9) were registered for this election. However, all flirtation with liberalization was over on December 19th, 2010 around 10 PM local time in Minsk. At that time, riot police and KGB forces brutally dispersed a crowd of some 20,000 people who gathered in the center of the city to express their discontent with the political situation in Belarus and the official election results.
||Democracy Needs to Feel US Support
At the end of May, one of the Belarusian opposition leaders – Alyaksandr Milinkevich – visited the United States. The visit was organized with the support of the European Union. Why the EU? European officials seek to consolidate their approach towards Belarus with an American approach and Mr. Milinkevich, in their view, was expected to facilitate the process. He held a number of meetings with US congressmen, officials at the State Department, National Security Council, and others. Mr. Milinkevich, a 2006 presidential contender, had constructive dialogues in high offices and summarized his impressions as follows: “There is a total understanding of our situation and our problems in Washington, DC.” So, there is an understanding, but does the understanding transform to enough US support?
||Internet Censorship In Authoritarian Belarus
Something that every Internet user in Belarus feared has finally happened. On February 1, 2010, Alexander Lukashenka signed a decree imposing censorship on the Internet, approximately year before the next presidential election. Lukashenka had previously been criticizing “anarchy on the Internet”. After placing most of the traditional media under its control, the regime is pursuing an offensive against new media. The presidential election is scheduled to take place in early 2011 and Lukashenka plans to “win” again (the last two presidential elections wherein Lukashenka retained power were widely viewed as fraudulent). Thus far the Internet has been one of the last places to express independent opinion in Belarus. The political opposition is fearful of being without any media access during the upcoming elections.
||Sanction Suspensions Continue …
The application of tough sanctions in 2006 against the authoritative Belarus regime produced some immediate democratization results. Then three years of successive sanction suspensions followed. What did they produce?
||The Belarusian People: Between a Rock and Hard Place
The recent publication in Poland of an open letter to the administration of President Obama signed by 22 foreign policy and national security elites from the newer NATO and EU member states of Central and Eastern Europe attracted considerable attention on both sides of the Atlantic. Most of the issues touched on in the letter deal one way or the other with Russia--its present and possible future relations with their countries--within the broader context of their places in the transatlantic community.
||Moving Away From Russia
Two important developments took place in Belarusian politics within the space of several recent weeks.
||BNR Rada Acts in Defense of Youth Leaders
The President of the Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic in Exile (BNR) Ivonka Survilla has reached out to European leaders to seek their help in curtailing grevious abuses against some the best and brightest young people in Belarus. Excerpts from two such letters follow:
||Lukashenkas East-West Balancing Act
Last year, Minsk decided to improve ties with the West after Russia’s yearly price increases on its gas and oil and reductions of imports from Belarus negatively impacted Belarus’ economy. The European Union and the United States indicated that they could respond if all political prisoners were freed and the upcoming elections were free and fair. President Lukashenka ordered the release of prisoners and the EU decided to go ahead with talks by lifting travel bans for the next six months on Lukashenka and 36 top officials. Although the elections held in September were basically as flawed as before, and the reforms negligible, the EU foreign ministers decided in March to lift the travel ban for another nine months.
||Dialogue during 6-month probation
The months following the Parliamentary elections in Belarus have shown a great deal of activity on the part of the Belarusian government in both directions – East and West.
||Big Stakes in Belarus’ Polls
The upcoming legislative elections in Belarus on September 28 may be another meaningless exercise in simulated democracy, as were those in 2004 and 2000, but this time stakes seem to be much higher than previously for both the ruling regime and the opposition. And for the West as well.
||The Diaspora in Transition
The post World War II immigration wave to the United States has succeeded in establishing a strong presence there. Over the time it has diminished in numbers and vitality, not having a new inflow from Belarus in nearly half a century.
||Lukashenka Tries to Break EU-US Ties
“The United States of America, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reaffirm their commitment to the Republic of Belarus, in accordance with the Principles of the CSCE Final Act, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by the Republic of Belarus of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind.
||About Independence Days
Over two centuries ago the United States of America declared their independence from Great Britain. Years of the Revolutionary War followed, and the American people succeeded in defending their declaration and thus a new and thriving country was formed. The traditional celebration of 4th of July as the American Independence Day became well established over the years. It is celebrated officially by the White House and the Congress, in the capital, and less formally throughout the country with parades and patriotic gatherings. Multitudes of family picnics and barbecues complete the day.
||Satellite TV for Belarus
Three years ago the Belarus Democracy Act was signed into law. It was reauthorized nearly unanimously at the end of last year. One of the major priorities of the Act was to provide external radio and television broadcasting into Belarus as an alternative to the regime's propaganda machine. The importance of free media in the democratic development of a country cannot be overestimated.
||FROM THE PUBLISHER
Uladzimier (Uladzia) Katkouski worked in Prague as the Web-editor for RFE/RL Belarus Broadcast Service, and as the Internet Monitor for this publication.
||President Lukashenka: Search for Survival
In the summer 2002 issue of BR, I wrote on this page that Lukashenka had three options to consider in view of Putin's proposal for integrating Belarus into the Russian Federation: accept Putin's demand, expand ties with the rogue states, or turn to the West.
||To Talk Or Not To Talk?
There were two remarkable attempts by Europe in March to enter into dialogue with the Belarusian government.
||New Year, New Media
Recently Time magazine picked the Virtual Community as its 2006 Person of the Year. Belarusians too are now a part of this community, and the country is on the verge of a virtual revolution. As a journalist returning from two years abroad, I found that the Belarus media scene hasn't changed much physically - the hardware is still the same, though there are fewer and fewer independent newspapers available. But in a virtual sense, the Belarusian information space has been transformed. This was already clear in March 2006, when, for the first time, the Internet and cell phones played a key role in post-election demonstrations. Internet forums, skype chats, blogs, online communities, and podcasts ... A year or two ago, these phrases were alien to most Belarusians, even media experts. Today, it is the software that matters--a webversion of a publication is almost required, online newspapers are more popular than printed media, and about 15,000 Belarusians have their own blogs on LiveJournal.
||Investment in Information
A society without objective all-around information can be compared to a severely handicapped person, one who is blind, deaf and dumb. Such a comparison may seem somewhat farfetched, and yet, if it doesn't already apply in today's Belarus, it is inexorably headed in that direction. The total control of the state television, the censoring of retransmitted outside telecasts, and the self-censoring of the still existing printed media, result in grave impairment of the society's need to be informed visually.