David Marples: Election — a dilemma for the EU and for Lukashenko

We continue our series of interviews with scholars, political scientists and policy-makers from Europe and America, to which Belarus has been in the past or continue to remain the object of professional interest and attention. This interview was recorded December 2, 2010.

David Marples (David Marples) — Canadian historian and political scientist, professor at the History Department of the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Operates one of the programs of study of modern Ukraine in the Canadian Institute of vkrainistychnyh research. The author of 12 books and over 150 articles on history and political issues in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. This year, he was elected chairman of the North American Association belorusovedcheskih research. Is an advisor for Eastern Europe the U.S. State Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom. Has published three books on Belarus: "Belarus: From Soviet Rule to Nuclear Catastrophe" (1996), "Belarus: A Denationalized Nation" (1999), "The Lukashenka Phenomenon: Elections, Propaganda, and the Foundations of Political Authority in Belarus" ( 2007).

ON dramatic changes no one expects

Maksimyuk: One of your recent articles on the country and the current presidential campaign has a title: "The Belarusians want change. But how much?" Or do you have an answer to this question?

MarplesYes, I am more or less certain that the Belarusians want change, but they still have not decided what specific changes they want. I do not think that the current electoral campaign changed this unresolved. This question, it seems, is the society and Beyond: Where are we going? Or worse situation if there is no alternative to the current president? Or do we really want to Russian intervention, even if it will damage Belarus? I think that this Lack of solution — it is also the result of the official propaganda.

If we take into account the overall economic situation, I think that the recession has had a limited impact on the population of Belarus, which is not really felt its effects. Mainly because

Belarusians want to change, but have not decided how.

that the government is constantly borrow and was able to hide the long-term effects of the current economic policy. In other words, the population of Belarus is well protected from such unpleasant consequences that we have seen in many places in Europe, such as Ireland, Greece and other countries.

In this sense, I think that for the majority of elections are not some pivotal issue. Of course, they are important, but I do not think that the elections are seen as an event that can change the situation is irreversible.

NO ONE stood out from the crowd

Maksimyuk: In a presidential campaign involving the incumbent president and nine alternate candidates. In your opinion, what strategy is useful for the opposition in Belarus — Lukashenko stand against a single candidate, as it was in 2001 or 2006, or serve a crowd, as it is now?

Marples: I have no clear answer to this question. First, if a candidate had a real chance of winning if it supported a large population and if it was well-known among the population, the single candidate would be better. But on the other hand, such a single candidate to the Government easier to focus all its propaganda to discredit him. If you look back at the past, even after the election are official candidates were under the gun. Therefore it is more reasonable to have more than one candidate. But it is necessary to have as many as nine candidates against the incumbent president — that's another matter. I think society is very confused and do not really know which one of these candidates in favor of that. With all due respect to all the candidates I want to say that I'm not sure that with this crowd stood out at least one candidate that really caught the attention of the electorate.


Maksimyuk: What would you say the main issue of this election? It's a matter of foreign policy, domestic policy, or something else?

Marples: I think that the main issue of elections — it's such a mixture. First, attention is paid to relations with Russia, because they are the worst. And it is of course, since Russia — the most important trade partner of Belarus. Theoretically, Belarus is still in alliance with Russia, even though the union had nothing to prove himself. And because these relationships can not be ignored. But the question immediately arises: Is there a real possibility of some alternative, if relations with Russia break? The only clear alternative — a relationship with the EU. In this sense, foreign policy is very important for the internal stability.

Europeans are prepared to make significant concessions.

In fact, this company is not some key domestic issue. Pensions and the minimum wage raised, as it happens before the elections in most of Europe. Lukashenko — not an idiot, and he does not forget. But, as I think he finally realized how important the issue is the future direction of Belarus — or she will actually move in the direction of Europe. As for now it seems the Europeans are willing to make significant concessions with respect to their initial 12 points as the democratization of Belarusian society and make it more acceptable to the West. From what I've seen lately, these 12 items were reduced to 5. The most important of them — free and fair elections, at least as to the conclusion of observers. So I would say that, nevertheless, foreign policy is a key issue in this election.

The reason RUSSIA

Maksimyuk: Lukashenko said that some of his opponents as Nekljaev and Sannikov, financed by Russia. In this campaign, Lukashenko clearly presents itself as a defender of the sovereignty of Belarus from the encroachments of Moscow. Or Belarusian voters are willing to accept such a turn in his politics? In other words, how Belarusians are ready to see Russia as an enemy, not a friend?

Marples: I do not think that Belarusians can look at Russia as an enemy in its purest form. But I think I can convince them, even slightly, that the behavior of the leaders of Russia are outside the scope of the relationship that should exist between the two countries. I think that Lukashenka managed to create his image advocate Republic against external forces. In the past, these forces were invariably NATO, the West, or the United States, especially at a time when the president was George W. Bush.

Russia may be difficult to agree on Lukashenko once again.

And now — Russia, its prices for oil and gas, its insane behavior towards Belarus, and all that. Heavy to hold a political line, as it seems to me that the majority of Belarusians sees good relations with Russia as something necessary in the longer term. It is impossible to imagine a further move forward without the device of relations with Russia.

In the promise that Nekljaev Sannikov and supported with money from Russia, purely Russian aspect is not critical, and is set just outside support, the claim that the candidates for the presidency are funded from external sources. Previously said about Western sources of different informal groups funded by U.S. government agencies, and
now speaks of Russia. This should not necessarily be interpreted as a campaign against Russian as a state, but rather as a campaign against Russia as a supplier of illegal funds to the opposition.

By the way, I'm not sure how much truth in such a statement, especially for Sannikov. I know that supported the Belarusian Neklyaeva money that belonged to Russia. So there may be more propaganda than truth.

Maksimyuk: Judging by the promotional signals from Moscow, the Kremlin would not mind to replace Lukashenko someone else, more compliant to their influence. How do you assess the current situation in Belarusian-Russian relations? What will happen to the price of Russian gas for Belarus?

Marples: The current relations were in a difficult position. Challenging even to the extent that the Russian leaders may be difficult to agree on Lukashenko once again. This, incidentally, applies to both sides. Both sides angazhavalisya in an unreasonable and contemptuous propaganda against each other. Especially Medvedev, who had previously been more reticent than Putin. And now both Russian leaders clearly unhappy with Lukashenka.

But on the other hand, I do not think that Russia in this election is the candidate. None of the leaders of Russian opposition is not taken into account as a possible successor to Lukashenko in the short term. In addition, Russia does not want to she was accused of interference in this campaign.

As the price of Russian gas for Belarus in the far future, I think that the Kremlin decided to patiently wait. The Kremlin understands that the main change will not occur on December 19, no matter what the outcome then manifest.

The Kremlin has decided to wait patiently.

The change in perspective rather believe the next six months or two years, as a result of pressure by other means. One of these tools — negotiations on a new price of gas. If Russia decides it no longer wants to have relations with Lukashenka, it uses its pressure through these other means, waiting patiently until a potential leader. I would say that the most likely candidate for such a leader will be someone from the current administration, the present government of Belarus, which Moscow had previously had a relationship and believed to be reliable, and that in fact has some support among the electorate.

Europe would be best approached 55 percent

Maksimyuk: Let's turn now to Europe. Former angazhavanastsi Europe in Belarus elections this year will not be seen. But we see the efforts of the EU to seduce Lukashenko that he held elections that Europe could recognize as democratic. Do you think that the EU is ripe to recognize the stunning victory of Lukashenko and invite him to Brussels?

Marples: It's a very good question, and I had to think about it a lot longer than the others. I think the European Union is aware of himself that Lukashenko will keep his job, at least in the near future, and therefore hopes that it will be possible to configure a relationship with him, if he fulfills certain conditions, after which it can be to give 3 billion euros or thereabouts.

But the recognition of a stunning victory — is another matter. This victory is not very likely, especially if we take into account public opinion polls. I've seen a few of these surveys. Presidential poll, of course, gives Lukashenko support at 70 percent, which is a pure farce. Most polls give him support at 30-45 percent. But it is the support of people with the sample from which vote will actually 70-80 percent of people. So that the support of Lukashenko — somewhere around 35 percent. And that, as in the past, support that does not allow him to win in the first round.

So, if the elections will end another stylish victory at 83-85 percent, then to Brussels to put a difficult dilemma. After all, no one would believe that such a victory has turned to the free will of the voters.

But if the result will be much smaller (here I am not saying that it will be so)

Europeans can accept such a result.

somewhere on vrovni 50-55 percent, while the Europeans can say: Well, it's pretty reasonable result, taking into account the fact that we have seen. Lukashenko, as everyone can see more popular, and was no one who would put at risk its popularity. So they can take such a result, especially if the observers from the OSCE will not inform about any violations during the campaign.

So, it seems to me that there is a dilemma and Lukashenko himself. Well, because if Lukashenka agrees to its official result was at the level of 50-55 per cent — I've been cynically note that no free and fair elections in Belarus, and so will not be — then the society that would mean that his popularity plummeted. From his point of view — it is a problem. Why is my score so much lower than the previous together? Recall that the last time he claimed that the official 83 percent — is the result of intentionally reduced in order not to confuse the public.

At the Washington direction UNCHANGED

MaksimyukWhat do you think about the perception of the current political situation in Belarus Washington?

Marples: I do not think that this perception has changed a lot compared to the previous period. The current administration in Washington is waiting for all the signals from Belarus to answer some counter moves.

Washington is not in a hurry.

I think the current stalemate in the relationship will continue for some time. I also think that Washington's relations with the great powers is more important than children. Relations with Russia are of utmost importance for Washington, and therefore, taking into account that Belarus had a quarrel with Russia, Washington will not rush to correct relations with Minsk. In short, I do not see any solution to this situation in the near future.

Maksimyuk: So for you to sign a joint declaration Hillary Clinton and Sergei Martynov in Astana does not mean the beginning of improving bilateral relations?

Marples: I think it is too early to tell. Wait a month or two to see which way to go will be the event.

What do they think Canada?

Maksimyuk: Professor Marples, a conversation with you — this is a rare occasion, if you can, so to speak, first-hand information that the Canadian government is thinking about Lukashenko and his regime. We've heard that once your government has not allowed the aircraft to refuel Lukashenko on Canadian soil, but little more. And so to complete this question: How has your government refers to Lukashenko — good or bad?

Marples: The current Canadian government has a very specific position with regard to democracy. Although Belarus is far more from Canada than Ukraine — Ukraine is close to us with a focus on its huge diaspora in us — and though in the case of Belarus the Canadian government does not feel such pressure, as regards Ukraine, yet Canada is inviolable position towards Belarus . Canada condemns the human rights situation in Belarus, the disappearance of politicians, the lack of free and fair elections. Canada continues more or less a relationship with Minsk that existed between Washington and Minsk over the presidency of George W. Bush. Generally speaking, Canada believes that Belarus today is not moving in the right direction.

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