Dusk or dawn in Belarus?

Mitchel Orenstayn, an American researcher at Johns Hopkins University, recently visited Belarus. In his article on the site analitychnyym Project Syndicate, he analyzes the situation in the country and gives suggestions of what should be the policy of the West towards Belarus.

At the time, as pro-democracy protests are gaining momentum in the Arab world, Belarus kvazisavetskay grim fortress Europe, things are moving for the worst. President Lukashenko is rigidly suppressed demonstrations that took place after the election, and put him in jail 7 of 9 presidential candidates who opposed him.

Western governments, including the EU, have to look at it as a turning point of Lukashenka's rule, if the regime can no longer claim to popular support and is forced to find a way out of the failure of its antediluvian socioeconomic model.

Lukashenko regime rests on three pillars: social contract that promises national independence and a guaranteed low income in exchange for tacit consent to dictatorial control, propaganda machine, which enhances the value and necessity of this transaction, as well as a powerful security apparatus to ensure the deal.

For many years after the election of Lukashenko in 1994, the majority of Belarusians suffered mode, because they believed that it protected them from the worst excesses of the Russian "wild capitalism": corrupt privatization, unemployment, and the domination of the mafia. But with the passage of time, when the Belarusians began to travel more to the West, belief in Lukashenko staggered.

Wages are much lower according to official figures — probably around $ 200-300 per month. The official unemployment rate is 0.7%, but this figure reflects mainly those registered at the employment office and gets a public works for 10-15 dollars a month. The prices are high because of trade restrictions and government support of inefficient state-owned enterprises. The country has huge budgetary costs — two-thirds of the economy is state-owned. Economic growth, pumped up on the eve of the presidential election last year was officially 7.6% in 2010, but the pace of growth has slowed.

Regardless of your past successes in maintaining basic living standards, it is now clear that Belarus can not match the dynamism of its neighbors. While many retirees and some employees are satisfied with their lives under Lukashenko, young people and those with higher education, voted in December against him. Experience has shown that it has received less than 50% of the vote.

Obviously, it shocked the sensitive egos of the President. Among the wave of repression and growth of Western protests, Lukashenko promised in his inaugural speech that he would not tolerate threats to "stability."

At the same time, however, Lukashenko is no fool. He can not afford to ignore the fact that the recent elections have revealed the depth of nepapulyarnastsi his regime. He faces the threat of a complete loss of legitimacy of the regime, and then the repression will not be enough. He should sign a new deal with Belarus, and he knows that economic modernization with political "stability."

First Steps will be made in This year,. Now the country is inflated, inefficient industrial sector to maintain employment, and this is possible because the government gets most of its revenue from natural resources — mostly recycled Russian oil and domestic potash fertilizer — and from transit fees for Russian oil and natural gas in Europe. But now Lukashenko would use the business and direct foreign investment in an attempt to modernize the economy.

Belarus already has a budding software industry, which gives an annual net income of $ 300 million. In addition, officials are developing programs of privatization — for Austrian money and with the support of the World Bank, which will cover a large part of the state sector.

Lukashenko hopes that serious economic reform will give him the support of the West, to disarm foreign and domestic criticism. But he risks angering laid-off workers and inefficient capitalists of his inner circle, so it will move slowly to satisfy the desires of those who voted for him, and those who protested against him. And Belarus is not China: it is not that big in order to avoid penalties for violations of international human rights.

Yet the West's policy towards Belarus should be comprehensive, "soft power" in Europe — the attractiveness of its social model for a growing number of Belarusians. The West needs to develop a relationship with these people and invest in the economy. However, the West must resist the brutality of the regime, which may be more lenient if the privatization goes full speed.

Visa policy is an essential part of the solution. Currently Belarusians pay 60 euros ($ 82) for a tourist visa to the EU, which is a major obstacle to travel because of the low wages. Poland has announced that it will provide free visas to Belarusians, and at the same time forbade entry into its territory of a large number of regime officials who are involved in the last election fraud and repression after them. The other EU countries have done the same on sanctions against top officials, but we can do more and to liberalize travel for citizens.

Economic cooperation is more controversial. Investment in Belarus may strengthen the regime, but they may also be needed for the possible emergence of a democratic Belarus. The bottom line is that the ordinary people of Belarus and victims of repression is now in need of help. But this does not apply to these regimes.



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