What the West is wrong about Belarus

In his article on the website of the Centre for European Political Analysis (CEPA) international editor of the weekly Economist Edward Lucas estimates the European approaches to Belarus for the past 20 years.

Raskladvanne on the shelves — a convenient way to understand the world around them. But what if those shelves are empty? Over the past 20 years, foreign public opinion, if it ever tried to negotiate with Belarus sought vphnuts this country of 10 million in one direction and then in another appropriate category.

First of all, in the era of George W. Bush, it was part of the "Slavic core" of the Soviet Union. Countries such as the Baltic, might have wanted adkalotstsa from Moscow, but loyal, Russified Ukraine and Belarus were willing to stay with the Kremlin. This view was erroneous.

After the opinion prevailed that the Minsk as the other "former Soviet republics" will move forward through the economic recovery, privatization and the establishment of a political system based on the rule of law and political freedom. Russia in those happy days was seen as an ally in this case. Hope came to a head during Stanislav Shushkevich, leader of the country until 1994. Belarus lost its nuclear weapons, had a free press, a pluralistic political system and cautious pro-Western foreign policy. Not seemed impossible that one day she will join the European Union (EU) — anyway Belarus had better prospects than the relatively backward Romania and Bulgaria. But that was a mistake.

Vitavshy first election in 1994, Alexander Lukashenko as a decisive politician and an ardent fighter against corruption, with the West after all the great horror watched as Lukashenko deploys the country to the east, by signing the agreement for the contract with the Russian Eltsynavay. Then the idea that the Belarusian statehood — perhaps temporary.

Belarus had better prospects than the relatively backward Romania and Bulgaria.

New Belarusian-Russian alliance was first sharashkinay office for skarumpavanyh officials. (There was a decent budget without any accountability and the right to distribute useful to customs and tariff exemptions.) But for many it seemed inevitable that a strong pro-Russian position and pan-Slavic Lukashenko will lead to the fact that Belarus will become part of the new confederation led by the Kremlin, which in the future could to enter other pro-Russian anomalies, such as Transnistria or two breakaway Georgian enclave.

This vision was also erroneous. Lukashenko liked perform on the big stage. He also liked the idea that he could be a big fish in a big pond, and not remain merely the head of a small scale. He began a series of public meetings and demonstrations of the Russian province that suspiciously resembled a campaign. Maybe he could become the new leader of Russia and Belarus, replacing the ailing Boris Yeltsin? Now, this idea seems bizarre. However, in the twilight of the Yeltsin era was considered such a possibility seriously.

The sign "loyal satrap of the Kremlin", too, was wrong. It did not work out with Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin, who has not expressed any desire to spend time and money on improving relations with the mundane, rude, arrogant and capricious Belarusian leader. Belarus-Russia Union is not something that did not become a superpower — he almost failed on all counts. Not created a common market for goods, services, capital and labor. Plans to create a common currency, many times postponed. Over time, it was becoming increasingly clear that economic stability, which boast as Belarusians, in fact based on cheap Russian gas supplied by Belarus in exchange for transit privileges and geopolitical support.

As the climate of repression in Belarus is more violent, the West began to think hard, how to overthrow Lukashenko. The result has been several false signs. Western support has focused on the Belarusian opposition, which is a colorful hodgepodge of idealists, those who had once been someone, who no one ever was, political turncoats, nationalist extremists and eccentrics.

It's been 15 years, and no matter how annoying, not a lot of results.

These fun, but almost no result, they showered with money, provide training and advocacy support. In an effort to throw money problem seen an attempt to replicate the experience of Central Europe 1980. The money helped the "Solidarity" to overthrow communism in Poland. Radyevyashchenne was extremely effective tool in bringing the ideas of freedom to the enslaved peoples. That, of course, such a combination would work in Belarus?

It's been 15 years, and no matter how annoying, not a lot of results. Among the opposition, not one charismatic, credible leader like Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. So, they had to confront in a hard struggle against the vile regime. But the communist-era dissidents were able to show examples of the incredible organization and mobilization. Nothing like this has happened in Belarus.

Was extremely misguided attempt to combine hostile to the autocratic regime and rigid with the Belarusian ethnic consciousness, which, though related to the subject, but is a separate issue. It is true that Lukashenko refers to the language of the native population with disregard and contempt. Also true that it is to a certain extent arouses interest. Indeed, ethnic and national identity have been the driving force behind many of the freedom fighters in the Baltic States: their country was occupied by the Soviet Union, they would regain independence. It was a simple and honest principle, in part well with the broader idea of democracy and the return to Europe.

But such an idea is not easy to plant in Belarus, where the national language was more separation than the connective force. Living mainly in the villages, with a variety of local variations, it is difficult executed legacy of Russification, the Belarusian language was neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for strengthening the opposition nayleshpym in case it was not significant in naygornym — harmful.

Unfortunately, many of the foreigners who are trying to help the Belarusian case originating from a political tradition in which language, historical and ethnic issues are central. They considered the overthrow Lukashenko as part of the national liberation struggle in which Belarus has to return to its deep historical roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, with strong linguistic and cultural awareness.

The Belarusian language was neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for strengthening the opposition.

It's a beautiful idea, but for most ordinary Belarusians it is far, at best, weakly attractive, and at worst simply unacceptable. As an analogy, could would result in an attempt to hold the political changes in Louisiana with primary support for the restoration of local starafrantsuskih conversations and traditions.

So that this sign was poorly chosen. Belarus was not a dictatorship, ready to collapse under the pressure of the patriotic pro-Western opposition to the "color revolution", such as those allegedly so well succeeded in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Romania and Ukraine. (In retrospect, these gains do not look so simple and beautiful as they seemed then.)

Then there is another ledge, where Belarus fell into the category of victims of Kremlin machinations. The idea was to focus primarily on geopolitics, and only then to democracy. Belarusian nomenclature clearly bothered the Russian bear's manners, she could see the flaws putinism. If you approach it with due humility, she finally admits that her economic interest lies in the West. When the Belarusian bureaucracy with Lukashenko to offer a fair deal, they would no doubt agree. This view of Belaru
s was built on the foundation of the "Eastern Partnership", the idea of which was the fact that the European Union will develop a special series of programs (on trade, visas, modernization and political connections) with six countries to the west and south of Russia: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

And it was a mistake. Eastern Partnership countries are extremely different in their goals, needs and perspectives. Ukraine found it insulting that it lumped together with small countries. Fervently pro-Western Georgia did not like that it was put together with the five countries, with a range or even hostile to the values of the Euro-Atlantic alliance. A Belarus, although sniffed the Western concessions and even made some cosmetic concessions itself — adding the election campaign last year in December drabochak justice — mode does not have the strength or desire to go further in this direction. Paslyavybarchy period was marked by unprecedented repression (behind bars dozens of political prisoners), the economic crisis (including foreign exchange shortages), and now a mysterious and bloody terrorist attack in the Minsk metro (where 14 people were killed and dozens were injured.)

The fact that we have no idea who is behind the explosion, and that it therefore can be considered as evidence of the West's failure to analyze the situation in Belarus and the influence it. Was it a real act of terror, according to the Belarusian authorities? If so, then we do not know anything about the extremists who are willing to kill without pity and without discrimination. Or is it the result of a split within the regime, where some imaginary group of "hawks" is trying to intimidate the alleged reformers, demonstrating its destructive capability? Probably. But we know so little about the internal politics of various circles within the regime that such speculation remain fruitless. Or was it a message of from Russia? If so, what was meant? We know to annoying little about the actual content of the Russian-Belarusian relations.

It would be easy to conclude this dismal catalog whose pages bear traces of Western ignorance, confidence, self-deception, cynicism and selfishness, offering a simple manifesto with the recipe for success. We have tried almost everything, sometimes several times. Nothing helped. The first point of any solution must be a certain portion of modesty on the part of the West.

We have tried almost everything, sometimes several times. Nothing helped.

Second — an insightful look at Belarus as a country which really exists, and not what we wanted it to be. It is a country where, as it looks simple recipes do not work. The combination of a weak national identity (independent Belarus lasted a few months in 1918), the suffering of the war years (the worst of all the countries that Eylya professor Timothy Snyder calls "Bloodlands") and intensive Sovietization left on their own specific cultural and spiritual heritage. One of the features of it — to avoid risk. Another — distrust of institutions. Third — aversion to external interference. Lukashenko style, which includes the parent command style, surface stability and paranoia, fits perfectly into this picture.

Our best chance for success lies in the long-term efforts to change the Belarusian reality through intervention at the level of economic and human contact are vostraskiravanymi targeted sanctions against the leaders of the regime responsible for the beatings, imprisonment and disappearance of people. The most successful of the last decade was an event in which Western policymakers did not play any role: the reorientation of Belarusian foreign trade from east to west. Now the European Union, not Russia, is the largest export market of Belarus.

Long-term consequences of this are very deep. This means that the Belarusian managers need to study European languages, travel to Europe and to establish business ties with local partners. Through this they will be under the influence based on the rule of law of Western capitalism, which is in sharp contrast with the cronyism, corruption and lawlessness of the world of Russian business. Proclamation of broad and far-reaching economic sanctions, no matter how beautiful we need this gesture may seem unlikely to promote the release of political prisoners. It is doubtful whether the EU will go into this business for the American example. Sometimes, there are sanctions. But in the case of Belarus, the result likely would have been "zimbabvizatsyya": strengthening the regime of incessant paranoia and isolation, as well as leaving Russia powerful tools to advance their interests.

Instead, we need to develop trade and other forms of economic cooperation. A radical step would be to translate the collection of instructions on the European Union Russian language. It should also make possible cheaper and easier access to the western Belarusian universities through the introduction of scholarships. Corruption in higher education remains a serious problem in Belarus: a lot of students would be willing to look for a better choice. The main condition for such a program would be in the style of the Fulbright Program, the return of fellow for several years in Belarus after graduation.

The result of such an active zaangazhavanastsi would be constant evrapeizatsyya Belarus, opposition to the harmful effects of the change of regime and the spiritual and moral climate to the extent that the rule of law and political freedom would seem natural, and not someone else's foreign concepts.

The other side of this strategy was the punishment regime of visa and financial sanctions. Visa bans against those responsible for political repression, will block them and their families to travel, go shopping, study and rest of the West.

The result would be an active zaangazhavanastsi constant evrapeizatsyya Belarus.

It will hurt. Ache will hit their wallets. In Western intelligence circles it is well known that some of the senior regime officials have large deposits in the West, in particular in Austria. These funds have been accumulated by the systematic sense of the Belarusian people and should be the subject of an investigation of money-laundering. Banks that carry out these transactions, cashing in on the illegal business. If they continue to do so, they must accept the loss of their banking licenses in America. The goals for this choice, they will get rid of their Belarusian customers faster than you can say "Wiener Schnitzel". The purpose of this policy is to be very specific: the release of all political prisoners. Once it is achieved, all the authorization must be stopped to provide possible greater effect on economic cooperation. Of course, there would be inevitable politicization usually neutral decisions on the part of the criminal justice system and the financial authorities. But it might help to release from detention of Andrei Sannikov and other political prisoners. If so, then it's worth it.

The long-term benefits of economic cooperation with Belarus looks uncertain. It could strengthen the regime and make it richer and more stable. But against the background of 20 years of failure in all other directions, at least it is based on a single positive achievements — trade diversion. I think it's worth a try.

Translation: Sergey Shupe

Center for European Policy Analysis (Center for European Policy Analysis) — an independent non-governmental research institute for Central Europe

Edward Lucas — international editor of the weekly Economist.

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