Monday, February 24, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Belarusian Dictator Readies to Defend His Regime Against Protests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka is pushing through his rubber-stamp parliament a new law that would allow members of his force structures to shoot demonstrators without fear of criminal penalties, a measure observers say is his response to the Maidan revolution in Ukraine.

            According to the Belarusian opposition newspaper, “Salidarnasts’,” Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reports today, Lukashenka personally proposed this legislation. The Belarusian paper says it is especially concerned by the law’s lifting of any legal penalties for force structures using lethal force against protesters (

            Specifically, the measure, “On the introduction of additions and changes in the Law of the Republic of Belarus ‘On Martial Law,” specifies in Article 18 that Belarusian siloviki are free to use such force “if they are acting under conditions of justified professional risk or extreme necessity.”

            If this measure passes – and there is no reason to think that it won’t – it will make all Belarusians “hostages” to the power of the state, Mikhail Pashkevich, an activist of the Speak the Truth group says. Other analysts and opposition figures echo his words but also suggest that what Lukashenka is doing reflects his own fears of a Ukrainian scenario.

            Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” suggests that one should not see this latest action in Mensk as a spasmatic one, however. Instead, the new measure flows directly from the program Lukashenka announced in January 2013 and the specifics the Belarusian dictator outlined in December of last year.

            At the same time, the paper notes that the new Belarusian bill “contains some other and no less interesting innovations.”  It specifies that if martial law is declared, the authorities have the right to impose preliminary censorship on and close down all outlets that are not on a list approved by the Belarusian Information Ministry.

            And it says that “all the actions and statements of Alyaksandr Lukashenka testify to the fact that he is afraid of the repetition in his country of events like those which have taken place in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the Arab countries.”  He believes and has said that “the power are holy and have the right to do everything” to maintain themselves.

            It is worth noting that overthrown Kyrgyzstan president Kurmanbek Bakiyev has taken refuge in Belarus but that Mensk was forced on Saturday to deny that it was giving asylum to members of the ousted Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovich.  “Such information does not correspond to reality,” the Belarusian foreign ministry said.

            Unlike the leaders of some other post-Soviet states, the Moscow paper continues, Lukashenka has shown himself to be “far sighted” in his planning to oppose any opposition to his regime. Indeed, the system he has set up is designed “to kill dissent in its cradle” rather than allowing it to grow. 

            To a large extent, Valery Karbalevich, a Belarusian political scientist says, Lukashenka’s approach is congruent with the attitudes of Belarusian society.  That society, he says, “is closer to the Asian understanding about the sacredness of any power which has the right to do with its own people what it wants than it is to the European idea about the right of the people to revolt.”

            However paradoxical it may sound, Karbalevich says, “the bloody Ukrainian events have performed a good service for the Belarusian authorities” because it allows them to pose as the defenders of stability even if that stability requires the violation of basic rights.  As a result, “the chances for a change in the status quo in Belarus have been sharply reduced.”

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