TCS Daily


After the Fraud

By Evgeny Morozov - March 21, 2006 12:00 AM

"Regardless of election outcome Alyaksandr Lukashenka will be announced winner," predicts the Warsaw-based Stefan Batory Foundation in its "Belarus before and after 19 March—possible scenarios" policy brief, published just before this past weekend's Belarusian presidential elections. A soothing reading for any Belarusian apparatchik, it reveals that the international community will stick to its common set of tools to express dissatisfaction with Lukashenka's rigged victory.

Travel restrictions, freezes on foreign assets, and bans on participation in international events for Belarusian athletes—just some of the tools mentioned in the Batory brief—are not enough to democratize Belarus. To succeed, the international community should fundamentally reform its policy of restrictions, publicize them widely in Belarus itself, undermining Lukashenka's support base, and restructure its donor funding to Lukashenka's opponents.

In the wake of the elections the West is likely to push for even tighter travel restrictions. The list of Belarusian bureaucrats who are not welcome in the West has recently grown from seven senior officials to more than 40 middle-level ones, all suspected of some criminal connivance with the regime. Since most of the isolationist Belarusian bureaucrats have no institutionalized contacts with their EU or US colleagues, the purpose of such bans is to obstruct their personal and tourist travel.

Thus, to make the ban truly effective, its geographic coverage should encompass all states that aspire to join the EU: Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro and, above all, Ukraine—all top tourist destinations for Lukashenka's elite. The scope of the ban, as the Batory brief rightly suggests, should also expand to include heads of local electoral commissions, militia and media bosses and all others that have been responsible for misleading the voters.

Although the limited version of the ban was implemented a few years ago, its existence is still poorly known in the country. It is high time to fund domestic awareness campaigns. Lists with the names should be circulated around the country, stating reasons for each ban. Now that the list counts more than 40 items, the West should help the opposition to publicize all other "heroes", not just those few responsible for the disappearance of the leaders of the Belarusian opposition in 1999 and 2000.

Decentralizing this process of "shaming by association" is critical to undermining Lukashenka's support base among middle-level Belarusian bureaucrats. It is an encouraging sign that photos of judges who unlawfully send opposition activists to prison are being published online; now, fearing public anger, these judges will be more wary of their actions. All those who collaborate with Lukashenka's regime deserve to see their names and photos displayed on the doors of their houses, not just on the pages of Western broadsheets or the blacklists at the borders that they never cross anyway.

Shifting the donor support from political organizations—who during their 12 years of resistance to Lukashenka proved ineffective and wasteful—to civil society organizations should be another Western priority. It is no coincidence that Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the main challenger to Lukashenka, directs an NGO and was nominated to run in the elections by 200 other NGOs (all this in a country where working for an NGO is almost equivalent to treason). Lukashenka has marginalized all political institutions in Belarus, and it is high time for the West to recognize this, and minimize its involvement in purely political undertakings.

The West should not waste any funds on projects that Lukashenka could kill a day before they open. However, there is nothing he can do to stop a political documentary exposing his dictatorship. It can be quickly shot in Vilnius, Kiev, or Warsaw, and cheaply distributed online and through door-to-door marketing. Yet, the latest of such documentaries appeared a decade ago.

At the same time, thousands of dollars have been wasted on effete political projects that Lukashenka's KGB easily unraveled. If the West truly wants to help the process of democratization in Belarus, it should calibrate its donor programs, and encourage "creative destruction" of Lukashenka's empire from within—by artists, writers, and intellectuals—rather than dole out cash to the wannabe amateur politicians, touring Brussels and Washington in search of fame and exorbitant cash advances. Creating a 24-hour Belarusian language TV, expanding the radio coverage started by the EU (after 12 years of silence), and funding cultural and educational projects are just some of the areas where the West could be more active.

Whatever political resonance the Belarusian elections will have in the country, it should teach the West a lesson in how to effectively fight a dictatorship and how to reinvigorate the opposition that was more dead than alive. Too bad is that the West is a slow learner. Even worse is that Lukashenka is not.

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7 Comments

Why is this our business?
Is this an issue into which we really must stick our noses? Isn't the core explanation for the unpopularity the US currently enjoys around the world the fact that we insist on telling every nation how we think it should live? It's rude and insulting, and we would not be happy if other nations told us how they thought we should live.

If the people of Belarus find they care strongly enough about being ruled by a tinpot dictator, they are perfectly capable of throwing the guy out. It would appear they have not yet reached that point. Let's just get over it.

"...perfectly capable of throwing the guy out"
no, we are not capable of that. yes we ARE asking for help. in the situation where working for an NGO or distributing information bulletins or simply critising state policies is a grounds for being expelled from the university or losing a job, every bit of help counts - every sheet of A4 info leaflet printed with western money, every second of coverage on CNN or BBC. please understand that while hundreds of people where jailed in the course of the last 4 days, charged officially with "using profane language in public" to isolate them for the election period, we are being cut off from Internet, each and every independent newspaper was shut down long time ago, and no independent broadcast media exists - yet portions of the US and Euro money still goes to the state-affiliated "civic" activists and propagandists. European structural funds grant money to the official projects. This is unacceptable. Thus Europe keeps helping Lukashenko to to suffocate the last circles of civic society here, how's that?

it is everybody's business
Dear roy_bean,
the logic in your comment is flawed:
a) the fact that US sticks their noses into such issues as democratizing places like Belarus or Serbia or Ukraine actually makes US hell lot of more popular there and in the region. it might not be well reflected in the mainstream media (due to its anti-US bias), but just go to, say, Kosovo and ask people what they think about the US--the main street in Pristina bears the name of Bill Clinton
b)the people of Belarus do not, in fact, realize that they are being ruled by a tinpot dicator as you call him precisely because he has monopolized all media, closed all independent newspapers, and either imprisoned or killed main opposition leaders. nobody is asking the US or the EU to use military force in Belarus; all is asked for is to recreate the independent media that Lukashenko had stifled and to offer broad support to those who do challenge the regime in the face of months in prison
c) if there is no pressure from the US or the EU on Russia and Belarus, the Belarusian people might never reach a point where they will overthrow Lukashenko. He feels extremely well-off among billions of Russian gas subsidies--and is really hard to topple. it can be a UN or US or EU or whatever else led effort, but there is no reason why the West would allow Lukashenko to arrest and kill his opponents in a country which is almost in the center of Europe

Pressuring other nations
With all due respects, mastervox (above) makes a valid point in that apparently he is Belarusian and is asking for help. I can't argue with that. But the other point to be made is that when we actively meddle in other countries' affairs, we contravene international law. We also needlessly aggravate neighbors.

Let us take the example of Cuba in 1961. Was the USSR's coming to their aid with military assistance a bright idea? I don't think so. It almost started a nuclear war. How is it any different if the US were to contemplate bringing down a government next door to Russia? Aren't the R's already worried enough about NATO expansion? Plus, it is apparent that any means we might employ to do this would not be democratic. Good example? Hardly.

Plus there is our history, where we have aided in the overthrow of innumerable governments around the world. Iran, for one egregious example, is still mad at us. And that was back in 1953.

You mention examples such as Serbia's aggression. Yes, I do agree that, in extremis, one should invade for humanitarian reasons when a genocide is in process. Right now, for instance, I would be happy to see us in Sudan. But when last I heard, Lukashenko was obnoxious but not murdering people in massive numbers.

We can limit our objections to diplomatic pressure, certainly. But I don't see a situation here that requires sanctions or threats. Do you?

not pressuring, but assisting
Well, I was not arguing for invastion nor was I arguing for an overthrow of a government. However, in today's Belarus you have one big guy,namely Lukashenko, appropriating all the power and not giving a damn about upholding the principles on which he had gotten that power (namely, democratic elections). More than 100 people were arrested before the elections just for being activists of the opposition candidates--and the other few hundred have been arested since Sunday for holding a protest in the square. besides, don't tell me that the US has no foreign policy interest in keeping most of the ex-USSR democratic and inside NATO and EU.

So all actions should be made to promote that foreign policy goal--and it doesn't have to be a hardcore overthrow of the regime. What seems to be growing in Belarus in teh past few week is some new sort of the Solidarity movement. All what's needed from the is to provide moral, technical, and financial leadership in helping to foment that movement.

No Subject
There seems to be no real doubt that his massive victory reflects the wishes of at least a substantial majority of the voters. This being the case it is difficult to say that the NATO powers position is based on a love of democracy.

It may well be true that, by western standards, the media is biased (ie does not reflect the views promoted by CNN) & that foreigners are not providing enough money to the opposition for leaflet printing & other activities. Should we equally be worried that Mr Putin is not putting enough money into supporting the democratic opposition in the US or that CNN do not give enough media time to neo-socialists?

During the Yugoslav bombing the NATO countries media reported as believable the US government claim that Milosevic had already killed 500,000 Albanians while the Serbian, Russian & I assume Belarus media said it was a lie.

Whatever the people in the ethnically cleansed Bill Clinton St in Kosovo feel able to say while under the eyes of the KLA/police pimps, drug runners & murderers it is a fact that the State Dept & CNN were lying & Milosevic & the slavic media were telling the truth.

Quick the Democratic Party ought to hire these guys
After Chicago, Philadelphia, East St Louis, Milwaukee, Seattle, Atlanta the Democrats need people who can really steal elections. So let's follow the judge's advice, lets ignore corruption overseas since he really doesn't want anyone examining the fraud his party commits here.

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