19 January 2011

Belorussian Elections

(Note: I am not well versed in Belarus, so take this with a grain of salt!)

Today's topic is the rather...confusing nature of the Belarus elections. I actually had the same issue with the Iranian elections because the fact of the matter is, it's hearsay whether or not someone deserved to win. I assume only a handful of people actually know the results and the rest of it is based on popular mood. Remember when Bush won against Gore in the hanging chad debacle? Americans were pretty pissed about it and the popular mood would have suggested that Bush rigged the whole thing. I'm pretty certain the laws of land prevented any mischief, but you can see where my skepticism comes from. I'm not particularly into conspiracy theories (though I find them compelling and a good exercise of the imagination), so I'm not easily swayed into thinking that everything is rigged.

This isn't to say that these elections weren't rigged. I'm just cautious in when I claim that because it's a bold claim often with very little traceable evidence. Soviet elections were certainly rigged (otherwise they would've lost in East Germany from the get-go), but Belarus? I don't know. But let's break down a few things. First of all, Lukashenko needs to be considered. He has been named "Europe's last dictator" and has voiced disdain for Western style democracy. His actions are fairly two faced, especially with international relations, and he seemingly tries to balance Stalinism with capitalism to work for his benefit. So, in short, he's trying to be like China, but in a Belarussian way. The election was all smoke and mirrors; opponents were allowed to campaign and criticize him and he won. I can't say that he didn't win outright, though I'm pretty sure he didn't, but the idea needs to be entertained nonetheless.

Currently, the big news is that Lukashenko turned around and said, "Hey, Poland and Germany are trying to aid the opposition into supplanting our democratic government!" Now, if he actually won, he's merely placing himself in opposition to the EU, who had met with opposition leaders and decided to play hardball with Lukashenko because of the crackdown protestors and opposition leaders faced after his election. What does that do to improve his position of power? Belarus is in a tight spot because they have the EU to the west and Russia to the east. Just remember that Medvedev openly criticized Lukashenko's accusations against Russia and he's a cautious politician. The Kremlin had long supported Lukashenko, who is suddenly biting the hand that feeds him gas and oil. Europe isn't even bold enough to call Russia out on its hogwash because they need those same things. Russia knows this and you can bet your money that the Kremlin loves this. Medvedev did recognize Lukashenko's presidency and congratulated him, but I sense the power of Putin pushing him this direction. Medvedev is the face of younger Russia and Putin wields the power and shrewdness of the older generation. Part of me wonders if Putin wants him in power so he can put pressure on Lukashenko and balance the European scales. Europe has had a tenuous relationship with Russia for decades and despite Lukashenko's rants and raves, Russia still needs someone who will act in their interest because the former USSR satellites are not particularly cooperative. The Kremlin knows that the opposition will not side with the east, but the west. If anything, Lukashenko might have decried Russia's involvement against him to draw attention away from the fact that Russia was helping him.

So does the EU's actions smack of conspiracy? The EU wants Belarus, though their patience has worn thin. Why Belarus? Beside the fact that Europe considers Lukashenko's democratic elections an attempt to hoodwink everyone, Belarus is another chess piece against Russia, and a pretty significant one. Despite the country's relative unimportance, Belarus is a key to Russia. The close relationship is not in European interests, any of them. This isn't a simple matter of Russia vs Europe because there is a lot of gray area relations happening between various nations in Europe. It's not a simple game of political dodgeball. Russia wields an enormous power over Europe because of resources, but Russia is also dependent on Europe for modernization and business. Much like the United States, the EU tries to act in humanitarian interests, though its political impotency undermines its ability to act collectively. This doesn't make the issue easier. Europe has all the reason in the world to undermine Lukashenko (democracy & leverage against Russia) and Lukashenko's successful control of power is in the interest of Russia (and Lukashenko), as well as Belarus' need for resources. So, was it rigged? Is Europe really trying to do a covert mission to undo the rigged election?

I also am considering the nature of Germany and Poland's relationship to both the EU and Russia. Germany is the powerhouse of the EU because of numbers and economic power and remains wary in dealing with Russia. It would stand to reason that Germany has the most to lose in this case because Germany is the essence of the EU. Poland has been resistant to Russia since the Cold War days, much like Hungary (a reminder that the events in Poland in 1956 sparked the 2 week long Hungarian revolution) and only recently started good relations. The controversy over Kaczynski's death hasn't fallen into the background quite yet as Russia tries to court Poland. Poland lies in a strategic zone for the EU. It was going to be the site of the missile defense system for the US, which probably made Poland feel pretty awesome, but now that Obama shelved that, Poland can pursue better relations without that elephant in the room (although one could argue that Kaczynski's Soviet plane is the new elephant). Poland's general resistance to Russia and its strong ties to western Europe are all why Poland is important to Russia. This article spells out the dance of their relations really well and it goes to show that in Eastern Europe, Poland is backed by several eastern countries. Poland is a litmus test of sorts because it strongly represents eastern sentiments while also pursuing a course with western powers. Poland has also improved relations with Germany, which means that if you win Poland, you can work your way to the heart of the EU.

With that in mind, the determination of the EU to impose tougher sanctions does seem more like a political than humanitarian motivation. Perhaps the interests of politics and human rights aligned perfectly for Europe to finally pull its weight and put a stop to the nonsense. Regardless of whether or not Lukashenko rightfully won, what he's done is simply wrong. His power is unchecked and he's mocking democracy as he eats his congratulatory cake. I don't think it's prudent to meet with opposition leaders and then declare your "war" on Lukashenko, but there's very little to be done about that. After looking into the matter, I think the important facts are that Lukashenko is in full power of Belarus, will continue to maintain the interests of Russia, and the recent events have created a perfect situation for Europe to play hardball with Lukashenko, leverage their relationship with Russia by demanding reforms in Belarus (in Russia too, actually, given the Khodorkovsky case), and finally feel like the EU can muscle up and have a good tousle.

If you have your opinion on the recent controversy, send me an email at whysoredt/at/gmail/dot/com. I will be happy to post compelling arguments, even if they make me look stupid.

Political cartoon taken from