Friday, July 14, 2006

Belarus: Kozulin jailed

Belarusian opposition candidate Alexander Kozulin has been jailed for five and a half years. His crime? Leading a demonstration demanding free and fair (rather than fixed) elections.

When a government can only maintain power by jailing its opposition, you know that its support is weak. OTOH, tyranny can hold on for a long time this way. I guess we just have to hope that the Belarusian people get sick of their dictator and run him out of town on a rail, as the rest of Eastern Europe did a decade ago...


I have actually spent some time in Belarus - the depressing truth is that a large majority of Belarussians quite like (President) Lukashenko. The older generations and those who live outside major population centres look back fondly on the Communist era and admire his strong pro Russian stance.

It's not that they're ignorant, but Lukashenko has been around for a long time, and he's provided food, heat and cheap vodka (not kidding, it's really cheap) for so long that many are afraid of risking a change. There is an enormous amount of fear - every year there are demonstrations in Minsk by a few plucky university students, but it never becomes much more than a token gesture before the army clamps down.

One of problem is that every citizen is supposed to live in the place stamped on their passport and it becomes very difficult to move. One of the only ways out is by joining the militia, where you will most probably be shifted to Minsk or other major town. Invariably the living conditions will be better (although there are reports of fairly regular abuse, mental and physical, of recruits) than their home town. Their contempt for more urbanised aspiring middle class is one of the tools in Lukashenkos box of tricks.

Secondly, Belarus' economy is propped up by Russia, and Lukashenko is seen as pivotal in maintaining the status quo. If Lukashenko goes then it is highly likely that Belarus will loose its preferential energy deals. To say it would devastate the economy is an understatement - the effect would be measured in lives rather than dollars. Belarussians are nothing if not pragmatic.

In the end, it will take some kind of break down in the Russian/Belarussian pact, or some kind of extraordinary act to ferment serious dissent.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/14/2006 06:38:00 PM