Friday, March 27, 2009

Belarusian Freedom begins to stir

Belarus is usually described as the last bastion of tyranny in Europe. It continues to be a weird post-Soviet throwback, under its dictatorial leader, Aleksander Lukashenka. It officially uses the same flag and symbols as it used under the USSR, with only the hammer and sickle removed. Indeed the security service of this state of 10 million is still known as the KGB and it uses the same brutal methods as its Soviet namesake.

Yet the situation in Belarus is not static.

Although the dictatorship is certainly extremely repressive, the fact is that it is also somewhat erratic and now the regime has permitted a demonstration to commemorate the 91st anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian National Republic which was forcibly dispersed by Lenin's troops a year or so later. The BNR is looked to by the opposition in Miensk as an alternative to the Lukashenka state and the display of the White-Red-White flag of that time is a clear sign of protest. Thus the prominent display of the white-red-white flag by several tens of thousands of demonstrators is a message from the regime that dissent is now more licenced.

The economic crisis has forced Belarus to seek help from the IMF. This is forcing Lukashenka to consider a policy rather different from the puppet state of the Moscow Kremlin that he has followed hitherto. The Russians have been pressurising Miensk to recognise another puppet state: that of South Ossetia that Kremlin troops have established on the territory of Georgia. Yet the European Union is equally determined that Miensk should NOT recognise the obvious Kremlin landgrab against its southern neighbour. In response Lukashenka has dithered.

The Belarusian people have taken the consequences- they are isolated and unable to travel easily except to the Russian Federation. Now, surely, the time is ripe for the UK and the European Union states in Shengen to reduce the restrictions against Belarusian passport holders, while at the same time maintaining the restrictions against Lukashenka and his henchmen. That, Isuspect will help the progress of democratic reform substantially. Maintaining isolation is only likely to benefit the Kremlin and continue the use of the absurd Soviet era symbology in the country.

One day- perhaps quite soon-the white-red-white flag will fly again in Miensk and the traditional symbol of the country which it shares with Lithuania, the mounted knight known in Belarusian as the Pahonia will also be restored.

Watch this space.


Anonymous said...

Very informative post. I've never seen that flag before, to the best of my recollection.

neil craig said...

Some years ago the US ambassador admitted they were funding 300 opposition political organisations, which is quite a lot in a country of 10 million. Nonetheless the people have inconveniently continued not to vote for this opposition.

How very much less democratic than here.