“Regime change” for Belarus?

Lukashenko is doubtless correct that the protesters are backed by the West—or are about to be. Can we—meaning progressives in the West—possibly think of a more creative response to this dilemma than rallying around Lukashenko? From the BBC, March 21:

Hundreds of demonstrators have spent the night camped out in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, as they continue a protest over the presidential election.

The protesters accuse President Alexander Lukashenko of rigging the vote and say they will carry on their vigil until new elections are held.

Two of the main opposition candidates joined the demonstrators, who set up tents in below-freezing temperatures.

The EU and US have condemned the poll as flawed, but Russia says it was fair.

Results announced on Monday gave Mr Lukashenko victory with 82.6% of the vote.

Protests began on Sunday evening as the polls closed, with some 10,000 people gathering in the capital’s central October Square.

About half that number heeded the call of chief opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich and turned out again on Monday night.

“Our protest will be strong and long,” Mr Milinkevich told the crowd, urging them not to disperse. “We will never recognise this election. It’s not an election but an anti-constitutional seizure of power.”

However, numbers fell as the night wore on and the remaining few hundred protesters gathered around 15 or so tents, chanting slogans and drinking hot water to try to keep warm.

Witnesses said riot police had gathered in side streets around the square and there were some reports of scuffles as supporters tried to bring in supplies.

‘Absurd’ complaints

The demonstrators say they will continue their protest until new elections are held but this outcome is unlikely, says the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Minsk.

Mr Lukashenko has already said he believes the Belarussian voters have made their choice and that any attempts to launch a revolution there have failed, our correspondent says.

In a television appearance on Monday, the president insisted that the poll was fair and democratic and called the complaints about it “absurd”.

“Despite the unashamed foreign attempts to dictate to us and colossal external pressure, they have failed to break us,” he said.

Official figures say the election had a turnout of 92.6%. The result gives the president, in power since 1994, a third term in office.

‘Applaud democrats’

However, the OSCE, Europe’s main election monitoring body, said the process had been “severely flawed”, with harassment of opposition activists, biased media coverage and obstruction of independent monitors.

The EU says it is likely to impose sanctions.

The White House, which has previously labelled Mr Lukashenko a dictator, says it does not accept the results.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: “We applaud democrats in Belarus for their courage and peaceful stand to reclaim their freedom. We support their call for a new election.”

Earlier a rival observer mission, from the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States, said the election was open and transparent.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Mr Lukashenko a congratulatory message saying: “The results of the election demonstrate the confidence of the electorate in your policies.”

See our last post on Belarus.

  1. Lukashenko cartoons
    Can we—meaning progressives in the West—possibly think of a more creative response to this dilemma than rallying around Lukashenko?

    We could try taking the piss out of him, as a small start:

    …In 2005, civic activists from Belarus published flash cartoons on their website (http://www.3dway.org). The cartoons were about life in Belarus, electoral fraud, Belarus’ isolation, and Lukashenkos notorious preoccupation with sports. The activists may face up to five years in prison for publishing the cartoons.

    In addition to harassing political opponents, civic activists, and Christians, the government of Belarus and its KGB criminally persecute those “offending the honor of Lukashenko.” The Belarusian regime is tightening the grip on any form of dissent before the crucial presidential elections scheduled for March 19, 2006. The new legislation can put the dissent behind bars for any expression of alternative opinion.

    Maidan International (http://maidan-int.org), a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, calls world’s print media to publish cartoons on Lukashenko, “the last dictator of Europe.” For new cartoon images, please visit http://www.svoboden.org or email info@svoboden.org.