Wednesday, March 22, 2006

“Does anyone know how this thing works?”

Blizzard Blows Belarusian Revolution Away Valery Panyushkin of Kommersant has a story describing the half-hearted "revolution" in Belarus. Some key observations and comments from the news article:
The crowd grew. On the next day, President Aleander Lukashenko would say that there were 4000 people. The opposition would say that there were 50,000. I estimate 20,000 people.
Regarding exit polling and how those results compared to the "official" count of 82.6% for Lukashenko:
People were telling each other that the Levada Center polling service conducted independent exit polls and found that Lukashenko received 47 percent of the vote and Milinkevich 16 percent, so there should be a second round. They also said that specially appointed police chief Leonid Farmagei stated that there could not be any Levada Center poll because the police had taken many of the pollsters into custody. Farmagei really did say that.

“How many people do you think are here?” I asked a policeman.

“We don't think anyone is here,” he answered. “The square is empty.”
The strong voice of the opposition was heard. Listen and tremble with fear, Oh Lukashenko!
Alexander Milinkevich stood on the steps of the Palace with his wife and advisers. The crowd gathered around and began to chant “Milinkevich, Milinkevich.”

“Say something,” Milinkevich's wife whispered to him and pulled him by the elbow.

“Okay,” he said, but only waved a bouquet of flowers to the crowd. He seemed to be overcome by the support of 20,000 people.

The wind whipped up. Milinkevich took a loudspeaker but the wind was so strong that even I, standing two meters away from him, could only make out isolated phrases. The crowd seemed unable to hear anything and cried out “Milinkevich,” “Freedom” and “Long live Belarus” at random.

Milinkevich said, “We have won. Today we are a people. We are Belarusians.”

He said that the elections were double illegitimate, first because Lukashenko had no right to become president a third time, and the referendum last year that gave him that right was also legitimate[sic]. Second, the results of the election were tampered with, opposition members arrested, the state media are a propaganda machine for Lukashenko and the opposition media were closed down.

He spoke some more, but nobody heard him. The weather got worse, turning into a real blizzard. The wind blew away flags and made it hard even to stay on one's feet. There was so much snow on the square that his audience could barely see Milinkevich standing on the steps of the Palace of Labor Unions. Five minutes later, the storm was over. In the audience, they began to say that it had been Lukashenko's secret meteorological weapon. The crowd had shrunk nearly by half during the storm.

Now an amplifier was set up and Russian Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh mounted the steps of the Palace to express his support for Milinkevich. The new amplifier and speakers were set up, but no one seemed to know how to turn them on.

“Does anyone know how this thing works?” asked a Milinkevich adviser.
That final statement says a great deal about the chances for democracy in Belarus. Does anyone know how it works?

I get the impression that people of Belarus might want to vote for someone other than Lukashenko - if strong political candidates were even allowed to exist. Belarus is Lukashenko's carefully cultivated garden, and any rival flowers are quickly plucked or stomped. He then proudly surveys this garden and shows there is no other flower but his to dominate the landscape. It is the very definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Lukashenko celebrated his victory. He said at his press conference that the virus of “color revolutions” only strikes weakened countries, but Belarus has strong immunity.

When asked why opposition candidates were not given equal access to the mass media, the president answered, “I do not understand the term equal access.' I did not use propaganda and gave my own time to the opposition candidates. We gave them a chance to show themselves. You saw our opposition, it's not worth anything.”

When asked why it was necessary to imprison opposition activists, the president answered that the opposition politicians themselves asked to be put in prison before the elections so as not to shame themselves before their Western sponsors. When asked why, if 86 percent of Belarusians voted for the president, tens of thousands went to the square to protest, the president answered that fewer people went to the square than voted for the opposition. Those who voted for the opposition went out to the square. And that was a clear demonstration of the democracy of the Republic of Belarus.

Opposition of Belarus Mounts Tents
An encampment of 15 tens[sic] appeared Monday night on October Square of Minsk, the capital of Belarus. There were no night arrests on the square and the picket has survived. The situation was much more strained in the city. At least 20 people were detained there, including Anatoly Lebedko, leader of United Civil Party.
Again, appears to be half-hearted attempt to oppose the re-election of Lukashenko. I think people aren't exactly sure how to organize ... and there is just enough fear of reprisal and ambivalence to keep larger numbers from forming.

The photograph at left is also from Kommersant, taken
in front of the Belarusian embassy in Moscow: "Lukashenko, there's a free place in The Hague"

Lastly, Mikhail Zygar has an opinion piece regarding the view from two worlds ... Who was that Caped Politician? The Price of the Question
“They have abandoned all restraint. No one can stop them,” he said in tones of doom. “There is no more empire that can stop them,” he continued glumly. “The world is unipolar for the while.” People around him breathed easier. The words “for the while” warmed their hopes. “All the same, they will answer for it all – if only at the Final Judgment.” He looked off into the distance.

A fine monologue from a fantasy film. Star Wars? The Matrix?

No. Alexander Lukashenko, winner of the Belarusian presidential elections, said that. He was referring to the United States, which killed thousands of people in Iraq, The Hague Tribunal, which killed Slobodan Milosevic, the Orange government in Ukraine and his own opposition. In short, all the evil of the world.

The presidential elections in Belarus have made the world in which we live fantastic. Or rather fantastic changes took place and Lukashenko was the first to notice them. And he spoke about them in appropriately fantastic language.

It would seem that there are two parallel worlds that rarely intersect. The inhabitants of one of them mourn the loss of the Soviet Union and consider those responsible for its fall evildoers. They worry about the unipolarity of the world. They mourn Slobodan Milosevic. Their highest value is order and their new idol is Alexander Lukashenko.

Creatures from the other world are completely different. They talk about freedom. They don't like the Soviet Union, Milosevic or Lukashenko. They don't want to hear anything about poles because they think that democratic values are international.

Each world considers the other absolutely evil.

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