Belarus, a forgotten regime.
There have been many different regimes and dictatorships in the news recently, for a variety of different reasons. The Arab Spring has been one of the biggest international events in recent years as several regimes have fallen in the past 12 months and many others are under pressure. It is not just the Arab world which has seen regimes, dictatorships and allegedly corrupt governments put under pressure. Russia has seen protests and international pressure after the allegedly corrupt legislative election earlier this month and the government have also been accused of mistreating protestors and journalists. Another regime which has seen a sizable uprising is the government in Belarus; however, it has not been in the media as much as other uprisings.
Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarussian president is now serving his fourth term after he won a presidential election in December 2010 by gaining nearly 80% of the votes. The result prompted mass protests against the government as there were allegations of vote fraud. The protestors met resistance from riot police and interior ministry troops; many fled from the protests but some who did not flee were beaten and hospitalised or unfairly arrested by the police.
Many members of the opposition political parties were also arrested and beaten by the police, including some presidential candidates who ran against Lukashenko. Vladimir Neklyaev, who ran for presidency was beaten and hospitalised by government forces while protesting against the election result. He was then taken against his will from the hospital and has not been seen since, many of his followers and friends fear that he is dead and his body will never be found.
Lukashenko has had an interesting relationship with the Kremlin in recent years as there have been many arguments about the price of the gas and oil which Russia provides Belarus with. However their relationship has improved recently as the Kremlin have decreased the price of the fossil fuels that they are selling to Belarus. Russia is one of the biggest Belarusian allies and would support them in a case of intervention from foreign powers.
Lukashenko has been constantly criticised by the West during his 16 years in powers due to his human rights abuses and repressive politics and the election last year made the relationship with the west deteriorate even further.
One year has passed but the problems still remain; Lukashenko is still in power, using repressive tactics and activists and protestors are still being detained illegally. Belarusian politicians and activists who are opposed to the regime have now resorted to asking foreign powers for help and to put pressure on Lukashenko and possibly even intervene in the situation. Head figures of the opposition recently met with British politicians at the UK Foreign Office and have made a plea to the British government to increase pressure on the Belarusian government.
One of the opposition politicians who travelled to London, Ales Mikhalevich, was arrested in Warsaw while travelling to London after the Belarusian government learnt that he was travelling to London. However he was released after intervention from the Polish government. Mikhalevich was one of the opposition candidates arrested last year after he protested about the election result; he was one of many protestors who was brutally repressed and he claims that he was tortured by Belarusian secret police who now use the name KGB. He has now gained asylum in the Czech Republic.
Earlier this week Mikhalevich met with Europe Minister, David Lidington MP; also present were Anatoly Lebedko, a long time critic of Lukashenko, and Alexei Yanukevich, the head of the Belarusian Popular Front Party. The British government invited the opposition members to London as they are keen to confront the oppressive politics and tactics of the Belarusian government, and he opposition members were happy to come to London as they saw it as a step forward, but were frustrated at the lack of action from Europe. After the meeting, Yanukevich said; “Think of Belarus as an experimental laboratory where models of authoritarian rule and politics are being refined. It is a direct challenge to European values. But if Europe can’t fight a dictator on its own doorstep how can it talk about extending those values to countries further away?”
This poses an important question. If Britain and Europe cannot fight an oppressive and violent regime within Eastern Europe how can they expect to tackles regimes in other parts of the world? Europe and the US have successfully tackled regimes in the Arab world and the Middle East, so why have they not addressed the problem within Europe? The answer may be found when you look at 20th Century politics, Belarus was formerly part of the Soviet Union and Russia still are strong Belarusian allies. An attack on the Belarusian regime may cause arguments between Russia and the West. As relations between the West and Russia are at one of the lowest points since the end of the Cold War in 1990, the West probably think that provoking Russia into a dispute would not be the best option at this time.
Posted on December 18, 2011, in Foreign Affairs and tagged belarus, britain, europe, kgb, Kremlin, lebedko, lukashenko, neklyaev, peter dunne, protests, regime, Russia, yanukevich. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.