Eyewitness report from Belarus

Jef Bossuyt and Bert De Belder

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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Reproduced from Solidaire, the newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Belgium, with thanks.

It is Tuesday 7 March. The time is 6.00 pm. Minsk looks modern. There are a great many new buildings, very little litter and no beggars. Astonishingly, there are very few election posters, but, on those that there are, photographs of the four candidates appear side by side.

Opposite Gorky Park, several hundred people are demonstrating in favour of President Lukashenko. One demonstrator explains: “At least the president brings out five-year plans that favour ordinary people, and he puts them into practice. There is no huge gap between the rich and the poor. Average wages here are higher than in all the other former Soviet republics and it is no problem to live off them. We produce our own food and we get our energy cheap from Russia.”

Taisia Borodich tells us: “Lukashenko has a social agenda. Salaries are paid promptly and the factories are working.” Alexander Pernikov, a mining engineer, says: “A family with three children receives half of what is borrowed for a house, while a family with five children gets 100 percent. Building land has remained in state ownership. Lukashenko guarantees stability. He doesn’t allow our country to be pillaged.” Alexandra Buksha, studying electrical engineering, says: “We are happy with our student grants, and when we finish our courses we will all be offered a job.”

Democratic elections?

It is Wednesday 8 March. The time is 3.00pm. In front of the Cultural Centre named Traktorni Zavod, we are listening to the pro-western opposition candidate, Milinkevich, at an election meeting. “I have met with the leaders of the main European countries. They want Belarus to join the EU. But Europe has had enough of Hitlerite dictators.” Radio Free Europe, funded by the United States, broadcasts the whole of this speech. Milinkevich continues: “These elections will not be fair, and the civilised world will not recognise them. In that case, we invite everybody on the 19th of March to come out at 8.00pm on to the streets of Minsk.”

The meeting is disbanded because of the biting cold. We intercept a young man who had asked critical questions. He says: “My name is Vladimir Zubrik and I am a worker in a plastics factory. Milikenvich says he only wants to privatise unprofitable factories. As if those would be of interest to the West! No, in neighbouring Ukraine they sold off the Krivosstahl steelworks, which is very profitable, and they want to do the same here: sell of the tractor factory, the engine factory and the car factory to the West, to the United States. There will be nothing left for Belarus.”

Why does Washington want to get rid of Lukashenko?

“Belarus is Europe’s last dictatorship,” said George Bush, the President of the USA, on 5 March 2005, while on a visit to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. What is it that makes it a ‘dictatorship’? To start with, Lukashenko has undesirable friends. During his visit to Cuba, he praised Fidel as a “model for all men of politics all over the world”. Similarly, Lukashenko is seeking closer ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with a view to mutual support against interference from the USA and other western countries. But there is worse. Belarus has different policies from other eastern European countries. Even under capitalism, its factories remain in the hands of the state, and the freedom of movement of capital is very restricted. All this does not please the United States, which wants to open up Belarus to the International Monetary Fund, to NATO and to the multinationals.

The recipe for western interference

The West would like to see Lukashenko bite the dust in these elections and it has done a great deal towards this end. The imperialists’ recipe has had results in the past – in the year 2000 in Yugoslavia, 2003 in Georgia and 2004 in the Ukraine.

This is the method it uses:

1. Declare in advance that the election results will be falsified.

2. Set up and fund an opposition movement that will look to the streets for support. In Belarus it is called Zubr (The Trident).

3. Announce one’s own election results on the basis of ‘exit polls’ and declare the election void. (On 26 February, the Belarusian police found at the office of the NGO called Partnerstvo exit poll forms intended for use as voters left polling booths. The NGO intended to use them as a basis for claiming the elections had been rigged and the ‘desired’ results had been fixed in advance: Milinkevich (the candidate favoured by the west) 53.7 percent, and Lukashenko (the President) 41.3 percent. However, we now know the real result: 82 percent for Lukashenko.)

4. Mobilise a mass of young people with the aid of rock concerts, picnics and free gifts. Block official buildings and take parliament by storm.

In the last 18 months, the EU has passed six resolutions against Belarus. The spokesman of the EU, Severin, was already saying three months ago: “The 19 March elections will not conducted freely or loyally.” The Belgian foreign minister, Karel de Gucht, demanded that Belarus invite observers from the Organisation for Security and Collaboration in Europe (OSCE), an organisation that played a major role in the Ukrainian and Georgian elections, both of which brought pro-western governments to power.

Another western initiative designed to support the Belarus opposition is the ‘Office for Democratic Belarus’, housed at No 3, La Place Petit-Sablon in Brussels and headed by Olga Stuchinskaya, who works with the NATO parliamentary assembly. On 10 February, this lady was officially welcomed to Washington by R Nicholas Burns, the joint secretary of state for foreign affairs. Since 26 February, one has been able to listen to Window to Europe, a daily one-hour radio show explicitly intended to influence the elections. At the same time, TV and the internet have been enlisted, with the aid of the Russian station RTV1 and Deutsche Welle. The operation has cost 2m euros, but it’s the European Commission that’s paying!