The 19th of December 2010 saw presidential elections in Belarus, and with them came three very predictable things. The incumbent president, Alexander Lukashenko, won; the West declared the election fraudulent; and the Belarusian opposition staged a protest leading to arrests.
Western bourgeois media and governments would have us believe that these three outcomes were all the result of a non-democratic electoral process, involving election-rigging by ‘Europe’s last dictator’. The reality, as is so often the case, is very different.
Belarus is a relatively small country of 10 million people, but its largely nationalised economy and educated workforce represents a vast market for predatory capitalists and imperial powers. Russian oil and gas are transited through Belarus, whose pipelines currently carry more that 70m tons (around 500m barrels) of Russian oil per year to Europe – west into Poland and Germany and south into Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Moreover, many Russian oil companies are dependent on Belarus to refine their oil, Russia itself being chronically short of refining capacity. (See ‘Belarus’s oil sector: a target of opportunity for Moscow’ by Vladimir Socor, eurodialogue,org, January 2010)
There is great pressure to privatise Belarus’s vital energy assets, but, as things currently stand, these state-owned oil refineries and transit pipelines create huge revenue for the country, and President Lukashenko’s government has had the audacity to use the money generated not to build palaces or to buy European football teams, but instead to pay for Belarusian infrastructure and the country’s public sector.
This truly is the threat that Belarus represents: a socially oriented economy that has avoided the impact of the ‘credit crunch’ and seen the purchasing power of its people grow by 8.7 percent during the last year. The country’s unemployment level stands at less than 1 percent, whilst a full and comprehensive health and social welfare system, set up in the days of socialist construction, remains in place. (Information taken from the CIA World Factbook and cited on indexmundi.com)
Although Belarus has a market economy, it has shown all too clearly what is possible when governments and presidents run a country not in the interests of foreign capitalists, or even solely in the interests of domestic capitalists, but actually take care of the interests of working people too. Belarusian MPs, and indeed President Lukashenko, come from very ordinary backgrounds, and the country operates a people’s assembly in which representatives from all areas and occupations discuss state policy with the president and government officials.
It is interesting to note that in a country widely vilified in the West for its ‘lack of democracy’ and ‘human rights abuses’ Belarus enjoys positive migration. The reality of daily and political life in Belarus is exceptionally different to that portrayed by western media and the anti-Lukashenko opposition.
Imperialist attempts at regime change in Belarus are well documented and not even denied or hidden. The USA passed the Belarus Democracy Act in 2004 (renewed in 2008), which not only placed sanctions on the Belarusian government (and thus the Belarusian people in a socially oriented economy) but also extended financial aid to groups and individuals opposing Lukashenko. So far, the US has spent an average of $10m dollars per year promoting ‘democracy’ in Belarus.
It is not surprising that the US conservative right believe that healthcare reform in the US is unaffordable; its priorities clearly lie elsewhere. Despite the Belarusian opposition’s generous funding in dollars and Euros, however, it has so far met with little success. With its only political position being hostility to Lukashenko, it is not surprising that such a popular incumbent should win by significant margins.
In 1994, Lukashenko was elected with 80 percent of the vote, although he was clearly in no position whatsoever to manipulate the figures. This shows that his policies had genuine popular support before he had even carried them out – and he has certainly not reneged on any of the electoral promises he made at that time. In the 2010 election, Lukashenko won with 79 percent of the vote in a 90 percent turnout. The other candidates (nine of them) achieved the meagre number of votes that had been predicted by both independent opinion polls and the country’s central election committee.
The pro-US Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) again called the elections ‘flawed’, but was undermined by its own members, who actually observed the vote (as was also the case in the 2006 election). OSCE observer Oleksandr Stoyan, a Ukrainian parliament deputy, reported that the view of ‘flawed’ elections was only that of the OSCE leadership: “We were at the polling stations, the elections took place peacefully, each citizen had the right to express his view. The leaders of OSCE could have gathered us [election observers] and asked for our opinion. Unfortunately, there was no collective view.”
Thus the OSCE official view of flawed elections passed into western media reports as fact. The CIS observers saw the elections as transparent and fair and also reported that OSCE observers concurred. The OSCE’s official declaration of flawed elections (contrary to the opinions of its own observers) was the only evidence used by the EU and US to deny the result as legitimate.
US meddling in Belarus is chiefly responsible for any damage done to the democratic process in the country. It was the US, in conjunction with the OSCE, that previously insisted on ‘unified opposition’ candidates, although the political situation in Belarus (as indeed in most other countries) is not so simple. Having worked to force voters into choosing between the incumbent president, with his record of economic growth and internal stability, and an unknown, western-funded puppet with no clear policies, it is hardly surprising that the end result for the imperialism was that Lukashenko continued to receive such a high percentage of the votes cast.
Another fact often overlooked by western media and OSCE officials is that the largest political parties in Belarus are the Communist Party of Belarus and the Agrarian Party, both of which supported President Lukashenko and did not field candidates against him.
The 2006 presidential election saw protests by the opposition turn violent after defeated candidate Alexander Kozulin rallied his supporters to storm a police station and called for the “government’s overthrow and Lukashenko’s death”. The authorities’ crackdown served the hypocritical West well and further sanctions were placed on Belarus.
In 2010, the same strategy was employed. If the election could not be convincingly declared fraudulent then Lukashenko had to be shown to be a dictator some other way: namely, by a confrontation with the police, which always looks impressive when described by broadcasters as ‘political repression’.
In the same month as students on London’s streets were filmed being beaten by police for protesting against the hike in tuition fees, Belarusian opposition activists were filmed attacking the police and storming a government building. Inevitably, bourgeois media and governments condemned the Belarusian government for the post-election violence, despite the obvious hypocrisy in doing so. Also unreported were the pro-Lukashenko rallies held in disgust at the behaviour of the opposition.
At the third All Belarus People’s Assembly, President Lukashenko declared his motto: ‘The State for the People’, and he has stuck by this, building a strong social system, as well as organised and steady economic growth. The reasons for the genuine popularity of Lukashenko are obvious to anyone who visits the country.
The country has not stagnated, the wealth is being spread and every town and city has seen regeneration and public works. According to Lukashenko: “[We] have not embezzled the people’s wealth; we have not got into burdensome debts. Relying on life itself, we have worked out our own model of development based on well–balanced and thought–out reforms, without any sweeping privatisation and shock therapy. Preserving everything that was best in our economy and in our traditions.”
The result of the 2010 election was entirely predictable, and we should congratulate President Lukashenko on his victory and thoroughly condemn imperialist intervention in Belarus, which is not only aimed at expanding markets for western corporations, but also at stifling an example of a socially-oriented system that is still managing to deliver for ordinary people.