Belarus: Still No Country For Sold Men
Alexander Lukashenko has won the fourth presidential election in Belarus, taking 79 percent of votes cast in the turnout of over 90 percent, according to official figures. The opposition staged a protest rally in the central square in Minsk after polling stations had closed on Sunday, claiming that the election was stolen. Some protestors tried to storm the Parliament, provoking a fierce response by the police. Hundreds of people were arrested in the ensuing violence.
The ensuing reaction in Western Europe and here was predictable. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton “condemns the brutality carried out after yesterday's presidential elections in Belarus, especially the beating and arrest of several opposition leaders including a host of candidates for the presidency,” the EU said. The vote was marred by a "flawed" vote count, the OSCE said and decried the "heavy-handed" police response to opposition protests. “The German government calls for the immediate release of arrested opposition politicians and media representatives,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert. He added that it was “regrettable” that Belarus was rejecting an EU offer to provide billions of euros in aid if the elections were conducted in a fair manner.
But Lukashenko, whose government was called the “last dictatorship in Europe” by the U.S. government, claimed that the election was free and fair and vowed to maintain order. By now he knows what he is against. He has said in the past, “In our country, there will be no pink or orange, or even banana revolution.” More recently he said some people in the West think that Belarus is ready for a color-coded revolution, but they are not getting any; “all these coloured revolutions are pure and simple banditry.”
A Western-financed student group, Zubr, already tried in March 2005 to emulate the color-coded revolutions, but the effort collapsed after fewer than a thousand people joined it. A second attempt was made a year later, in March 2006, soon after the previous presidential election, which Lukashenko also won. Protesters camped out in October Square in Minsk over the next week, echoing the Orange Revolution in Kiev. A feeble attempt was made by Zubr to call it the Jeans Revolution, denim supposedly being a symbol for freedom, but it fizzled out.
This time round Brussels and Washington may huff and puff, but there will be no color-coded revolution in Minsk. The political facts of the case are straightforward:
1. Lukashenko is not a Western-style democrat, but he is not a dictator either. Whether he has 70 or 80 percent support is debatable, but no Western diplomat in Minsk disputes the fact that he’d be a winner even in an election conducted on Swedish or Swiss rules.
2. Lukashenko’s key early move was the closing of the Belarus Soros Foundation in 1997, followed by a ban on other “NGO”-clones. This prevented the replay of Belgrade, Tbilisi and Kiev in Minsk— and turned him into a “dictator” in Washington.
3. Lukashenko’s popularity, and the key to the inability of various color-coded would-be emulators to gain support, is due to the fact that he has resisted foreign attempts to subvert him (or else to buy him) and to open the country to “privatization” and “post-communist transition” with predictable results for millions of common folks.
To understand this last point, it is necessary to list some of the economic fruits of Lukashenko’s 16 years of power:
1. A modest budget deficit of 3 percent of GDP, which should make Belarus a model member of the Euro-Zone and a model for Obama and Bernanke to follow, being less than one-third of the U.S. equivalent.
2. The unemployment rate in Belarus is currently just under 1% (one percent), one-half of what it was in 2005; while the GDP at $12,500 per capita in 2009 is on par with EU members Romania and Bulgaria and almost twice that of then-Orange Ukraine.
3. The economy of Belarus has weathered the global crisis spectacularly well: according to the International Monetary Fund estimates, the country’s GDP will grow by a China-like 7.2 percent this year and 6.2 percent in 2011.
4. Institutional investor confidence: Overall outperformance helped Minsk raise $1 billion in its maiden five-year Eurobond last summer. Belarus plans to borrow $2.2 billion in 2011, with $1 billion through bond issuance—but it wisely has no plans to accept billions of euros in EU “aid.”
5. Private investor confidence: According to a City of London investor after a recent visit to Minsk, “We made an investment. Now, if anything, we are getting more bullish. Belarus has more potential.” No, Lukashenko needs no poisoned gifts from Brussels.
An important factor that does not enter the GDP and employment statistics, but does impact the quality of life, is the low crime rate in Belarus of 1250 per 100,000 inhabitants is below Japan’s 1,500 and one-eighth of 9,622.10 for the United States. This is related to the country’s ethnic and racial coherence, of course. There are no “undocumented workers” in Belarus, no Thirld World immigrants, no “asylum-seekers,” no Albanians, very few Muslims (several thousand Crimean Tatars), and no protected minorities for the Sorosites to obsess over.
Belarus is a stable country, far luckier on all key counts than many of its post-communist peers with impeccable “democratic” credentials. The people are educated, hospitable, and warm-hearted. The gays in the military are not an issue, and there is no NPR. The streets are safe, the churches are full, the prices ridiculously low by western standards. Were it not for the climate (harsh continental), the cuisine (hearty yet bland), and the landscape (flat and rather boring), Belarus would be well worth considering as a place to flee to when the financial and economic decline produce a nation-wide, Hobbesian Katrinaland over here.