August 4, 2008

English summary

This issue of Diplomaatia covers the last European dictators – namely, the late Slobodan Milosevic and the President of Belarus Alyaksandar Lukashenka, who has just been granted another presidential term by rigged elections.

This issue of Diplomaatia covers the last European dictators – namely, the late Slobodan Milosevic and the President of Belarus Alyaksandar Lukashenka, who has just been granted another presidential term by rigged elections.

English summary

This issue of Diplomaatia covers the last European dictators – namely, the late Slobodan Milosevic and the President of Belarus Alyaksandar Lukashenka, who has just been granted another presidential term by rigged elections.
The Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga acknowledges in an interview with Diplomaatia that the EU countries have very little leverage over Belarus, while Russia has significantly more as the Belarussian regime survives thanks to the cheap gas and oil deliveries from Russia. “It’s high time that the EU started a serious dialogue about Belarus with Russia , but unfortunately I have not noticed anyone really moving in that direction,” she says – although she admits that in several other areas, such as energy policy, the EU is currently closer to having a common Russia-policy than ever.
Commenting on her trip to Moscow, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in May of 2005, Vike-Freiberga said that gave her an excellent opportunity to raise the world community’s awareness about the history of the Baltic States. “We must not turn our backs to history, because then it starts haunting us,” she says. “Historical conflicts require that one goes down to their roots and understands their causes, only then can we decide how to go forward.”
Toomas Sildam, who as a correspondent of Postimees Newspaper spent a week in Belarus covering the elections, shares his impressions with the readers of Diplomaatia. “Going to McDonalds against the President’s wishes seems to be about the only sphere of life where the residents of Belarus can defy Lukashenka’s instructions without a fear of punishment,” he writes. Sildam concludes that Lukashenka’s success is based on the domestic economic stability, maintained with the help of significant subsidies from Russia and on the average Belarussians ’ little awareness regarding alternative ways of organizing a society, coupled with the opposition’s small scale and disunity which also play into the President’s hands.
Irina Krasovskaya, who runs a Belarussian opposition NGO “We Remember,” acknowledges that in several key aspects Belarus is not like Georgia or Ukraine and therefore it is hard to use the elections to launch democratic change there. In Belarus, the opposition has found it hard to unite behind a single candidate, because up until 2001 the Lukashenka regime used to physically eliminate inconvenient politicians. Also, Belarus does not have an independent judiciary or free media – the vestiges of which were present in Georgia and Ukraine and became instrumental in bringing about the changes. Neither does Belarus have any businessmen willing to support the opposition – the few, who have done so, including Krasovskaya’s husband Anatol Kraskovsky, have “disappeared.” Finally, the Belarussian police and army are firmly under Lukashenka’s control and less likely than their Ukrainian or Georgian counterparts to change sides and start supporting the people.
Still, regardless of all the above mentioned factors the ice is moving also in Belarus, according to Krasovskaya: the people have conquered their fear and participated in the thousands in the October square protest meetings as opposed to a couple of hundred as seen in the past. This can only mean the beginning of the end for the Lukashenka regime.
However, as explained by Moscow’s Carnegie Center analyst Andrey Ryabov, the Lukashenka regime has some supporters and eager admirers among the political elites in Moscow. Discussing the complex and controversial history of the projects for a joint Russian-Belarussian state, he notes that over the recent year Moscow has become avidly interested in the Belarussian experience of creating a “sovereign democracy” that has proved remarkably immune to all foreign and/or revolutionary influences. “It can be said that the Russian ruling elite is currently trying to use the example of the Belarussian conservative model of society in order to slow down dynamic social processes in Russia itself,” he concludes.
Historian and politician Mart Nutt explains the origin of the term “dictatorship” and sheds light on the different forms of dictatorships. His conclusion, however, is not optimistic: “The last century has demonstrated that dictatorships are not necessarily just short-term and temporary forms of government. If a society lacks the conditions necessary for democracy, dictatorship becomes inevitable.” True, dictatorships are less adaptable than democracies and therefore bound to collapse sooner or later – but, in many cases, they are more likely to be replaced by new dictatorships rather than democracy.
The legacy of Slobodan Milosevic and the lessons the West should draw from dealing with him are discussed at length in a thorough article by William Montgomery, a former US Ambassador, who has served in Belgrade, Zagreb and Sofia.
“Like his life itself, his death is filled with controversy,” Montgomery writes of Milosevic. “I am also sure that he would supremely enjoy the controversy, conspiracy theories, and frustration of the Hague prosecutors (and many victims of the Balkan wars) that his death and premature ending of his trial has engendered.”
Montgomery admits that the flow of history in the 20th century possibly meant that one way or another, Yugoslavia was doomed. But, at the same time, “if there was one person who single-handedly made the downfall of Yugoslavia inevitable, it was Slobodan Milosevic.” The latter, according to Montgomery, has caused more harm to Serbia and the Serbs than any other Serb in the course of history.
The West, on the other hand, was clearly not up to the task of avoiding the horrible bloodshed that followed. “If there was a chance to stop the violence, it really was at the very beginning,” Montgomery writes. “Many countries, including the United States, were trying desperately to keep Yugoslavia together, even when most objective observers realized it was a lost cause. This had two negative consequences: it encouraged Milosevic to believe that he at the very least would not be opposed by the International Community for his initial military actions and it prevented the International Community from actively working to see that the inevitable breakup was a peaceful one.”

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