BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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The Election Campaign in Belarus (Continuation)
HITS: 2256 | 10-02-2006, 18:08 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 1)

The Group’s six different observers who visited Belarus during the campaign were struck by its quietness. Apart from the large posters and electronic screens urging people to vote (when they weren’t showing adverts for commercial products), there was no evidence of an election campaign.
Occasionally, a handbill or small opposition sticker was sighted but nothing of significance. At opposition rallies handbills, stickers and newspapers were handed out to participants and observers alike.
Alexander Lukashenko chose not to campaign. He did not use the television and radio time allocated to him nor the official newspaper campaigning slots. He offered them to his opponents.
The opposition candidates refused that offer but did get their time on television and radio plus the publication of their programmes in the state-run media. Dr. Kozulin chose to use one of television slots to make allegations about the President’s private life. (It is well known that he is separated from his wife.) He also ripped up a photograph of the President on camera. Whether Belarussian voters appreciated these personal jibes and gestures is open to doubt. Certainly when Mr. Lukashenko was asked at his post-election press conference if he intended to sue Kozulin for libel, he remarked, “Isn’t getting 2% of the vote punishment enough?” and added that he had no powers of prosecution, only the power of pardon.
State media showed the President engaged in his daily duties and this undoubtedly contributed to a positive aura since opening new facilities or discussing economic growth figures reinforced Mr Lukashenko’s claims to be leading the country on a path of economic growth and prosperity.
Reading the English-language press, the impression is given that next to no opposition newspapers are available in Belarus – and at the same time that every week another opposition paper there is closed down. The reality was that the well-funded opposition papers were available free - not for sale in kiosks because no-one can sell something for nothing. If individual issues were seized it was for publications of alleged libels.
Reporters Without Borders lists some of the opposition newspapers available in the country: Solidarnost, Narodnaya Volya, BG Delovaya Gazeta, Zhoda, Regionalnaya Gazeta, Nasha Niva, Vitebskiy Kurier, Brestskiy Kurier, Intex-Press, Gazeta Slonimskaya, Borisovski Novosti, Dlya Vas, Volnaye Hlybokaye et Myastsoviy Chas.[1] Many of these are printed abroad because they have refused to pay damages resulting from libel cases. The state-printer was then made liable as the plaintiff could seize newsprint in compensation. Even Radio Liberty’s Jan Maksymiuk let that slip: “In September, Belsayuzdruk, Belarus's state monopoly that runs a nationwide network of kiosks and newsstands, terminated a contract for the distribution of "Narodnaya Volya" after a court froze the newspaper's bank account and seized newsprint demanding payment of libel damages.”[2] In Britain, for instance, it is routine for plaintiffs to sue distributors of alleged libels – and it is almost as common for distributors to pressure the press to climb down, apologise and pay damages, or risk losing distribution.
As it happens the lavishly sponsored opposition press has preferred to abandon domestic printers and distributors, refuse to pay damages, and to relocate abroad in Russia or in Lithuania. The additional costs of trucking in newspapers and other material and of distributing them by an alternative network do not seem to faze the sponsors. And certainly they save on libel bills.
Jan Maksymiuk reports, “In August and September, some independent newspapers in Belarus had to reregister under new names, because in May President Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree limiting the use of the words "national" and "Belarusian" in the names of organizations. Private media outlets were not allowed to use both of these words in their names.
The presidential decree in particular compelled many newspapers to re-register: "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" ("Belarusian Business Newspaper") as "BDG; Delovaya gazeta," "Natsionalnaya ekonomicheskaya gazeta" ("National Economic Newspaper") as "Ekonomicheskaya gazeta," "Belorusskii rynok" ("Belarusian Market") as "Belorussy i rynok" ("Belarusians and the Market"); and "Belorusskaya gazeta" as "Belgazeta."[3] But critics fail to note that pro-Lukashenko newspapers were also affected: “Belarus Today” became simply “SB”. Needless to say, Western reporters who never referred to opposition members’ Communist pasts, or even present Leninist allegiance, routinely used the anachronistic title, “Sovietskaya Bielorussia” to refer to “Belarus Today”.
Opposition newspapers distributed in bulk free to people’s letter-boxes carried attacks on the President and offered no more balance than state television but, also, they did not have a positive economic and social programme to offer. Moral values were preached but many Belarussians were irritated by the perception that oppositionists enjoyed free trips to the West while they had to pay at the many travel agents in Minsk for the privilege if they could afford it.
The USA and EU sponsored a variety of wholly biased broadcasts into Belarus which did not pretend to have even the reserved slots for all candidates. Lukashenko and Gaydukevich were routinely vilified by the West’s model “free” media without any right of reply.
As with foreign satellite television and radio broadcasts, there is widespread access to the internet in Belarus where it is not censored, unlike in the World Trade Organisation’s favourite “market dictatorship” China. If Minsk wanted to censor the internet no doubt Yahoo and Google would comply and help the regime find the software – for a fee!
The most egregious breach of the campaign rules was by Dr. Milinkevich who attended a rock concert in Minsk’s Bangalore Square along with about six thousand other people on Saturday, 18th March. Although the authorities did not pull the plug on the repeated invocations from the MC to support Milinkevich, the election law forbade any campaigning twenty-four hours before the polls.

Provocations

True to their Leninist past, many of the Belarussian revolutionaries engaged in classic agit-prop tactics. For instance, “unified oppositionists” routinely inflated both the number of participants in their demonstrations and the number of arrests. A headline may talk about “hundreds of arrests”, a veritable purge, but the article below it may mention only 19 brief detentions for public order offences like swearing.[4]
Sympathetic foreign media exaggerated the figures for both and thus deluded people about the real state of affairs, but it helped to mould public opinion in Western Europe and North America into supporting the propaganda onslaught conceived by their own countries’ intelligence services. In short, Western “democracy aid” was being used to shape public opinion in the donor countries – especially the United States – at least as much as in the target society.
Staged provocations seem to come naturally to some liberal post-Communist politicians. In her memoirs, Irina Khakamada says that when she “decided to run against Vladimir Putin in the presidential election in March 2004, she asked a Russian public relations firm how she should ‘project her brand’. A five-hour brainstorming session yielded only one sure-fire strategy: stage the kidnapping of your husband and child. They told me: ‘Can you imagine the press sensation?’’… The excited PR went on to imagine the popular sympathy, the television commercial in which she tearfully vowed to fight until the end. More importantly, he said, her poll ratings would rocket, and those of her opponent – presumably dubbed her family’s kidnappers by a cynical electorate – would sink.”[5]
When one reads that Russia’s liberal opposition has advisers who suggest such sinister methods of appealing to public sympathy, then claims by the Belarussian KGB chief that some oppositionists intended to explode a bomb and cause casualties to precipitate a post-election crisis are not so implausible as many Western journalists have suggested. On 1st March, Stepan Sukharenko told Belarussian television,
“Announcing the results of the so-called exit polls prepared in advance and saying that the election was rigged, the opposition leaders…. Will call on the public to defend the choice of the people. As a result, they are planning to bring several thousands of deceived people onto the streets.” However a secret scenario was allegedly in the works: “According to the scenario, it is planned to set off several explosive devices in the crowd. The bleeding victims will untie the hands of the organizers of the protest to organize the second stage of the scenario – to seize the buildings of administrative bodies and train stations and to block railroads, which should completely halt the functioning of the state, and on this wave, to seize power by force.”[6]
Then, an opposition newspaper, Zhoda (“Consensus”), republished the anti-Islamic cartoons commissioned by the neo-con Danish journalist Fleming Rose. Given the hundreds of deaths prompted by the original publication and Belarus’s own Muslim minority (mainly Tatars) as well as the country’s laws against inciting religious and racial strife it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Zhoda’s editors were seeking martyrdom, albeit of the modest kind inflicted by the Belarussian law.[7]
The same Western media which spread un-proven – let’s be frank – unfounded allegations that Belarus was selling weapons to Iraq also accused Ukraine’s President Kuchma – falsely – of selling sophisticated radars to Saddam’s regime. Other Western propagandists also hit on the canard that Belarus had been helping Saddam’s sons to escape by giving them passports even though they died in Mosul in July, 2003!
The opposition, however, supports the war in Iraq. The Charter 97 website has a section devoted to photographs of a motley group of demonstrators holding up banners backing America’s invasion of Iraq Their loyalty to their sponsor is no doubt commendable at a time when so many neo-cons have backed away from their endorsements of the Iraq bloodbath, but does anybody believe it is popular in a country like Belarus with its history of “liberation” from abroad?[8]
Back in December, 2003, Transitions online, one of the clearing houses for New World Order techniques, carried the headline (which translates so well into Russian)
“On Leninism in Georgia. Our Take: Lenin’s Lessons from Georgia.” It urged what it called “Democrats” to “look to Lenin more than the West” for models on how to promote democracy! The Prague-based agit-propers quoted one of Georgia’s professional revolutionaries, “ ‘As Lenin said, to have a successful revolution, you need organization, organization, organization,’ says Levan Ramishvili, head of the Liberty Institute, which played an important role in organizing the Georgian revolution. Lenin as an example to Georgian democrats: now that’s a transition.” Well, be that as it may be, what kind of democrat can learn from Lenin ‘s tactics or Mussolini’s coup d’etat in 1922 which is also quoted as a “People Power” variant by the sort of Serbs who advise Zubr.[9]

The best opposition money can buy

Party is the madness of many for the gain of a few.”

Jonathan Swift

The scale of Western financial interference in Belarus is breathtaking for a country of ten million people. According to AP, US democratisation enforcer, Dan Fried “said Congress has provided more than $21 million to finance pro-democracy activities in the landlocked country.”[10] That is the open appropriation. What Iran-Contra legend, John Negroponte’s web of intelligence agencies spends is known only to a handful of intelligence overseers if at all to any democratically-elected US politician.
An iron web of ostensibly “independent” foundations, civil society projects and think-tanks stretch across the globe to influence elections. They are not just American. For instance, the Polish Stefan Batory Foundation lists grants of US$5 million to influence Belarus and Ukraine plus US$6 million for its ill-defined “core programme” from the Ford Foundation alone! Mr. Soros punts in a modest US $2.5 million. US$5 million comes from the “Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe”. As J.P. Morgan used to say, “Soon you’ll be talking real money.”[11] That is just one of the foundations which backs colour-coded revolutions in one dirt poor Central European country – and it is one of the very few who give some indication of the vast sums of money pouring into the region to “educate” local “civil society”.
However, experience teaches us that outsiders can buy a society but they don’t do so for its own good. Just as politicians are poor judges of which industries to back with public money so they rarely choose foreign clients with the well-being of foreigners in mind rather than their own state’s interests.
Until 2006, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics enjoyed a fuel subsidy from Russia. In the case of Ukraine oil and gas were supplied at cheaper rates than world market prices amounting to something like US$2 billion a year. But Orange politicians and media propagandists assured this Group’s representatives in December, 2005, that they wanted Ukrainians to liberate themselves from dependence and pay the full market price! When Gazprom hiked prices at the start of the coldest winter in many years on 1st January, 2005, ordinary Ukrainians saw how hollow the claims of the market fundamentalists were. Whereas Russia had subsidised its neighbour’s fuel consumption for fifteen years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West offered nothing to compensate ordinary Ukrainians huddled in freezing conditions with 800 dying of the cold. The West has given something like US$150 million in aid to Ukraine, but this money subsidises the Orange not ordinary people, whereas Russia’s fuel subsidy had actually helped limit the impact of the economic difficulties suffered by Ukrainians since 1991.
Ironically, Russia gained nothing by subsidising the fuel costs of 48 million Ukrainians while the West has bought the whole country for less than 10% of Russia’s aid budget to Ukrainians. In order to buy a former Communist country there is no need to waste money on the poor masses – that only encourages an irresponsible dependency culture inappropriate in our bracing age of cut-throat market economics – instead you need only to buy key sections of the elite. Purchasing key politicians, policemen and media figures is cheaper and more reliable than wasting resources on the people, who can be relied upon to obey docilely the new regime since suddenly there is no well-funded alternative media or opposition NGOs to challenge its predominance. The triumph of so-called “People Power” from Serbia in 2000 to the Rose and Orange revolutions should be in all economics textbooks: If you want regime change, buy key people, don’t waste money on The People.


[1] See http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=15187,
[2] See
http://www.data.minsk.by/belarusnews/112005/40.html,
[3] See
http://www.data.minsk.by/belarusnews/112005/40.html.,
[4] See “Hundreds Arrested in Belarus in View of Presidential Elections” in MosNews (15th March, 2006):
http://www.mosnews.com/news/2006/03/15/belarusarrest.shtml. MosNews is the lineal successor of the old Comintern newspaper, Moscow News, and like so many sprigs of the Comintern it has reversed the polarity of its parents’ internationalism, nowadays criticising the Kremlin rather than the White House,
[5] See Nick Paton Walsh, “A guide to the Kremlin: Sex, booze and Kidnap” in The Guardian (11th March, 2006):
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1728530,00.htm.,
[6] See Belarusian television (3pm 1st March, 2006) as reported by
http://www.bbcmonitoringonline.com/mmu?page=77&action=view&item=5&.,
[7] See
www.rferl.org/newsline/3-cee.asp.,
[8] See
http://www.charter97.org/index.phtml?sid=4&did=20030403&lang=3,
[9] See ToL (1st December, 2003),
[10] See William C. Mann, “U.S. TO SPEND MILLIONS IN BELARUS TO ENSURE FREE, FAIR VOTING IN NEXT MONTH'S ELECTIONS” AP Worldstream, Wash, D.C. (Feb 08, 2006),
[11]
http://www.batory.org.pl/english/donors/index.htm.

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