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March 27, 2006

How Lukashenko Won


by Daniel McAdams

Imagine you are in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, setting up tents and loudspeakers without a permit to occupy the park with a group of several thousand protesters, guzzling beer and vodka. How long do you think it would be before the Secret Service or other uniformed local and federal officers moved in to disburse you? Five minutes?

Yet when less than one percent of the 500,000 Belarusians who voted for the political opposition were recently disbursed from October Square, one block from the presidential residence, the United States and the European Union (where member country France had been engaged in brutally beating youth protesting for more job security) announced a new round of sanctions against the country.

Aside from this absurd double standard is the fact that democracy itself is subverted in this new, revolutionary method of changing governments – all in the name of democracy, of course. Somehow in the new world of color-coded revolutions, a public display of only one percent of those who voted for the opposition – not of all voters, mind you, but just of those who voted for the opposition – is enough for the West to conclude that they represent the true will of the people. It is a new Bolshevism of the West in which a tiny minority is said to in fact be the majority. The media plays into this deception, with its breathless but highly selective reporting of such incidents. The Western media makes no effort to gain actual facts, preferring to rely on salacious but unverified tales of beatings and mass arrests made available in copious quantities by those who stand to benefit most by their dissemination.

Western Media Lies

Before going into the reasons for Alexander Lukashenko's victory, I should add a word on the outrageous lies told by the Western press before, during, and after the presidential elections in Belarus. How do I know? I was there. I was there standing in October Square on Wednesday afternoon watching the 150 or so protesters while the BBC reported "thousands." I took pictures of the beer bottles and coffee cups that littered the square as the foreign media reported that the police were not allowing any food or drink to the protesters.

On Wednesday, the Frankfurter Allgemeine reported that "they flew flags of denim" when there was not a single denim flag on the square. There were plenty of Georgian flags, however, which is strange considering the abysmal state of the "reformed" Georgian economy, where electricity and water are about as available as in Iraq. Lukashenko entered his press conference "drunk with victory," the German paper reported. I saw no such thing, but rather a politician who is not afraid to shoot back rhetorically at attacks from the U.S. administration. Accused by President Bush of selling weapons to other countries, Lukashenko retorted, "Coming from a man who has profited so much from war and oil, it is an accusation that doesn't deserve a response."

Heavy police presence, the press reported. We saw far fewer police than you would have seen at any gathering in the U.S. or any Western capitol. In fact, before authorities finally moved yesterday to disburse the makeshift tent city from the square, there was hardly a police officer to be seen. The list goes on.

The Monitor Scam

The Western monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found the elections in Belarus unfree and unfair. But the world could have hardly been waiting with baited breath for the OSCE's final pronouncement: the OSCE had been saying for months that they would not be free or fair.

Aside from this strange habit of pronouncing a verdict on elections that have not yet taken place, why should we be skeptical of OSCE monitoring? OSCE monitoring teams are made up to a large degree of Western diplomats and employees of Western intelligence services. Diplomats and intelligence officers are paid to say what their governments tell them to say. They are not paid for their own opinions or independent conclusions. It is a structural flaw in the OSCE system of monitoring elections, if one is interested in objective truth.

Also there is the matter of per diems. It is a fact that OSCE observers draw their normal salaries from Western foreign ministries while standing to pocket thousands of dollars in per diem money by the end of the mission. For observers who step out of line with the official pronouncement (made before the observer mission even commences in many cases), there are no repeat invitations. Several thousand dollars to a Lithuanian observer, for example, is real money. It's not bad for a German or American either, for that matter. Add to it a bit of exotic fun and all the food and drink you can handle, and why rock the boat by dissenting?

What many do not understand is that the OSCE by no means has a monopoly on monitoring elections and the human rights basket in the OSCE signatory countries. Indeed, the original intent of the Helsinki Accords was that citizens' groups independent of governments would form to monitor their governments' adherence to the agreement. With few exceptions, this did not take place. The vast majority of human rights and elections monitors are in fact paid by governments to monitor governments. It is not rocket science to see the conflict of interest.

Even then, some monitors are apparently more equal than others. When the OSCE team announced that the elections were not free or fair, the Western press reported this as the final conclusion. Not a word was written as far as I could see about the more than 450 monitors from the CIS countries who also monitored the elections and gave a much more nuanced and sophisticated analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the process.

Despite some specific areas where improvements could have been made – there was concern over early voting, which is common practice in the United States – the overall conclusion of the CIS monitors was that the elections were held according to the legislation of Belarus and were free and fair. The CIS monitors also noted that several exit polls indicated that Lukashenko won more than 80 percent of the vote. Interestingly, though at a pre-election conference in Washington the International Republican Institute representative assured attendees that U.S.-funded exit polls would tell the truth of the Belarus elections, no such U.S.-funded poll has been released. Perhaps the results were not what they had hoped for.

How Lukashenko Won

The leading opposition candidate, the dour and uncharismatic Alexander Milinkevich, picked a strange economic platform: he promised the Belarusian voter in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record that he would end the Russian subsidy of oil and gas imports. His campaign promise was, essentially, if elected, I will raise your fuel and heating bills by 70 percent. Though the U.S. government had been demanding an end to this subsidy, it was probably not wise for U.S.-favored candidate Milinkevich to emphasize his fealty on this issue.

We spoke to another opposition candidate, Alexander Kozulin, at the Yubelinium Hotel on the last day of the campaign. We asked how his campaign was going, and he replied, "What campaign? All you will see around town are posters for Lukashenko." By then, we had been all over town on foot and were struck by the total lack of posters from any of the candidates. Then he added, "I just got back from Ukraine." Strange. I cannot imagine a candidate for election in the U.S. spending the last frenzied days of the campaign in a foreign country.

Early in the evening of the last day of the campaign, we stopped by opposition headquarters expecting it to be abuzz with activity. Instead, it was totally empty except for the receptionist, who annoyedly told us that everyone had already gone home.

On Saturday before the election, in the period of campaign silence, the opposition held a rock concert/political rally in a city park. Hundreds of young people turned out to hear thrash metal with hard nationalistic themes interspersed with admonitions to get out and vote for Alexander Milinkevich, who just happened to be at the rally. We were struck by the total absence of police at the event, which, being against the election law, clearly was meant to provoke some kind of response from the authorities.

Lukashenko on the other hand, simply ran on his economic record. By refusing the economic "shock therapy" that had impoverished Russia and much of the rest of the former USSR, Lukashenko had managed to preserve the social safety net of the old system while at the same time maintaining steady economic growth. The life of the average Belarusian had improved under the incumbent administration and, as tends to happen, voters chose the person who presided over that improvement. A four percentage point improvement over his last margin in this case should hardly be surprising. It is rather ironic that the West points to Lukashenko's gaining 82 percent as evidence of cheating while not long ago praising a Soviet-level 97 percent victory for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Much was made of the opposition's claim that they had no campaign access to state television. As the CIS monitoring team pointed out, however, President Lukashenko relinquished his allotted time to the opposition candidates to give them more access. At the end of the campaign, a good deal of time had been left unclaimed by the opposition candidates.

High Water Mark for the New World Order?

Were the proponents of the New World Order that has impoverished the countries of Central Europe and the former USSR halted in Belarus? It is too early to tell. Surely there are many plans afoot to ratchet up the resistance in the hopes of toppling the government. The U.S. has spent too much money on this revolution to see it fail so spectacularly. Last week it was revealed that the Polish Batory Foundation (which get millions of dollars a year from Western governments) had been advising the political opposition on how to provoke a larger incident in the hopes of galvanizing more people against the government. It was easy to spot those in October Square who were "managing" the masses.

What even the opposition will grudgingly admit, however, is that President Lukashenko is genuinely popular. Millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the opposition could not change that. As Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said, even if the U.S. had invaded Belarus, the people would not have voted for Milinkevich. But perhaps the attitude was best summed up to us on election night by a young Belarusian who recognized my colleague from television. After struggling to make his point about why he was happy with the president's apparent reelection, he blurted out, "It's clean here!"

 

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  • How Lukashenko Won
    3/27/2006
  • Daniel McAdams has participated in more than 20 election and human rights monitoring missions over the past 10 years with the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.

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