Lukashenko – what is there to gain?

As protests in Belarus continue peacefully into their third day, here’s a question I’d like to throw into the mix:

  • Is Lukashenko gambling that the protests will eventually fizzle out of their own accord, and that, for allowing them to continue uninterrupted, he will enhance his democratic credentials?

I can’t see that the majority in the US and the EU are going to be swayed, but it could be a useful propaganda tool among both his own people, and the people of Russia.

Belarus update – the second night of protests

Just a quick note, because others are live blogging events better than I ever could:

About a ten thousand people made it to October Square last night, for another evening of peaceful protests. A mini-tent city has been set up, and about 1,000 people are reported to have stayed in the square overnight.

One of the night’s most revealing incidents was the arrest, and rapid release of Milinkevich’s two sons. Robert Meyer at Publius Pundit reports:

They were detained and charged with petty hooliganism at the polie department, but as soon as the police colonel found out who they are, he tore up the report and escorted them back to the square.

I think (hope) this demonstrates that the police are, if not yet sympathetic with the protestors yet, at least afraid of provoking them for fear of a negative public reaction (both domestic and international).

Alternatively, it could mean that Lukashenko has ordered police not to cause any trouble over minor incidents until he is ready. Rush Mush translates a less optimistic report from Hitroe Radio:

The police officers will support Lukashenka all the way to the end. The possibility that ordinary officers will switch sides is out of the question. We were talking to them for 2 hours without raising our voices, and there is no chance that they will switch sides. If they had an order, they would kill. On the 19th they were put on high alert five times, they were angry and ready to attack, but the alerts were cancelled.

Overall, though, one of the most revealing comments I’ve read (sorry, can’t remember where – Update: It was br23 blog.) was that although there were less protestors overall in the square last night, those that have stayed overnight seem far more determined to stay the distance.

The longer they can hang on, the larger the level of public support they will draw over the coming days.

More Belarus on Comment is Free

Another article on Belarus in the Guardian’s Comment is Free website – but oddly this one hasn’t got open comments.

The article, by Neil Almond is unsurprised by Lukashenko’s overwhelming election victory – according to Neil, its all because Lukashenko has built up the economy.  Not a mention of electoral fraud.

By protecting Belarus from the ravages of free-market fundamentalists and delivering economic growth and prosperity for the mass of Belarussians, Lukashenko has sown the seeds of a pluralistic society far better than by handing the state’s assets over to half a dozen cronies of western advisers.

Belarus is far from perfect, but it is a country where masses of ordinary people are getting on with life and getting a bit better off. That is why Lukashenko inspires fear and loathing in the thinktanks and foreign ministries of the west. By saving Belarus from mass unemployment he set a terrible example. What if the neighbours tried to copy it?

I’m not upset at the Guardian for printing this view.  What I am upset about is that they haven’t opened it up for comment.  Unless we have the opportunity to point out the stupidity of unbalanced arguments such as this, what is the point of Comment is Free?

Lets hope I’m jumping the gun, it’s just an administrative hitch, and comments will be opened later this morning.

Comment is Free – shape the debate

Timothy Garton Ash has a post about Belarus up at the Guardian’s new blog thingy, Comment is Free.
Most interesting about his post, though, is the way he is using it to gather ideas for a future column:

How do you think those who live in democracies – especially the democracies of Europe – should react? I’ll be writing about this in my Guardian column on Thursday. I’d appreciate your comments. Watch that post-Soviet space. Speak in this space.

My first reaction, I must admit, was to think… ‘why should I do your homework for you?’

But, on reflection, I find this a fascinating experiment.  In my day job, I work in policy, and one of our mantras is ‘shape the debate’.  By being the first organisation to speak on a subject, we can (if we do it right) set the parameters of any subsequent debate, ensuring that some topics are the centre of any discussion, and that others are more or less excluded.

In effect, instead of offering commentators the opportunity to respond to what he has already written, Garton Ash is offering commenters the chance to shape the debate on Belarus.
I have to applaud his experiment, and I really do look forward to seeing what he writes on Thursday, and comparing it to the comments he received.  And – full disclosure –  yes, I am one of those commenters who tried today to shape the debate.   (Hint… I’m the one with the most well reasoned, wise and witty arguments).
I hope more commenters follow his example.

Latest on Belarus – ongoing protests

belarus crowd.jpgIt looks like people are gathering again on October Square, in Minsk, to protest the results of the Belarus election.

Neeka’s Backlog is providing some of the best English language coverage again today, and she tells of a couple of (contradictory) reports on the number of protestors gathering:

Channel 5 News (a Ukrainian channel?) reports that more people have gathered on the square than last night (if so, we’re talking tens of thousands).

But, Wolny, a Belarusian blogging live from the square reports that 6-7,000 people have arrived, and that he doesn’t really expect any more.

If the second, lower figure is the more accurate one (and I suspect it is), I’d imagine that, again we’ll spend the night wondering if the protests can continue into tomorrow and beyond.

The numbers are a little disappointing, and I worry that they haven’t really hit the critical mass necessary to really spark of a continuing protest, and that, from here, they will decline over the next few nights.

Still, one can never tell with these kinds of things. Anything could still happen over the next few days.

The OSCE, by the way, produced the report everyone expected, condemning the way the election was run:

“The Belarussian election was severely flawed due to arbitrary use of state power and restrictions to basic rights,” the OSCE said in a statement.

The US and EU have also voiced their displeasure, with the US coming right out and calling for a re-run of the election, and the EU going one step further by mooting the idea of sanctions.

Update: Publius Pundit is also updating regularly, with some more encouraging news than Neeka (!). He’s also pointed me in the direction of Rush-Mush, a new Russian blog which is currently translating the live reports of Belarussian bloggers into English.

The Filter is also covering events live, as they unfold. One of his sources confirms that protestors have gone home for the night (and as its 7pm GMT as I write this – or 10pm Minsk time) this strikes me as a little early for committed democracy activists to be going home to bed.

Update 2: After midnight, Minsk time, and what a night it seems to have been.  The protests seem to have turned into something serious (but still peaceful), with even a few tents showing up.  Police attempted to take away the electric generator, but were talked down by Milinkevich, rumours abounded that there was going to be an attack by police (which doesn’t seem to have materialised).  Worryingly though, Alexander Milinkevich’s two sons seem to be missing.

Check out Publius Pundit for the latest updates.  He has the advantage of being in the US, so can stay up later than us Euros…

Belarus exit polls show Milinkevich would have forced run-off

Br23 blog has some unofficial exit poll figures – no idea where they came from – which shows Lukashenko winning 45-47% of the vote, and Milinkevich in second with about 30% of the vote.

I have to say I’m slightly sceptical of them. The results above would force a run off between Lukashenko and Milinkevich, but they are ever so slightly too close to the opposition’s ‘dream result’ for comfort.

It was pretty clear from the beginning that Lukashenko was going to actually win the popular vote (he was genuinely popular among many because of his state subsidies, which appeared to increase wages dramatically in the last couple of years). So, the best Milinkevich’s team could hope for was to force a run-off, and hope that mass protests would turn the election their way (a la Ukraine).

So for this poll to suddenly show Lukashenko failing, by a whisker, to hit the 50% mark, seems awfully convenient.

Anyway, moving on (because I’m running late for work).  Protests kind of fizzled out last night, as it was cold and no-one could hear what was going on in October Square.  But Milinkevich has called on people to come back at 6pm tonight, and I’m hopeful people will turn up.

In particular, I’m encouraged by the fact that last night’s protests passed off peacefully, and hope that the people of Belarus will be encouraged by that, and feel that they can come onto the streets without real fear.

Additionally, for those who feel that the whole protest is over because last night’s event fizzled out, take a look at Neeka’s Backlog, who puts last nights protests into the context of the Orange Revolution:

It’s upsetting – but my mama has just reminded me that the rally in Kyiv on the night of the vote was nothing special, either. Then Yushchenko asked people to come over to Maidan at 9 am Monday, and most people had nightmares and insomnia, fearing that no one would come, and of course everyone did rush to Maidan first thing in the morning. (I overslept – because I stayed up till 5 am…)

Well, off to work for me now.  More later this evening.

Belarus protests kicking off

183915.jpgAndrew Khrapavitski reports that 50,000 people have arrived so far in Minsk’s October Square(his report is from around 11pm Minsk time), and that Alexander Kazulin, one of the defeated candidates that some thought was a Lukashenko stooge, has joined them.

Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate, if he hasn’t already arrived in October Square, can’t be too far behind.

50,000 protestors (if it is an accurate estimate) sounds a sizeable enough number that police can’t really wade into the crowd to disperse them violently. They are also reaching the kinds of numbers that are going to get Western news agencies really interested.

Could it be that the number of protestors is reaching the critical mass that will allow them to build a serious challenge to Lukashenko’s regime? I hope so.

Check out Neeka’s Backlog and Andrei Khrapavitski and Publius Pundit (who has found Belarus’ first protest babe – a sure sign that Lukashenko is doomed) for more updates as the protest develops.

Picture from Belarus’ Komsomolskaya Pravda

Britblog roundup

Tim Worstall has just posted the latest edition of his must read Britblog Roundup, and is good enough to include a link to my post on ipods.

However, I’m entirely sure I’m happy about his accusation that I indulge in investigative journalism here.  Rumour and unfounded accusations are the order of the day here, and I’ll thank you all to remember that.

Liveblogging the Belarus election

As the Presidential election in Belarus election gets underway, a number of bloggers plan to liveblog the day:

Thanks to Neeka for details – it looks like she is posting pretty regular updates, too.

Just in case you were wondering how the election is going… according the the BBC News report I just watched, Lukashenko is reporting 80% support at the exit polls.

The last independent country in Europe

Neil Clark introduces the speech of a great leader

Here’s a superb speech by the President of the last independent country in Europe. The only one whose foreign policy is not decided in another country’s capital.

Who is this amazingly skilled leader, you ask?  None other than Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus.

Who clearly only receives ridiculously large subsidies from Russia on the price of gas and oil because President Putin is in awe of Lukashenko’s magnificence.